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How the PNW Will Reach Net-Zero By 2050 Thumbnail

How the PNW Will Reach Net-Zero By 2050

This past summer had more than its share of distressing heat waves, floods, and fires across the globe.  With these stark signs of climate change in mind, a group 16 of us from the Newground family recently attended a fascinating and inspiring dinner event at the Rainier Club in downtown Seattle to hear Eileen Quigley, Founder & Executive Director of Seattle’s Clean Energy Transition Institute, present her latest analysis of the steps needed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in the Pacific Northwest by 2050.

The Institute’s comprehensive study “Here’s the Plan: How the Northwest will get to Carbon Net-Zero” was released on June 21, 2023.  The slide deck from Ms. Quigley's October 16 presentation provides a nice summary of the study's findings.

As Ms. Quigley wrote in her blog post announcing the release, the study's key findings include: 

  • Electricity: End-use electricity demand will more than double from 2021 to 2050, with new electrified transportation responsible for more than half of that increase. However, economy-wide energy demand would decrease by 30 percent due to efficiency gains that come primarily from fuel switching to electricity.
  • Transmission: Expanding transmission across the Northwest will lower total decarbonization costs and create more options for how to meet net-zero goals. Planning must start now to overcome the challenges of building interstate transmission.
  • Clean fuels: Inflation Reduction Act incentives will make hydrogen production economically feasible by 2030, particularly in Montana. By 2050, liquid fuels could be fully decarbonized with both captured carbon and hydrogen becoming valuable commodities used to produce clean hydrocarbon fuels. 
  • Transportation: Moving away from internal combustion engine vehicles is key to lowering energy costs during the transition to net-zero emissions. By adopting electric vehicles, the Northwest avoids the costs and production of clean liquid fuels for internal combustion engine cars. 
  • Buildings: Electric appliances are more energy efficient than gas-powered equivalents. Keeping gas as a fuel source to heat and cool buildings and for cooking will result in 11% higher energy demand and drive up decarbonization costs across the economy by 2050. (Retaining gas in buildings drives up decarbonization costs by $4.6 billion per year.)
  • Emissions: The Northwest can get close to zero CO2 emissions by 2050, but it is not possible with current technologies to reduce non-CO2 emissions (such as methane, nitrous oxide, and other fluorinated greenhouse gasses) to zero without significantly changing agriculture and industrial processes. Achieving targets in states with large agriculture sectors will require clean fuels and carbon sequestration to help offset remaining emissions. 

As we know, all Newground clients are concerned about the warming climate and resulting problems.  Ms. Quigley's expertise about how our region can navigate this critical transition in the coming years was both insightful and inspirational.