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Watch This

Sep 2, 2021

For those of you who don’t know me, I am the father of three daughters and grandfather of seven grandchildren. Watching grandchildren is different than raising children. However, there are some parallels between children and grandchildren. One is the call I hate to hear: “Pops, watch this.”

Whatever is about to be tried, whether it is a four-year-old coming down the sidewalk riding, with no hands, a scooter or a seven-year-old trying to do flips on a backyard trampoline — “watch this” sends chills up parents’ and grandparents’ spines alike.

I had similar chills and thoughts when I heard that President Biden said: “Watch this, I order the economy to be net-carbon-zero by 2050, in addition to the electric utility industry to be net-carbon-zero by 2035.” Just like grandchildren not understanding the difficulty and risks of doing a trampoline stunt, our President has no idea how difficult or dangerous the trick he is about to try really is.

A group at Princeton University recently published a study on how President Biden’s mandate could be accomplished. It does not take cost into consideration. However, it is evident that energy of all types will cost us a lot more. The study breaks the net-carbon-zero pathway into six pillars.

  1. Efficiency and Electrification
  2. 300 million personal electric vehicles to replace internal combustion vehicles.
  3. 130 million new electric heat pumps to replace oil and natural gas home heating systems.
  4. Undefined rapid productivity gains in industrial efficiency.
  5. Steel manufacturing with a shift to electric arc furnace, direct reduced iron production.
  6. Carbon Capture and Sequestration
  7. Geologic storage of 0.9-1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide storage a year.
  8. 21,000 to 25,000 kilometers of CO2 trunk pipelines.
  9. 85,000 kms of CO2 spur pipelines.
  10. Clean Electricity
  11. Construct up to 100 gigawatts (GWs) of wind and solar generation each year for 30 years.
  12. 250 new 1,000 megawatt (MW) nuclear reactors.
  13. 300 new 750 MW combined-cycle natural gas generation units.
  14. Hydrogen burning simple-cycle natural gas plants.
  15. 50 to 180 GWs of 6-hour duration utility scale solar batteries.
  16. Zero-Carbon Fuels Technologies
  17. 620 million tons per year biomass feedstock for bioenergy production in hundreds of new conversion facilities.
  18. 56 million to 150 million tons of hydrogen produced biomass with electrolysis and/or methane reformation.
  19. Non-CO2 Emissions
  20. Methane, N2O, and fluorocarbons emission reductions 20% lower than 2020 emission levels by 2050.    
  21. Enhanced Land Sinks
  22. Forest management to provide a sink of 1 billion tons per year of CO2, which will impact at least one-half of all U.S. forest area.
  23. Agricultural management to provide a sink of 0.2 billion tons in agricultural conservation measures on 1 to 2 million U.S. farms.

To be clear, President Biden’s “Watch This Net-Carbon-Zero in 30 Years” plan will require major technology breakthroughs in hydrogen production and transportation, nuclear generation construction, battery technology, carbon capture and sequestration, agricultural practices, advanced manufacturing processes. Not just in one or two of the technologies.

It is as if you are on the front porch and your four-year-old granddaughter is coming down the street at 40 miles an hour on her bike and trying to stand on her head. You know it will end in injury. Just like you would get Band-Aids for your granddaughter, we will all need Band-Aids for our bank accounts if President Biden tries his “watch this” trick. It will not likely end well and will certainly increase our electric bills. I hope you have a great month.  

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