Reducing Carbon Emissions in the New Climate Economy

Published on November 10th, 2014 | by

renewable energy for reducing carbon emissions

The U.S. has targeted a 17 percent reduction in carbon emissions below 2005 levels by 2020. World Resources Institute (WRI) has identified many real-world examples where government policies and sustained technological progress are creating opportunities to achieve this goal and succeed beyond.

According to WRI’s latest report, Seeing Is Believing: Creating a New Climate Economy, emerging technologies could help the United States achieve quicker and deeper reductions of carbon from the atmosphere through targeted policy support.

A One-Two Punch Delivering Smart Policies

By closely analyzing low-carbon actions, policies, and programs that are delivering economic benefits in the U.S., the new Seeing Is Believing study builds on the recent New Climate Economy Report, and provides additional insights.

“These new studies provide a one-two punch that smart policies can drive growth and reduce emissions. Business leaders are waking up to this reality and it’s time for more U.S. elected officials to do the same,” said Andrew Steer, President and CEO, WRI. “From Texas to Iowa, more real-world success stories are emerging each day. We need to seize these opportunities to put America on a strong, low-carbon pathway.”

Five Areas of Opportunity to Reduce the Carbon Footprint

According to Seeing Is Believing, over 50 percent of the U.S. carbon footprint could be positively impacted by focusing on five specific areas of opportunity:

● Reducing waste from natural gas systems
● Reducing carbon intensity of electric generation
● Improving electric end-use efficiency
● Building cleaner, more fuel-efficient passenger vehicles
● Reducing consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)

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Renewable Energy Investments are Equally Important

Curbing emissions from these areas is critical to helping achieve U.S. goals. However, investment in cost-effective, low-carbon technologies is equally important to ensure continued progress in the years ahead.

Nicholas Bianco, Senior Associate at WRI and lead author of Seeing Is Believing, says “States, companies, and federal agencies have been demonstrating for years that there is much that can be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing net economic benefits to average Americans.”

Seeing is Believing also provides new recommendations in each of the five areas to deliver additional economic gains through long-term policy certainty for businesses and investors via standards, carbon pricing, or other mechanisms; driving technological improvements through research and development; and providing a better investment environment for new technologies.

Carbon Emission ≠ Economic Growth

Chad Holliday, member and former Chairman of the Board, Bank of America, agrees. “This new analysis shows that not only is a shift to low-carbon technologies happening, it’s happening faster than expected and saving Americans money in the process. The old equation that linked carbon emissions to economic growth simply doesn’t add up anymore.”

Studies by Synapse Energy Economics and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, have identified American ratepayers’ savings of $83-241 per person per year in power generation. They report that, comparing to the current mix of electric power options, increasing renewable energy generation has the potential to save tens of billions of dollars a year. This research is supported by the following findings reported in Seeing Is Believing:”

Savings in Power Generation:

● Renewable energy is even cheaper than natural gas plants in some parts of the country.
● In many states and regions, renewable energy is becoming cheaper than building new coal plants.
● New natural-gas-fired power plants already cost between 19 to 44 percent less than new coal-fired power plants.

Savings Through Electricity End-Use Efficiency

● Utilities can procure energy efficiency at one-half to one-third the cost of new electricity generation.
● State energy efficiency programs regularly save customers $2 for every $1 invested, and in some cases up to $5.
● Many major appliances are 50 to 80% more efficient than they were just a few decades ago—saving consumers billions in energy savings and reducing emissions.

Savings Through Passenger Vehicle Fuel Efficiency

● Since the implementation of federal fuel economy and CO2 standards for cars and light-duty trucks, the number of vehicles with a fuel economy of 40 miles per gallon or more has increased sevenfold.
● By 2025 vehicles will be roughly twice as efficient as those sold today while saving owners $3,400 to $5,000 over their vehicle’s lifetime.
● Battery prices for electric vehicles have fallen by 40 percent since 2010.
● Long-range electric vehicles may become cost competitive with internal-combustion-engine vehicles by the early 2020s, even without federal tax incentives.

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Savings Through Other Emissions Reductions

● Methane leaks are being addressed through recent standards which are expected to save industry millions of dollars per year, while reduced air pollution will have substantial health benefits.
● Methane emissions can be reduced by 25 percent or more through measures that pay for themselves in three years or less, and even deeper reductions are possible at just a few cents per thousand cubic feet of gas.
● HFC emissions in the United States can be reduced by over 40 percent from what would otherwise be emitted in 2030 at a negative or break-even price today. Many companies around the world—including General Motors, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, and Heineken— have already cut energy costs substantially by switching to safer and cheaper alternatives to HFC refrigerants.

“The Business Community can Play a Crucial Role”

Ken Gayer, vice president and general manager of Honeywell’s Fluorine Products business, reports “Honeywell’s nearly $900 million investment commitment to commercialize our low-global-warming Solstice® hydrofluoro-olefin refrigerants, blowing agents, solvents and aerosols will support U.S. jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally.”

Affirms Gayer, “The strong demand for these innovative and environmentally-friendlier products is proof that the HFC findings in WRI’s Seeing Is Believing study are accurate – the business community can play a crucial role in both growing our economy and bettering our environment.”

Seeing Is Believing lead author Bianco believes that the U.S. is poised for success in curbing fossil fuel emissions. But, he points out, “Now the question is whether the nation will build on that success by scaling up its investment in low-carbon technologies that save money. The right policy environment will be vital to fully realize this opportunity.”

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About the Author

Aisha Abdelhamid is a native of Long Beach, California, residing in Egypt. Besides being the Site Director and a writer for InspiredEconomist.com, she also writes for PlanetSave.com and EdenKeeper.org. A retired Computer Engineer with the U.S. Dept. of Defense, her latest work published for the DoD was "Personal Financial Management." Commissioned by Congress, this award winning 10-course training set is hosted by NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, and is mandatory financial training for every branch of the US Military.