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As the world moves towards low-carbon energy systems, the emerging long-term energy storage technologies will be key to supporting the widespread deployment of renewable energy sources. In April 2021, the United States set itself the goal of creating a carbon-free energy sector by 2035 - an important element to reduce emissions by 50-52% by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Research has shown that significant and early decarbonisation of the energy sector is a critical factor in many pathways to a decarbonised economy. Renewable technologies such as solar and wind energy are already cost-competitive with coal and gas in most US markets, and decarbonisation of electricity is necessary to enable decarbonisation in other sectors such as transport (electric vehicles) and buildings (electric heating).
This article presents a potential "Zero to 35" decarbonisation scenario where each regional energy market would achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 without compensation from other sectors. This model also takes into account the increased demand for electricity from transport, electrification of buildings and industrial sectors that can steer the economy on a path to reducing emissions by 50-52 percent by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. In general, this scenario represents the cheapest way to decarbonise the energy sector while maintaining a reliable and resilient electricity grid efficiency.
The key concepts and strategies for decarbonising the US energy sector outlined in this article highlight one potential pathway based on a certain set of inputs. There are other real opportunities, and more are likely to emerge for both the energy sector and the wider economy over the next decade and beyond as technology advances and knowledge and experience are acquired. In contrast, the "status quo" scenario shows that without new federal efforts to reduce emissions, the continued improvement of technology and existing state-level commitments can result in slower and less extensive decarbonization. We estimate that this policy will reduce nationwide emissions from the energy sector by 59% by 2040 compared to 2005 levels.
A key part to the US ambition for decarbonisation is the shift from burning fossil fuels for the needs of transportation and heating to using "clean" electricity generated from renewable sources. The electricity sector may also need to decarbonise to make this transition possible while reaching around 40% increase in electrical load by 2035. This translates to a load increase of 2% per year over the next decade, compared to just 0.5% in the "status quo" scenario (in both cases, the load increase over the last 15 years is practically zero).
Long-term energy storage for the renewable energy grid
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