Estimates indicate that eight million electric vehicles could be on the roads in Germany by 2030. Investing in fast-charging stations and managed charging will be key to upgrading infrastructure.
Earth's changing climate has big implications for citizens, businesses, and policy makers. This collection draws together articles and reports on physical climate risk, sustainability, the energy transition, and approaches to face up to the challenges brought on by climate change.
American natural gas is a solution that has forever altered the world’s energy equation by:
Power providers, manufacturing companies, surface and marine fleet operators and millions of small business and home-owners have turned to natural gas to ensure they can get the energy they need, at a price they can afford.
When used to generate electricity, natural gas produces half the CO2 emissions of coal. In recent years, the use of natural gas by electricity-generating plants has increased greatly, and today power sector CO2 emission levels are at their lowest levels in nearly 30 years. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that switching to natural gas accounted for almost two-thirds of the CO2 emission reductions from 2006 to 2014.
The U.S. depends on energy being available at the flip of a switch, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For that to happen, the supply and demand of electricity must always be in balance, meaning the energy going into the power grid must equal the amount being used. That’s why all our nation’s energy systems require constant power generation that can also fluctuate with our needs. Natural gas generation is doing just that: reliably and efficiently providing power at an affordable cost while being flexible and fast-ramping enough to keep the lights on when intermittent resources like wind and solar are not available, all while reducing its own emissions.
Brazil’s energy costs remain higher than that of its global peers. Investing in diversification, grid improvement, and energy efficiency could lower prices and expand supply.This is the paradox of Brazil’s energy markets: if generation capacity is growing, why do its power prices remain stubbornly high? Diversifying and optimizing the energy systems, cutting grid losses, and investing in energy efficiency could help expand Brazil’s energy mix and potentially lower prices.Decades of supportive public policies and investment have placed Brazil at the top of a mix of global markets for energy generation (exhibit). It boasts the world’s largest biomass industry and ranks second in hydropower capacity. Industry analysts see further potential in solar, wind, and natural gas.
In 2019, Brazil produced 122 million cubic meters a day, up 9.4 percent year over year.3 Given its reserves, Brazil has potential to more than triple natural gas output to 380 million cubic meters by 2050.
Brazil loses about 18 percent of the power it generates within its transmission and distribution grids. That number is close to the regional average but considerably above the 8 percent losses in Europe and North America. The country should strive to achieve those international benchmarks in an effort to decrease end-customers’ tariffs, especially commercial ones, and to increase the competitiveness of Brazil’s companies.
Companies that reduce energy waste and increase energy efficiency can also benefit society by helping the country consume fewer carbon-intensive, high-cost resources while generating employment through energy-efficiency initiatives. According to energy-efficiency index ODEX, Brazil’s residential sector improved its energy efficiency by 21 percent from 2005 to 2018, and the transport sector improved 18 percent, whereas the industrial sector increased only 7 percent. Initiatives to accelerate the industrial sector’s energy efficiency include improving recycling, expanding the use of energy management systems, and investing in professionals’ development to help them identify energy-efficiency opportunities.
Companies should reflect on how cheaper power will affect their business plans. In addition, Brazil can build on its world-class position in low-carbon energy through hydropower generation by developing its other renewable assets, preparing for an era of sustainability. Electricity powers nearly every aspect of our lives, work, health, and wellness. In any scenario, a lower-cost grid could position Brazil to be more efficient, resilient, and competitive in the long run.
The United States uses many different energy sources and technologies to generate electricity. The sources and technologies have changed over time, and some are used more than others.The three major categories of energy for electricity generation are fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum), nuclear energy, and renewable energy sources. Most electricity is generated with steam turbines using fossil fuels, nuclear, biomass, geothermal, and solar thermal energy. Other major electricity generation technologies include gas turbines, hydro turbines, wind turbines, and solar photovoltaics.
