New U.S. Climate Portfolio Must Emphasize Innovation And Grid Development, IEA Chief Says

The United States must expand its power-transmission grid for its own sake and invigorate innovation for the world’s sake, the head of the International Energy Agency said last week.
IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol pressed the incoming Biden Administration in these two directions as the administration develops the new climate pledge required to re-enter the Paris Agreement.
“When we look at the 2050 net-zero emission reductions, about 50 percent of the emission reductions globally need to come from technologies which are not commercially available yet,” Birol said in a Stanford University webinar.
“So, if i can perhaps say again, 50 percent of the emission reductions to reach our climate goals are coming from technologies which are not commercially available, which are not marketed, such as hydrogen, and the United States being the leader of innovation for years and years and years, I would expect that innovation can be one of the magic words for the next administration's energy and climate portfolio.”
The U.S. has led innovation because of its unique system of national laboratories and research universities.
President-Elect Joe Biden can deploy those to achieve his goal of a carbon-free power sector in the U.S. by 2035. That feat will require significant investment in the power grid, Birol said, so that electricity can be shifted regionally to counter the variability of wind and solar power.
“If the the next administration's 2035 net-zero electricity generation plan is implemented, the solar and wind deployment in the united states compared to today needs to be tripled,” Birol said in a webinar hosted by the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy, “and this, in my view, calls for great infrastructure investment, because in the absence of grids when you have the sun shine in Arizona, in Los Angeles, you cannot use it (elsewhere). So therefore having grids will be very important to accommodate those intermediate renewables and at the same time provide secure electricity.”
Jonathan Pershing, former lead climate negotiator for the U.S., agreed the grid expansion is necessary and cautioned it will be difficult politically.
“I fully agree with Fatih: most of the models that we see presume that you largely electrify economies and then you decarbonize the electricity system,” Pershing said, “and that means more density in our grid, more capacity to wheel power across longer distances to manage variability.
“But we have a political problem about people not really wanting large-scale high-voltage transmission lines in their backyards or in their communities, and when they are put in, they want a revenue structure. But the revenue is often at the site of generation and at the site of use. It is not in the middle where transmission occurs, except for the person on whose land that pylon might sit. So everyone else might get the visual consequence of the transmission line but no returns. These kinds of political questions are going to be at the heart of almost all of the national negotiations, but they'll also be at the heart of the international ones.”
The U.S. is set to re-enter the Paris Agreement at a time when most countries are required to increase their climate commitments. Because of Donald Trump’s brief withdrawal from the accord, the prior U.S. pledge is invalidated and Biden has an opportunity to submit a far more ambitious one:
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