Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – In the midst of World War II, on November 10, 1942, Winston Churchill said of the war: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
The year 2022 was disappointing for the stated American goal of reducing the country’s carbon dioxide emissions, which rose by 1.5%. In contrast, China’s emissions fell by 0.9% and Europe, despite the Putin energy crisis decreased its output by 0.8%.
The Biden administration and U.S. civil society organizations and private companies, however, laid the groundwork for potentially impressive U.S. progress through the rest of this decade. That is, 2022 may have been the end of the beginning.
The Infrastructure and Jobs Act passed a little over a year ago contained $7.5 billion for zero- and low-emission buses and ferries, and another $7.5 billion for a nation-wide network of electric car chargers. It contains $105 billion to upgrade and expand public transportation, which will mean fewer people dependent on automobiles. Even the monies dedicated to improving port and airport infrastructure have a mandate to reduce congestion and carbon emissions.
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While initially Postmaster Louis DeJoy, a Trump-era holdover, was dragging his feet on electric vehicle purchase, he caved to pressure from the administration and Congress and has agreed to purchase at least 66,000 battery-electric vehicles through 2028 as part of a 106,000 vehicle purchase plan. He is also expanding USPS parking structures and putting in electric chargers. All environmentalists would have been pleased if he would move even faster. Still, there are only 1.7 million EVs on the road in the US (up from 400,000 in the second quarter of 2018), and 66,000 would be 4% of all those existing electric vehicles. The more EVs are bought, the more the price of the batteries will fall and the more their efficiency will increase. Automobile costs are expected to fall over the next decade as a result, and big government purchases will be very helpful.
This year, 18% of new car registrations in California were electric, and about 6% in the country as a whole. That is a big increase from almost zero just a few years ago. All the big auto firms are betting the farm on going electric, and with Biden administration help are building billions of dollars worth of new battery plants. It will take a few years for this build-out to come to fruition, but when it happens, it will be like opening the floodgates.
There are only 229 coal-fired power plants left in the U.S. In November, President Joe Biden pledged to close them all. Despite the energy crisis, nearly 6% (11,778 megawatts) of U.S. coal-fired generation capacity is expected to shut down in 2022. If we can double that rate of closure every year for the next ten years, they will all be gone by 2032, which is a reasonable expectation. The cost of solar-wind-battery generation will fall over that period, making coal prohibitively expensive. In fact, coal is already expensive, costing about 6 cents a kilowatt hour to generate electricity. That does not count all the health and climate damage it does. If that were figured in, it would be more like 80 cents a kilowatt hour. In contrast, wind and solar are roughly 4 cents a kilowatt hour and have been falling. In very sunny states solar could be as little as 2 cents a kilowatt hour.
Battery storage capacity is also increasing rapidly throughout the states, which can cover at least some high-demand periods. California is up to 3 gigawatts, with plans for more.
The Inflation Reduction Act has $369 billion in it to promote green energy. The Biden Administration is letting leases for offshore wind farms. $4 billion in bids were let for New York and New Jersey alone, and over $700 million for installations off the coast of California. Likewise, Houston and New Orleans have their eyes on this energy source. Off the coast of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico the shelf is shallow enough so that wind turbines can be anchored to the sea bottom. The Pacific is so deep off California that firms will have to put up floating wind turbines, of a sort that have been installed off the coast of Scotland. The U.S. has lagged behind on offshore wind as an energy source, having almost none right now. But in two years, that will begin changing. One advantage of offshore wind is that winds blow more steadily out at sea and so those turbines can take up some of the slack from solar panels, which go dark at sundown.
We are on the verge of an amazing new, low-carbon America. CO2 emissions will be with us for years to come, but by 2030 perhaps we can start talking about the beginning of the end.