When you hear that climate change is real, and industrial activity around the globe is the dominant contributor, you may assume a Democrat or environmental organization said it. But, today it’s coming from leaders in the Republican party and most oil and gas companies.
Climate change is not partisan the challenge it poses to society merits significant action at every level of government and the private sector. And solutions shouldn’t be partisan either.
We must all think globally when approaching this challenge. Halting pipelines or moratoriums on oil and gas production in the U.S. in the name of climate change has little or no impact on domestic carbon dioxide emissions, let alone the rest of the world. The reality is simply this: unless we limit, and reverse, the rapid growth of emissions in the developing world, which now accounts for the majority of emissions and future emissions growth, we will not solve this challenge.
Solutions to climate change must be technologically realistic, economically feasible, and politically sustainable. To reduce global emissions as quickly and cheaply as possible, better cost-effective clean technology is necessary so the developing world will consistently choose those tools — preferably made in America — over the higher-emitting options they are choosing today.
That’s why we were so excited to see one of the biggest advancements in clean energy and climate policy in over a decade — the monumental Energy Act of 2020 — check all of those boxes.
Tucked away in the 5,000 page end-of-year omnibus back in December was a bipartisan, clean energy innovation roadmap.
The resulting technological innovation will provide options for both American and global energy systems to go clean and address the global climate challenge. It will lead to smarter, more targeted investments by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) focused on real-world outcomes that will reduce global emissions.
The Energy Act modernizes and refocuses DOE’s research and development (R&D) programs on the most pressing technology challenges — scaling up clean energy technologies like advanced nuclear, long-duration energy storage, carbon capture, and enhanced geothermal. Crucially, across all of these technologies, DOE is empowered to launch the most aggressive commercial scale technology demonstration program in U.S. history setting up more than 20 full commercial scale demonstrations by the mid-2020s.
It also sets ambitious goals for America to maintain global leadership and increases key clean energy program authorizations by an average of over 50% over the next five years.
For example, it re-gears the Office of Fossil Energy to focus on the carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says are critical to reaching net-zero goals. It authorizes a comprehensive carbon capture R&D program, including six, large, first-of-a-kind demonstrations for natural gas, coal, and industrial facilities. Additionally, it starts serious R&D on carbon removal technologies via creative X-prizes on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
It reinvigorates advanced nuclear energy by formally authorizing the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program started during President Trump’s administration. And, you can’t run those reactors without advanced fuel it also creates a temporary program to provide high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel.
The new law establishes a comprehensive grid scale storage demo program, effectively authorizing the Energy Storage Grand Challenge that Secretary Brouillette launched at DOE last year and that Secretary Granholm has committed to continuing along with a joint initiative with the Department of Defense to develop long-duration storage technologies. If variable energy sources like wind and solar are going to bring more power to the grid, we will need to store the energy for use when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.
It also includes provisions for advanced always-on renewables like geothermal energy, including programs to demonstrate technologies to enable geothermal anywhere. There are exciting opportunities to transfer technologies from the oil and gas industry and demonstrate the co-production of critical minerals with geothermal energy.
In addition to those key clean energy authorizations, the Energy Act includes a comprehensive crosscutting clean industrial technologies R&D program to lower the cost of cleaner chemicals, materials, and manufacturing. Add in the important tax credit extensions for technologies like carbon capture and offshore wind, and a phase out of greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons, and you have a huge climate bill.
All of these provisions in the bill were led by, or cosponsored by, Republicans.
And, ahead of the White House’s virtual Leaders Summit on Climate and the Administration’s new carbon emissions reduction targets, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives offered a strong clean energy innovation agenda, showcasing their ideas to lower emissions, create jobs, and keep energy prices affordable.
If we are to truly tackle the global climate challenge, we will need some common ground and a dose of technological, economic, and political realism. Clean energy innovation just makes the most sense.
• Rich Powell leads ClearPath, a DC-based non-profit that develops and advances policies that accelerate breakthrough innovations that reduce emissions in the energy and industrial sectors.
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