How to Decarbonize the Electric Grid

Eliminating fossil fuels means shifting how electricity is produced and distributed from the source.

1 minute read

January 7, 2024, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

View of power towers at electric distribution substation against colorful sunset sky.

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Writing in High Country News, Jonathan Thompson warns that the movement toward electrification will only improve sustainability if decarbonization reaches power generating plants as well. “The electric power sector is the nation’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after transportation. Electrifying everything might do little more than redistribute emissions from buildings and cars to the power grid.”

According to Thommpson, “The electric power sector needs to quit fossil fuels, cold turkey. And that requires massive investments in new power sources and innovation to remake the grid for a carbon-free world.”

Thompson goes on to highlight twelve methods for decarbonizing the grid, including eliminating coal and natural gas power plants, promoting efforts to build better batteries to store renewable energy, growing grid interconnections, and making buildings and vehicles more efficient so that they require less energy to begin with. 

For example, ‘geographical smoothing’ can help states share and transmit excess energy. “This will require centralizing operations at what are now dozens of distinct power grids across the West—and building more long-distance transmission.” On the flip side, microgrids that are integrated but can also operate independently can stave off blackouts when disasters occur.

Monday, January 1, 2024 in High Country News

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