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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The newest section of a project from Third Way, the Bipartisan Policy Project and Clean Air Task Force examines how energy breakthroughs could accelerate America's transition to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Why it matters: The report chapter, provided first to Axios, is part of a broader effort known as the Decarb America Research Initiative, which explores the best ways to move the U.S. toward a net zero carbon emissions future by 2050.

  • The new chapter, out Tuesday, shows how innovation can reverberate in ways that dramatically bring the costs down of making whole scale changes in energy systems.

How it works: To conduct the study, modelers looked at four different scenarios, including a renewable breakthrough scenario, an advanced nuclear breakthrough scenario, a carbon capture pathway, and then one that combined all the innovation together, called the universal innovation scenario.

Details: The breakthrough scenarios show significant technological leaps forward, rather than incremental innovations that one might see under a business-as-usual improvement in renewable energy, Lindsey Walter, deputy director of the climate and energy program at Third Way, told Axios.

What they're saying: "Innovation reduces the overall cost of reaching net zero emissions," Walter said.

  • The savings could cut the cost of getting to net zero by more than 60%, saving up to $250 billion per year by 2050 compared to a scenario that includes only incremental technology improvements.

The report, jointly funded by the Bernard and Anne Spitzer Charitable Trust and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, contains numerous other insights. These include:

  • Each modeled net zero scenario would require clean energy to be deployed at twice the rate that's ever been achieved in the past.
  • If a key breakthrough only occurs in one technology, such as advanced nuclear power, then that would dominate the marketplace for a time. But it would not negate the need for investments in other technologies.
  • "There is no silver bullet technology," Walter said.
  • A major benefactor in any scenario that brings costs down in zero emissions technologies will be hydrogen, which is likely to be a key fuel for decarbonizing marine shipping, chemicals production and trucking.
  • The report foresees an increase in hydrogen demand of 9 to 22 times above today's levels by 2050.

Much of the debate in Congress over infrastructure centers around what technologies to incentivize and how much, and this report is likely to help inform that fraught discussion.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Dec 1, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Exxon sets new emissions goals for 2030

An Exxon Mobil Corp. gas station in Falls Church, Virginia. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Exxon on Wednesday unveiled 2030 greenhouse gas targets as it faces investor and activist pressure to do more on climate.

Driving the news: They include a 20%-30% cut in corporate emissions intensity — that is, emissions per unit of output — and a 40%-50% intensity cut in oil-and-gas exploration and production.

New report hits DOJ over lack of police shooting data

Demonstrations followed the shooting of Dijon Kizzee by Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies in 2020. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

A new government accountability report says the Department of Justice failed to consistently publish an annual summary of police excessive force data from 2016 to 2020, as required by federal law.

Why it matters: The data is crucial for the DOJ to monitor excessive force cases, and used to investigate law enforcement agencies with patterns of abuse. The DOJ can pivot off it to pursue court action to force reforms.

Congressional leaders clinch support for crucial defense bill, debt limit votes

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer passes waiting reporters on Tuesday. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Congress has found a shortcut to pass its annual defense funding bill and raise the debt limit.

Driving the news: The House will vote Tuesday night on two major bills — one creating a one-time, fast-track process for the Senate to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, and another passing its annual defense bill.