What is Decarbonization?

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Climate disruption has put the planet at risk. In fact, 2020 officially set a record (not the good kind) as the warmest year to date. With extreme weather events causing unprecedented losses and damage to ecosystems, addressing climate change can’t wait. For change to really happen, it has to be a collective effort – individual, governmental and at industry scale to foraging a path towards a decarbonized future.

Why is decarbonization important?

To achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, it’s not enough to stop the growth of carbon emissions. Collectively, we must remove carbon emissions from every sector of the global economy. Energy, transportation and other systems must rapidly decarbonize to get to net zero by 2050 and we need bold, transformative solutions to get there.

The work starts with a shift from relying on fossil fuels for electricity to using clean energy that decarbonizes electricity. Infrastructure, transportation systems, outdated heating and cooling systems – all emit vast amounts of CO2. But what if the environment and development were in synergy with each other and not in contrast? Leveraging clean electrification and technology to harmonize innovative development are key in paving the path towards a decarbonized future.

Comprehensive decarbonization action can be done through three sectors:

Decarbonization through renewable energy technology

Though notable achievements have been made with renewable sources, the energy sector still has some of the largest emission reductions to make. The good news is, according to a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the United States can fully decarbonize its energy sector by fully embracing renewable technologies that already exist and are widely used today, including wind, solar and battery storage. Solar and wind are now the cheapest energy sources, but their benefits extend beyond the cost of power. Investing in growing these sources can create jobs and generate local revenue while reducing local pollution and mitigating the effects of climate change.

As the demand for renewable energy continues to grow, accessibility will be key to driving decarbonization faster. Programs like community solar allow participants to subscribe to a nearby solar farm and receive savings for the electricity generated by their share. However, these programs aren’t an option for everyone. In fact, only 19 states and the District of Columbia have passed some statewide policies to support community solar programs. While it’s a step forward, policymakers need to ensure more access to clean energy for everyone through programs like community solar.

Decarbonization through transportation electrification

Electrifying transportation is another part of the decarbonization puzzle. The biggest barrier to electric vehicles has been the initial purchase cost and lack of range; however, as battery technology improves and charging infrastructures spreads, the number of electric vehicle models available to consumers is expected to more than triple in the next few years. In order to support this growth, state policymakers need to provide incentives for charging station construction and hold utility companies accountable for investing in making the interconnection process simple and accessible.

What’s more, in order to stay on target for limiting global temperature rise, we need to address all transit options, including electrifying public transportation fleets and improving their coverage. The more accessible public transportation becomes, the more likely people will ride, thus delivering more benefits to the environment.

Decarbonization through housing and building development

While it may not sound as glamorous as renewable energy or EVs, improving the energy efficiency of housing and buildings is just as important. Cities around the world are well positioned to play a leadership role in driving climate action. They consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions that lie at the core of the climate crisis. In fact, homes and commercial buildings consume 40% of the energy used in the U.S. The average American spends $2,000 for energy annually which could be decreased by $200 to $400 by reducing air leaks, drafts, and outdated heating and cooling systems.

Similar to renewable energy generation, energy efficiency programs need to be accessible to all. Low to moderate income households face economic barriers that make electrifying their homes nearly impossible if they are expected to go at it alone. While there are energy programs that help address low-income families’ needs, there is still much work to be done in equitable building decarbonization. The benefit is not just reducing climate impact but also making buildings healthier, cleaner and more affordable for all.

Global decarbonization is critical to combating the climate crisis, protecting human health, and revitalizing the economy. We have the technology needed, but our ability to decarbonize will come down to federal, state and local efforts. At Nexamp, we’re committed to helping reach this goal by making clean energy more accessible to all.

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