How The Clean Energy Transition Could Save More Than It Costs

The Expense of transitioning the United States to clean energy might be surpassed by the savings of not having to buy fossil fuels, according to a scholar of energy management methods.

That calculation doesn’t including the savings from avoided pollution and climate damages, stated James Williams of the University of San Francisco.

The Energy economy in a low-carbon transition is one in which capital costs–basically the funding costs of low-carbon generation along with the incremental cost of an electric car or a better boiler, something like that–those capital costs wind up replacing gas prices related to fossil fuel purchases,” Williams told a workshop a week hosted by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The Cost of devoting to 80 percent clean energy by 2050 will be about 1 percentage of Gross Domestic Product, give or take 1 percent, Williams said in the Academies’ Workshop on Deep Decarbonization. “So you wind up using a net cost which is a relatively small gap between relatively big changes in flows in the system.”

However, 1 percent of Gross Domestic Product still seemed large to one participant, retired IT professional Bruce Parker, who said:

Has Any thought been put into getting the public ready for the high cost related to deep decarbonization? Your 1 percent of GDP is probably about a thousand bucks per person per year. I understand in my own house if I turn off my gas and heat by electricity, it is about 2,000 dollars per year. I really don’t know how many politicians could get elected to state ‘Yeah, vote for me, I will cut off your natural gas and make you visit power, and it’s going to cost you 2000 bucks per year.”

one Percent increase, Williams responded, is less than the country usually endures during oil shocks and recessions. And the cost of clean energy has consistently been overestimated, he added:

The U.S. spends Normally 6 to 7% of GDP on electricity. We spend 20 percent on health care, simply to put things in proportion, and thus a change in that spending on the degree of a percent of GDP is far lower than the historic fluctuations we’ve seen during periods of oil-price shocks and economic downturns. Will there be some costs? As it currently stands there might be but… there has been consistent overestimates of solar and solar end prices relative to the fact that we have seen, and we’re starting to have a look at some of the new price projections and viewing really on a societal basis, negative prices is a possibility out there. I don’t mean to spread fairy dust and I am not claiming that will be the situation, but it could be getting as likely as net positive cost.

If it’s fairy dust, then some utility executives have been sprinkling it as well.

Late This past year, Xcel Energy committed to 100% renewable electricity by 2050. Jonathan Adelman, the eight-state usefulness’s vice president of strategic planning, advised Greentech Media the incremental cost of renewable energy generation is now less than the embedded cost of existing fossil fuels.

Williams cautioned that the cost/benefit equation will differ for different sectors of the economy. Here’s his estimate:

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