- Ally Karanikas
Earth’s Dependency on Technology
Climate change is a pressing issue for the modern world, especially for politicians hoping to gain the support of their constituents. Due to an expanding economy, technology dug the world into the hole of climate disaster, but it is also the only way to get out. As the world’s politicans plan to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions, countries must ask themselves if their economy and current technology are prepared for this shift. In the United States, politicians are claiming that they are the key to sustainable development and can change the economy’s dependence on fossil fuels, but the citizens must ask themselves, “Is this plan feasible with the technology existing now or that which is planned for the future?” To meet the United States’ climate goals, further technological innovation is necessary to have the equipment able to fulfill the environmental goal requirements.
Hoping to prevent catastrophic effects of climate change, President Biden of the United States is aiming to greatly reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and revolutionize industries by 2030. Biden has placed great emphasis on sectors that he believes could change the country’s carbon footprint: transportation and electricity. He targets to increase funding for both sectors to bolster innovation and productivity (“FACT SHEET”). Finding ways to reduce emissions in both of these sectors are extremely important to fulfill the quotas because they produce most of the emissions within the United States. The transportation sector is responsible for about 29% of greenhouse gas emissions and the electricity causes 25%; together, the two divisions create 54% of all emissions. As the two greatest sources of emmisions, tackling these sectors are of the utmost importance for combating climate change (EPA). To expedite the process of de-carbonizing, Biden plans to invest in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology that would subtract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Because of the current dependence on fossil fuels, the switch to renewable energy would be difficult to complete quickly. If Biden and future leaders are fixated on this 2030 goal and the renewable infrastructure is not present, the country would become reliant on carbon capture to compensate for the excess emissions (“FACT SHEET”).
The existing renewable and environmental technology is not enough for the transformation needed to meet the environmental goals. The current mechanics are either too expensive, do not have the infrastructure needed to employ at a wide scale, or not efficient enough. Although electric vehicles are becoming more widespread, the cars are not being created at a rate fast enough to make them affordable for the average American. The initial cost of electric vehicles is around $10,000 more expensive than a gasoline powered car, roughly equivalent to an entry-level luxury vehicle. Since EVs are new on the market, used cars are not available cheaply for those on a budget. Although the overall lifespan cost of an EV is less than its gasoline counterpart, the upfront cost and charging system needed can dissuade consumers from making the commitment (Winters). The electricity sector has the technology and potential to expand and revolutionize the energy industry, but it does not have the infrastructure ready to employ the mechanics. Despite Biden aiming to have clean energy by 2030, Wood Mackenzie, an energy research company, says that “the U.S. grid will more likely get only 66% of its energy from emissions free sources.” This prediction leaves 34% of the energy sector to be provided by fossil fuels. If Biden wanted to fully de-carbonize the grid, the continued use of fossil fuels would further the dependence on carbon capturing to fully hit the climate targets (Gardner). It seems as if CCS is the final piece to achieving reduced carbon emissions, but the world lacks the technology to efficiently sequester greenhouse gases. According to the Global CCS Institute, there are twelve active CCS projects in the US currently, but the systems together can only store “roughly 0.4% of national emissions.” Even with other adjustments in the country’s carbon footprint, current systems would come nowhere close to the numbers necessary to fulfill Biden’s plan. Out of the twelve capturing projects, only one of those permanently stores the carbon underground. The other eleven practice enhanced oil recovery, which means the carbon is pumped into oil reservoirs, boosting pressure, and therefore increasing production. This type of CCS project, although it does sequester some carbon, further protects the country’s dependency on fossil fuels, which undermines the point of a sustainable revolution. This technology is also very expensive to create. Between 2010 and 2017, the Department of Energy invested $1.1 billion into nine CCS projects, but only two are currently functioning (Douglas). To be considered a climate solution, the technology needs to develop to be more efficient and employed at a large scale so it can be cheaply used.
