Thank you, Chairman Tonko, Ranking Member Shimkus, Vice-Chair Ruiz, and Members of the Subcommittee, for inviting me to testify on the prospects for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions through American leadership on technology, policy, and diplomacy. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with you today about this crucial challenge and opportunity. I develop strategies to reduce greenhouse gas pollution through my consulting practice,
The stakes are high. On current course we face steadily-worsening impacts like sea level rise punctuated by episodic climate-intensified crises including unprecedented floods, heat waves, and cold snaps. If we fail to act, the Fourth National Climate Assessment finalized last year projects annual losses in multiple sectors of the US economy reaching hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century, hitting low-income Americans hardest. Just last week the World Threat Assessment from the Director of National Intelligence underscored the role of climate change in fueling global "...competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent..." n1 Climate change will impose the most acute suffering on the world's poorest and least stable countries, underscoring the moral and national security imperatives to contain this looming crisis.
Climate mitigation is a momentum game--the faster we act, the cheaper pollution-reducing technologies become. When we put in place policies and incentives that deploy emerging solutions like solar and wind power, they become cheaper through economies-of-scale and learning-by-doing across the entire value chain. This, in turn, opens up ever-larger markets for clean technologies, catalyzing a virtuous cycle between declining costs and expanding sales (Figure 1). n2 US climate technology leadership also encourages other countries to pick up the pace as they benefit from the low-cost low-carbon solutions we commercialize and export. Finally, moving fast ensures we invest from the start in smarter cities and energy systems rather than stranding investment in polluting infrastructure that we end up having to abandon early.
Figure 1. Virtuous cycle between expanding markets and cost reductions achieved through scale and learning-by-doing: the example of utility-scale solar in the
We should prioritize rapidly reducing greenhouse gas pollution. This requires quickly scaling up zero-carbon electricity sources; broadly electrifying transportation, buildings, and industry; and, driving down major industrial and agricultural sources of methane and nitrous oxide. We know where the pollution comes from and
Carbon dioxide (CO2) sinks will also play an increasingly important role in compensating for intractable greenhouse gas sources as we drive towards net zero emissions (Figure 2). There are two complementary types of CO2 sinks: natural and technological. Investing in land restoration to create natural carbon sinks in forests, agricultural soils, and coastal ecosystems offers tremendous benefits, ranging from improved land productivity to enhanced resilience to climate impacts, but these opportunities are challenging to scale, involve reversibility risk (including from climate impacts like drought and fire), and are ultimately limited by total available land. Carbon dioxide removal technologies, such as direct air capture of CO2, are not similarly constrained, but they are much more expensive than near-term opportunities to reduce pollution. Thus, even as we prioritize immediate greenhouse gas reductions we must also invest in scaling land restoration and developing negative emissions technologies.
Figure 2. Land sinks and carbon dioxide removal technologies play a crucial role as the US drives toward net zero (United States Midcentury Strategy for Deep Decarbonization, 2016) n4
We have the private sector dynamism and subnational policy commitment to lead this global economic transformation. But we urgently need federal policy progress to pick up the pace--both new legislation and vigorous implementation of existing legislative obligations and authorities.
I. Large-scale global demand for low-carbon technologies is driving costs down
There is a common, outdated, perception that cutting greenhouse gas pollution is expensive and other countries are therefore doing nothing about their emissions. In fact, every country other than
Figure 3. Our major trading partners are taking action (Segment size represents country's contribution to
All of this investment is driving down the cost of low-carbon technologies through economies of scale and learning-by-doing. For example, global average costs for battery and solar electricity costs are both down about 80 percent since 2010. n14 This translates into affordable mitigation opportunities in
II. It has never been easier to cut greenhouse gas pollution, and all 50 U.S. states have opportunities to lead
In addition to sustained investment in world-leading research,
Figure 4 highlights dramatic reductions in the average cost of solar and wind electricity in
Consistent with these national trends, renewables are becoming increasingly competitive in all 50 states (Figure 5), with a growing number of states competitively procuring solar at prices in the range of
Figure 5. Wind and solar can compete in every state (cumulative installed MW) n18
Multiple states and industries are also pushing ahead with advanced carbon capture and storage solutions. This key technology is not only useful in the power sector but also essential for cutting industrial pollution and creating options for scaled carbon dioxide removal in coming decades. Netpower is piloting carbon capture and storage technology in
Our farmers, including in the Midwest, are leading the world in advanced technologies that boost productivity and drive down greenhouse gas emissions through solutions like optimal fertilizer application and converting methane from waste to energy. And our forests in the Southeast and other forested regions already absorb over 10 percent of our emissions and could cost-effectively offset over half of our residual emissions by midcentury (Figure 1 and Figure 6).
Figure 6. Potential US land sinks by midcentury through afforestation, enhanced forest management (EFM), soil management, and bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) n21
States and cities are also driving progress, including through the bipartisan
Despite this global technology momentum and subnational climate policy, we are not moving fast enough. Energy CO2 emissions in the US, which accounts for over four-fifths of greenhouse gases, were up 3.4% in 2018 after falling 1.6% per year on average from 2007 to 2016, and only 0.8% in 2017. n25 As shown in Figure 7, the power sector has accounted for most of this downward emissions trend since 2007.
