Sep 21, 2020 - Energy & Environment

The long road to a decarbonized electric grid

Data: Deloitte; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Deloitte; Chart: Axios Visuals

Splashy power company pledges to cut emissions to zero by midcentury are going to be very hard to achieve, but hardly impossible, according to a Deloitte analysis released Monday.

Why it matters: Electricity is the second-largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions after transportation.

  • Over the last two years, some of the country's biggest power companies pledged to fully decarbonize their generation over the next few decades.
  • Per Deloitte, 22 investor-owned power companies have goals to be "net zero" or have 100% carbon-free generation by 2050.

The big picture: "There are significant gaps between decarbonization targets and the scheduled fossil fuel capacity retirements and renewable additions, and flexibility requirements needed to achieve full decarbonization," the Deloitte study states. "The math doesn’t yet add up," it adds.

What's next: The firm's "utility decarbonization framework" is broken into three decadelong phases that offer a sequential way to close the "transition gap."

  • The next 10 years see more coal-plant retirements and renewables and storage deployment and innovation, and some carbon capture.
  • Subsequent phases address expanding "smart" homes and "grid interactive" tech in buildings; development of seasonal-scale storage; EV-grid interaction, direct air capture and other approaches.

Yes, but: A suite of circumstances will have to line up right. The report, for instance, details various deployment obstacles around costs, complexity, and development of not-yet-mature tech.The many examples address policy (such as delays and "uncoordinated transmission development" for offshore wind), "mixed" social acceptance for technologies like "smart" homes, and much more.

Go deeper