How Clean Energy Can Get Us to a Safer Climate Future

This is part of a series of blogs on NRDC’s new report, “America’s Clean Energy Frontier: The Pathway to a Safer Climate Future

As communities in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean recover from punishing storms, there is much we can and must do to immediately help. We must reach out to those who need food, water, clothing and shelter. But we also must protect our communities from future extreme weather events. We can rebuild communities to be stronger and more resilient. And we can and must act now to cut the dangerous carbon pollution that can fuel extreme weather events.

In America’s Clean Energy Frontier: The Pathway to a Safer Climate Future, a new report based on comprehensive modeling by NRDC and the well-respected consulting firm, Energy + Environmental Economics (E3), we outline a cost-effective way to cut carbon pollution 80 percent (from 1990 levels) by 2050—which we need to do to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The big news here is not just that we can do it. It’s how—the report shows we don’t need to wait for big new, breakthrough innovations. Instead we can rely primarily on today’s proven clean energy solutions. A bold, rapid but achievable deployment of energy efficiency, renewable energy, electric vehicles and cleaner, more efficient energy use in buildings, all supported by a modernized grid, is the best way to a safer climate future.

NRDC President Rhea Suh explains how climate change is impacting communities and how our pathway will help avoid climate catastrophe here. Our colleagues offer a detailed explanation of the pathway here. For all of us on NRDC’s energy and transportation team, the report offers some key insights and guidance for our clean energy advocacy.

Where NRDC Will Focus Clean Energy Efforts

Increase Energy efficiency: NRDC has long recognized energy efficiency as the fastest, cheapest, cleanest solution to our energy challenges. The report affirms the importance of our work to make buildings, appliances and equipment, factories, and vehicles more energy efficient, and with progress at the federal level stalled, we’ll work even harder at the regional, state, and city levels to do so.

Scaling Up Renewables: Our drive to scale up renewable energy, especially solar, land-based wind and offshore wind, is critical. Our analysis shows that we can get 70% of our electricity from solar and wind power by 2050—and 80% of our electricity from solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal technologies. We view this 80% goal as a floor, not a ceiling, and NRDC will keep pushing for more innovation and higher renewable levels. NRDC is all in on state and city level efforts to scale up deployment of renewables, ensure that all communities have access, and that the siting of large-scale renewable energy is “smart from the start.” And we’ll fight back against any efforts by the Trump administration to turn back the clock on clean energy.

Clean Electricity in Cars and Decarbonized Buildings: The report shows that getting to climate safety will require at least half of all passenger vehicles to run on clean electricity. With an array of partners, NRDC’s clean vehicles and fuels team is turbo-charging its efforts, and is already seeing success in California, as well as the Midwest and Northeast. Decarbonizing energy use in buildings is an emerging priority for NRDC. Our strategies include making buildings more energy efficient, switching space and water heaters to highly efficient, clean electric alternatives like heat pumps, and moving to carbon-free fuels for any remaining direct fuel use in buildings.   

Modernized Grid and Utilities of the Future: Ensuring that the electricity grid can incorporate higher levels of clean energy technologies—such as wind and solar (both large-scale and roof-top), battery storage, smart charging of electric cars-will require new regulations, investments, and business models for utilities. The Sustainable FERC Project, a coalition housed within NRDC, is a leading national advocate for the grid upgrades needed to deliver more clean electricity. We also need to change the way utilities are regulated to make sure that business models are aligned with the public interest to build up clean and efficient energy.

How We Can Do It—Despite the Trump Administration

It may seem daunting to go down such an ambitious clean energy pathway under an administration that is trying to ignore climate change and roll back critical clean energy policies. While America waits for the return of strong federal leadership, we can and must make continue to make progress at the regional, state, and city levels. And it’s already happening.

Over the last year, at least 16 states—representing more than 40% of the U.S. population—have taken new or stronger action on climate and clean energy:

This progress is real and happening now. By intensifying our efforts on all fronts, and continuing to build a diverse set of allies, we can build a safer climate future for everyone.  

About the Authors

Kit Kennedy

Managing Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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