Although the existing technology is not quite ready to revolutionize the world, there is hope for new technology to be developed. The price of an electric vehicle is high now but is predicted to drop. BloombergNEF, a research provider, found that electric vehicles will be cheaper to produce than conventional cars, even without government subsidies. The batteries for these vehicles create 25-40% of the cost, but this expense is predicted to fall by 58% between 2020 and 2030, according to a non-profit organization Transport & Environment. With low prices, environmentally-friendly vehicles will be accessible to the average person, and cheap technology will be applicable to more areas, such as public transportation (Partridge). Although other renewable energy sources exist today, solar energy is the most cost effective source on the market. According to the International Emergency Agency, “solar power is now the cheapest electricity in history,” and the price for all renewables is continuing to drop (Materson). Solar panels, especially, will gain more traction when people find out ways to have productive and aesthetic solar panels. Regarding productivity, sheep farmers are now finding that they can have their livestock eat grass below the panels. This extinguishes the additional need of lawn maintenance and cuts down on the cost of livestock food. Recently, solar roof tiles have arisen, which are more efficient at harnessing solar energy and are more attractive compared to bulky solar panels. CCS technology, though inefficient now, has the potential of storing “2.6 trillion tons of carbon dioxide, as much as the country has ever emitted plus centuries of future emissions” with the United State’s underground geological sites (Douglas). CCS devices are progressing to be more efficient, like 2-EEMPA, which requires “17% less energy” than modern systems (“New Generation”). A CCS project in Iceland currently sequesters carbon at a price of $600-$800 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, but it projects to eventually capture at $100-$200 per metric ton (Money is Pouring into Carbon Capture Tech, but…). The high demand for these technologies, in combination with government subsidies, provides great potential for the future of renewables.
As climate change’s dire consequences begin to impact the world, countries are rushing to commit to lowering their carbon footprint. Has the world’s procrastination on climate efforts permanently impacted our chance at a habitable planet? To avoid the most catastrophic effects, countries must tackle the most emitting sectors: transportation and electricity. Carbon capture and storage will hasten the journey to a sustainable future. Although Biden’s plans are ambitious, with the creation of new technology, improvement on existing devices, and application of infrastructure, the United States can achieve those goals.
Douglas, Leah. “Factbox: Biden Administration Sees Carbon Capture as Key Tool in Climate Fight.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 7 Feb. 2022, www.reuters.com/business/environment/biden-administration-sees-carbon-capture-key-tool-climate-fight-2022-02-07/.
EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions.
“FACT SHEET: President Biden Sets 2030 Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Target Aimed at Creating Good-Paying Union Jobs and Securing U.S. Leadership on Clean Energy Technologies.” The White House, The United States Government, 22 Apr. 2021, www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/04/22/fact-sheet-president-biden-sets-2030-greenhouse-gas-pollution-reduction-target-aimed-at-creating-good-paying-union-jobs-and-securing-u-s-leadership-on-clean-energy-technologies/.
Gardner. “U.S. to Struggle to Meet Biden's Power Grid Climate Goal -Woodmac.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 16 Sept. 2021, www.reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/us-struggle-meet-bidens-power-grid-climate-goal-woodmac-2021-09-16/
Materson, Victoria. “'Renewables' Power Ahead to Become the World's Cheapest Source of Energy in 2020.” World Economic Forum, www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/07/renewables-cheapest-energy-source/#:~:text=Of the wind, solar and,of renewable energy is falling.
Money Is Pouring into Carbon Capture Tech, but ... - Youtube. CNBC, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxVFopLpIQY.
“New Generation of Carbon Dioxide Traps Could Make Carbon Capture Practical.” Science, www.science.org/content/article/new-generation-carbon-dioxide-traps-could-make-carbon-capture-practical.
Partridge, Joanna. “Electric Cars 'Will Be Cheaper to Produce than Fossil Fuel Vehicles by 2027'.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 May 2021, www.theguardian.com/business/2021/may/09/electric-cars-will-be-cheaper-to-produce-than-fossil-fuel-vehicles-by-2027.
Winters, Mike. “Here's Whether It's Actually Cheaper to Switch to an Electric Vehicle or Not-and How the Costs Break Down.” CNBC, CNBC, 29 Dec. 2021, www.cnbc.com/2021/12/29/electric-vehicles-are-becoming-more-affordable-amid-spiking-gas-prices.html.