Module 13: Deep Decarbonization


Earth’s climate will continue to warm until emissions of CO2 reach zero. This will require a global transformation of the world economy to balance the need for decarbonization with the alleviation of extreme poverty and a more equitable distribution of economic opportunity.

The keys to this transformation are (1) energy efficency and (2) abundant clean energy.

Efficiency leads to enormous cost savings which provide financial opportunities for investments in clean energy infrastructure. Generation of carbon-free electricity and electrification of almost everything are critical ingredients of a clean energy future. Balancing supply and demand will require long distance transmission and an expansion of energy storage.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this module you should be able to: 

  1. Explain how future CO2 emissions will balance economic development with changes in energy use.
  2. Explain the roles of energy efficiency and decarbonization in preventing catastrophic climate change.
  3. Explain the importance of economy-wide electrification in deep decarbonization.
  4. Explain the challenges of intermittency and load balancing in clean energy systems.
  5. Describe opportunities for energy storage and transmission in the near future.

Review Questions

  1. Globally, about what percentage of CO2 emissions result from burning fossil fuels to generate energy? What accounts for the rest of the emissions?
  2. Give some examples of CO2 emissions reduction that have negative costs.
  3. Explain Dave Roberts’ “simple two-step plan” for deep decarbonization.
  4. Give some examples of how economy-wide electrification saves energy.
  5. List the main uses for energy in the US that are NOT currently supplied by electricity. What new technologies do we hope to use to replace each of these?
  6. Explain the concept of Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) and describe the changes in LCOE for solar and onshore wind power in recent decades relative to coal and gas.
  7. Explain the concept of variable clean energy and give some examples of the challenges it imposes for balancing energy supply and demand across the economy.
  8. Give four examples of strategies to balance supply and demand across continent-wide electrical grids while minimizing CO2 emissions. 
  9. How can long-distance electrical transmission play a role in grid-integration of clean power, and why is it difficult? 
  10. Explain some advantages and disadvantages of the following energy technologies:
    • Offshore vs onshore wind
    • Direct vs alternating current 
    • Nuclear vs solar power
    • Grid-scale storage vs transmission
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