Why fighting global warming requires a full spectrum strategy

A new study says net-zero carbon emissions would require a much broader strategy of energy sources and approaches than most people think.

The fight against climate change and its devastating effects is one of the most challenging issues facing the United States, as well as the rest of the world. At this point, there is a legitimate question as to whether the country can make the switch to a reliable and affordable energy system that relies almost exclusively on wind, solar, and hydroelectric power. A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by 21 of the country’s leading energy experts finds that getting to the point of net-zero carbon emissions would require a much broader strategy of energy sources and approaches than most people think.

Previous research stated that the United States could be relying on just solar, wind, and hydroelectric power in as few as 35 to 40 years. The researchers in this most recent study are very critical of that analysis – essentially saying that these projections are not supported by proper data and do not accurately predict the complexities of this process.

“Wind, solar and hydroelectric power can, and will, be important parts of any moves to decarbonize our energy system and therefore combat climate change, but given today’s technical challenges and infrastructure realities, renewables won’t be the only solution,” says David Victor, an energy expert at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy.

The researchers believe the United States will require a broader portfolio of clean energy technologies in order for the transition to a low-carbon-emission energy system to be a reality. Their analysis points to data that indicates this path will be much more feasible and less costly.

“A policy prescription that overpromises on the benefits of relying on a narrower portfolio of technologies options could be counterproductive, seriously impeding the move to a cost effective decarbonized energy system,” the authors write in their analysis.

The type of energy portfolio the researchers envision likely includes bionergy, wind, solar, hydroelectric, nuclear energy, and carbon capture. They point out many challenges involved in moving towards a system relying purely on wind, solar, and hydroelectric power.

“We are focused on helping governments, communities, companies and societies cut emissions of warming gases given the very real technological, economic and political constraints that exist,” says George Tynan, associate dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. “It’s important for policy makers and the public to understand we still have significant progress to make before we are have a realistic chance of achieving the required emissions reductions reliably and cost effectively.”

By Connor Ertz, Earth.com Staff Writer

Source: UC San Diego