The transition to a clean energy economy with a goal of net-zero carbon by 2050 is now the official policy of the Murphy and Biden administrations. But how do we modernize aging energy infrastructure to be less reliant on fossil fuels without jeopardizing the reliability of the power grid – especially when demand peaks during summer heatwaves or deep winter freezes?
Not since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, fueled by the discovery of abundant carbon-based fuels, has the world faced such significant policy choices with profound implications for humanity as we do today. I’m reminded of the irony in the adage “may you live in interesting times” because what appears like good fortune could turn out to be a curse if the transformation to clean energy is not implemented correctly.
Driven primarily by legitimate concerns of climatic impacts from carbon-based fuels and accelerated by advocates and policymakers warning of an imminent threat (“12 years to save the planet”) and irreparable harm to the planet (“code red for humanity”), the world has begun a process to decarbonize the energy sector.
Government leaders and environmentalists have dominated the policy debate thus far, which is why NJBIA recently organized an energy summit that drew more than 270 business leaders to hear from leading experts in the energy field and discuss strategies to ensure a successful transition to a cleaner energy future. “Energy and Decarbonization: A New Jersey Business Perspective” was an opportunity for the business community to shape this important debate.
We heard from business leaders in solar, wind, natural gas, and nuclear industries and learned more about reliability and cost concerns related to clean energy. Experts discussed climate policy options, the nation’s aging transmission infrastructure, and challenges for the heavy-duty transportation and buildings sectors.
What became clear to me is that our rush to meet our decarbonization goals has caused us to overlook asking and answering some significant questions.
How much of a role should intermittent renewable sources of energy provide, and how do we maintain a reliable grid as they grow?
Are batteries a viable backup source of power for wind and solar or will we need some combination of nuclear and natural gas facilities to serve as that backup source?
Is carbon capture and sequestration a viable option?
What role will nuclear power play in our decarbonized future beyond merely keeping existing, and aging, plants in service until 2050?
As we seek to electrify our building and transportation sectors, we will double or even triple our electrical demand. Where is that energy coming from?
Is it even feasible to electrify our building and transportation sectors and in what timeframe?
Renewable energy requires a massive upgrade of our transmission and distribution energy systems. Are we preparing for that?
How will we handle our legacy energy facilities, especially the billions of dollars of investments in natural gas pipelines?
What new technologies are coming, and even needed, that will be part of our decarbonized future?
And last but not least, what will it all cost and can we afford it?
Energy policy must be guided by the guardrails of affordability, reliability and feasibility. Rushing into this with the hope that it will work, or ignoring the challenges a net-zero carbon future holds, is not a serious option.
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