Natural gas was the largest source—about 40%—of U.S. electricity generation in 2020. Natural gas is used in steam turbines and gas turbines to generate electricity. Coal was the third-largest energy source for U.S. electricity generation in 2020—about 19%. Nearly all coal-fired power plants use steam turbines. A few coal-fired power plants convert coal to a gas for use in a gas turbine to generate electricity. Petroleum was the source of less than 1% of U.S. electricity generation in 2020. Residual fuel oil and petroleum coke are used in steam turbines. Distillate—or diesel—fuel oil is used in diesel-engine generators. Residual fuel oil and distillates can also be burned in gas turbines.
Hydropower plants produced about 7.3% of total U.S. electricity generation and about 37% of electricity generation from renewable energy in 2020.1 Hydropower plants use flowing water to spin a turbine connected to a generator. Wind energy was the source of about 8.4% of total U.S. electricity generation and about 43% of electricity generation from renewable energy in 2020. Wind turbines convert wind energy into electricity. Biomass was the source of about 1.4% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2020. Biomass is burned directly in steam-electric power plants, or it can be converted to a gas that can be burned in steam generators, gas turbines, or internal combustion engine generators. Solar energy provided about 2.3% of total U.S. electricity in 2020. Photovoltaic (PV) and solar-thermal power are the two main types of solar electricity generation technologies. PV conversion produces electricity directly from sunlight in a photovoltaic cell. Most solar-thermal power systems use steam turbines to generate electricity. Geothermal power plants produced about 0.5% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2020. Geothermal power plants use steam turbines to generate electricity.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects an 11% increase in electricity generation in the United States between 2015 and 2040, or about 0.4% per year. In practical terms, that means a corresponding increase in the demand for coal and gas, at least in the near future. Electricity-generating plants now consume nearly two-fifths of U.S. energy from all sources, including about 91% of America’s coal and 35% of its natural gas, as well as biomass and landfill gas. Burning those fuels produces copious amounts of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other pollutants.
Generating electricity using renewable sources is a challenging task, but some progress is being made. According to EIA projections, the share of total energy used by power plants from sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal is projected to reach 28% by 2040. However, integrating the energy from many of these renewable sources would likely require expansion and enhancement of the electric transmission system, such as the addition of more power lines.
A sustained effort and accelerated deployment of new technologies and efficient renewable sources could power a greater percentage of U.S. electricity needs. The eventual outcome will depend on consumers’ choices, U.S. government policy, and the market price of existing and alternative energy sources.
Nuclear energy produces no GHGs in the process of generating electricity and currently produces 20% of America’s electric power. However EIA projects that total electrical generation by nuclear power will remain flat during the next 25 years. Efforts to increase capacity face three large, though not insurmountable, hurdles: high capital investment costs associated with the construction of new nuclear power plants; resistance from citizen groups that oppose nuclear power and storage of radioactive material; and international security issues. (Both the preparation of nuclear reactor fuel and the disposal of nuclear reactor fuel after its use create opportunities to produce materials that can be used in nuclear weapons and that are generally not available by other means.)
Getting electric power to consumers may be as much of a challenge as creating it. Generating stations are usually built away from load centers because sites are easier to find and fewer people are disturbed by the presence of the infrastructure. Electrical power is delivered by a complex high-voltage transmission and distribution system (“the grid”) that consists of more than 19,000 electric generating units with more than 1 million megawatts of generating capacity connected to more than 450,000 miles of transmission lines. It has evolved piece by piece over decades, has become increasingly stressed in recent years, and there is increasing concern about its vulnerabilities. Most Americans are aware that massive blackouts cause widespread disruption: For example, a single event in August 2003 cut off power to some 50 million customers from Ohio to New York and Canada, with estimated losses of around $6 billion. But fewer of us know that even in relatively uneventful periods, power outages and interruptions cost Americans at least $150 billion each year—about $500 for every man, woman, and child—according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Upgrading the U.S. grid to the level of a “Smart Grid”—that is, one in which the components of the delivery system are controlled and coordinated by computerized remote data acquisition and automated operations—represents a significant investment but would yield numerous benefits. New technologies and equipment would improve reliability, resulting in fewer system failures and quicker restoration of power when blackouts occur. An upgraded grid could facilitate increased reliance on renewable and intermittent resources, assuming development of viable storage methods. And a modern grid would allow for the creation of wholesale energy markets, better prices for customers, and a more distributed system of power generation.