UVA Darden Professor Charts Path to Decarbonize the Power Industry by 2060

By Jay Hodgkins

Following his research on how the automobile industry will transition to an all-electric future in the coming decades, University of Virginia Darden School of Business Professor Mike Lenox released the second in his series of “Path to 2060” research reports on innovation-led decarbonization of the economy. This time, Lenox’s latest report breaks down how the electricity generating industry will transition to 100 percent renewable energy — which creates a powerful carbon-reducing one-two punch when paired with the rise of electric vehicles.

In the report, Lenox noted that 62 percent of new electricity generation capacity added globally in 2016 came in the form of renewable energy sources, continuing a recent trend driven by technology cost improvements, government incentives, competitive pricing and increasing demand for clean energy.

Why did Lenox choose 2060 as the date by which the power industry must decarbonize?

In the 2015 Paris Agreement, 175 countries pledged to commit to greenhouse gas emission reductions in order to limit global warning to no more than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. According to atmospheric scientists, achieving this goal requires limiting total cumulative global emissions to 2,900 gigatons of CO2. Since the Industrial Revolution, global CO2 emissions have reached 2,100 gigatons; this leaves a carbon “budget” of 800 gigatons. Assuming the continued emission of greenhouse gases in the near future, staying within this carbon budget will require near-total decarbonization of global economic activity by 2060.

In this report, we assess the potential for complete decarbonization of global electricity generation by 2060. Today the burning of fossil fuels for electricity and heat production accounts for 25% of the greenhouse gases emitted globally. The electric utility sector is one where much innovation is taking place and presents a potential opportunity for total decarbonization.

Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation announced the new report through its Business Innovation and Climate Change Initiative blog.

Will we decarbonize electricity generation by 2060? Not likely, but we are on the right path and have reached a tipping point. But what about solar tariffs, relaxed EPA regulations, and other politically-driven efforts to stall progress? As Professor Mike Lenox likes to say, “technology always wins”. Longer term, wind and solar are those winning technologies, it’s basic economics. What could accelerate broader technology adoption and what barriers still lie ahead? Here’s a hint – grid modernization.

Read the full blog post here.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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