Although U.S. cities, states and corporations are becoming more aggressive in their aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, some of the most ambitious players are falling short of their goals, according to several recent reports.
If California continues to operate at its current pace of carbon reductions, the state won’t reach its 2050 emissions reduction goals to reduce economy-wide emissions 80% below 1990 until 2157, according to a recent report from Next 10. And though Northeast states have ambitious clean energy goals, the current pace of renewables deployments won’t be enough to reduce the region's emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, according to a report from the Brattle Group.
Corporate entities with heavy emissions are also falling behind on their goals despite growing interest, a Climate 100+ Progress report by CERES and four other partner networks finds. Transportation emissions dominate concerns across all three reports, and the gap between increased electrification and a clean electric grid remains a concern.
Electric utilities are continuing to set ambitious clean energy targets and make headway on renewable energy procurements, with zero emissions resource additions surpassing coal and gas generation for the first time in 2017, according to a June Ceres report.
However, increased natural gas generation combined with an uptick in power demand led to a 1% rise in power sector carbon emissions from 2017 to 2018. And that trend continues to be a concern as states raise their electrification goals within their broader climate action plans. The U.S. electric sector will need to produce twice the amount of electricity it generates today by 2050 in order to keep up with increased demand, Brattle found.
"Just to meet this load that comes from [electrifying] transportation and buildings, you have to add an [all-renewable] electricity sector that's equal to the current electricity sector," Brattle Principal and co-author of the report Jürgen Weiss told Utility Dive. "And that's sort of off the radar screen for now."
Even in an energy efficiency-focused scenario, where efficiency curbs the majority of demand, power consumption is still projected to increase 77% by 2050, Brattle found. That will require substantially more renewables additions than the currently projected 800 MW per year between 2020 and 2030. Renewables additions should increase 3.2 GW to 6.4 GW per year in order to meet that gap, Brattle found.
Though such deployments may seem drastic, they're actually not entirely out of line with the current pace of growth, according to Weiss.
"Every year, we increase the size of what we install," he said. If the sector continues to move at its current pace of renewables adoption "then we can actually relatively smoothly transition into an industry that by 2050 will be stable ... [but] the window for accomplishing that is closing very rapidly."
California's number one concern in this area is vehicle emissions, which increased 0.7% from 2016 to 2017 as a result of an increase in car sales. In total, transportation represents 41% of the state's GHG emissions. Overall, carbon emissions decreased 1.15% from 2016 to 2017, but sustaining that pace won't allow the state to meet its economy-wide 2030 goals until 2061, or its 2050 goals until 2157, Next 10 concluded.
California's electricity sector has shown improvement — making up 14.8% of the state's emissions in 2017 compared to 16% in 2018. Those improvements will need to continue in order to offset the rapid growth of EVs on the road, which increased more than 50% over the past five years.
"There are going to be very few places in the U.S. that can say, 'Oh, we're good, we're on the right trajectory,'" said Weiss.
Meanwhile, private sector ambitions are growing as well, but many industries are falling short, according to a report from Climate Action 100+ tracking the climate goals of more than 160 companies.
Approximately 70% of the corporations tracked have set quantitative GHG reduction goals, but the majority are not aligned with U.S. goals under the Paris Climate agreement, and only 9% are in line with the International Panel on Climate Change's two degree scenario or beyond.
"You could say the companies are becoming broadly aware of, and see the need to reduce, emissions, but it really requires ... a step-change in how they run their operations," Cynthia McHale, senior director and lead of Climate 100+ at Ceres told Utility Dive. "There's a lot of work to do here for all companies in all sectors."