Figure 7. Transportation has overtaken power as the largest source of energy CO2 (RHG)
It is worth a closer look at the power sector to unpack three factors that propelled these emission reductions and to consider whether we are on pace even in this best-case sector (Figure 8). First, energy efficiency has held total electric load growth roughly level even as the economy expanded. Federal investment in energy saving technology paired with appliance and equipment standards have combined powerfully with subnational actions, including building codes and demand-side management programs. As one example,
Figure 8. Underlying drivers of recent power sector emissions reductions n27
Second, coal-to-gas shifts were a driver for power sector emissions reductions over the past decade; however, this dynamic is unlikely to play a major role going forward. Federal investment in hydraulic fracturing helped industry to increase natural gas supply during this period, driving down natural gas prices which, in turn, induced switching from coal to natural gas electricity. Going forward, EIA expects natural gas prices to trend higher, causing capacity utilization rates for coal-fired generators to revert to historical levels of about 70% from the low of 55% reached in 2018. n28 Moreover, improved monitoring indicates that methane emissions from the oil and gas supply-chain may be 60% higher than current official
Thus, assuming efficiency continues to largely offset load growth, rapidly expanding renewables will emerge as the dominant driver of durable reductions in power sector emissions. In fact, renewables have been rapidly gaining market share, and EIA projects this will continue through at least 2020 (Figure 9).
Figure 9. Wind and solar are rapidly gaining market share (EIA)
Even in the power sector, however, we are not moving fast enough. The MCS indicates that we would need to roughly double the pace of renewables installations starting in the 2020s to optimally cut net greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. The pace would of course need to quicken further to achieve net zero by that year. Unfortunately, after federal renewable energy tax credits phase-out in the early 2020s, industry analysts project a serious downturn, with EIA estimating that new wind installations may even falter entirely in 2022. n30 Meanwhile, emissions are trending higher in the crucial transport sector (Figure 7) and at best level in other sectors, even before federal policy reversals impose new headwinds.
Even as the falling cost of clean technologies further bolsters the economic case for action, federal climate policy is shifting into reverse. On innovation, the current administration has repeatedly sought to slash investment in advanced clean energy technologies, though
On deployment, the current administration is aggressively seeking to roll back pollution control standards. Jeopardizing power sector progress, it is seeking to undermine common sense standards seeking to level the playing field between conventional fossil generators and clean power alternatives, including renewables, nuclear, and advanced fossil with carbon capture and storage. These efforts include gutting the Clean Power Plan and repeated efforts to subsidize coal generation under the guise of reliability. Moreover, while states are leading the way in clean electricity policy, the
The current administration is also moving to undermine vehicle standards that would save drivers billions at the pump, empower US automakers to compete with
This challenge is too important to leave any tool unused. We need broad, performance-based policies that propel investment to electrify end uses with clean power while catalyzing faster progress in precision agriculture, advanced manufacturing, and improved land management. We also need to invest in coal mining communities and others on the frontlines of this transition to ensure all Americans benefit, including through programs like the Power Plus initiative. n35 This will unleash a wave of reinvestment in American industry, agriculture and forestry that will ensure sustained competitive advantage.
Add it all together and we could cut our net emissions in half by 2035, on track to net zero by midcentury while propelling economic growth and ensuring America retains its leadership in related technologies and international negotiations.
n2 Duke, Richard D. (2002). "Clean Energy Technology Buydowns: Economic Theory, Analytic Tools, and the Photovoltaics Case." Dissertation presented to faculty of
n3 Solar cost trends from Q2/Q3 2018 NREL Solar Update accessible at https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/quarterly-solar-industry-update, indicative natural gas electricity costs from bottom-end of range estimated by https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/nevada-beat-arizona-record-low-solar-ppa-price#gs.dPxW6xwJ, and utility-scale solar volumes from https://www.seia.org/solar-industry-research-data.
n7 United States Midcentury Strategy for Deep Decarbonization, 2016 using
n9 Renewable energy excludes large hydro in this report. http://www.ren21.net/status-of-renewables/global-status-report/
n17 https://www.statista.com/statistics/237773/the-largest-electric-utilities-in-the-us-based-on-market-value, http://www.nexteraenergy.com/company/work.html and http://ieefa.org/nextera-solar-wind-and-storage-will-be-massively-disruptive/
n21 Based on 13 studies (synthesized in Van Winkle et al., 2017; Murray et al., 2005; Chambers et al., 2016) compiled by
n30 https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/ and https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/5-factors-that-will-cushion-the-ptc-phase-us-wind#gs.2sDg96ly
n33 From the US Midcentury Strategy (2016), "...if the current expected trajectory of emissions intensity improvements due to fuel economy and GHG emissions standards is sustained through 2050, fleet-wide emissions intensity would decline 76 percent between 2015 and 2050. In the MCS Benchmark scenario, emissions intensity declines 86 percent over the same period. Thus, with only a slight acceleration compared to current trends, fuel economy and GHG emissions standards have the potential to achieve carbon pollution reductions consistent with a deeply decarbonized energy system."
n35 See, for example, http://www.powerplusplan.org/
Read this original document at: https://energycommerce.house.gov/sites/democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/files/documents/Rick%20Duke%20Testimony%20E%26C%20Subcomittee%20on%20Environment%20and%20Climate%20Change%20%286%20February%202019%29.pdf
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