Weaning US energy sector off fossil fuels would cost $4.7trillion

New report says transition would require ‘a complete redesign of the power sector’ to mostly wind and solar energy.

US coal climate change
The US government decision to lift a moratorium on coal sales from public lands could hasten the release of more than 5 billion tonnes of greenhouse gasses [File: Matthew Brown/AP]

Eliminating fossil fuels from the US energy sector – a key goal of the “Green New Deal” backed by many Democratic presidential candidates – would cost $4.7 trillion, according to a report released on Thursday.

That would amount to $35,000 per household, or nearly $2,000 a year for a 20-year plan, according to the study by energy research firm Wood Mackenzie.

The report is one of the first independent cost estimates for what has become a key issue in the 2020 presidential election, with most Democrats proposing multitrillion-dollar plans to eliminate US carbon emissions economy-wide.

Frontrunner Joe Biden’s plan to get to zero emissions, for example, carries a $1.7 trillion price tag, while Beto O’Rourke’s proposal comes in at $5 trillion. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the authors of the Green New Deal, a non-binding Congressional resolution, put the cost of a comprehensive climate solution at about $10 trillion.

Such ideas aim to tap into a growing sense of urgency about climate change on both sides of the political divide, but have been panned by President Donald Trump and many Republicans as being unfeasible, costly and a threat to the economy.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Wednesday showed most Americans back “aggressive” climate change action like that proposed by Democrats, but that support falls off dramatically if they sense the initiatives would cost them.

‘Complete redesign’

Wood Mackenzie’s report focuses solely on what it would cost to green the US energy sector – a top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – but does not include costs for other sectors such as transport, agriculture or manufacturing.

The report said the transition would require “a complete redesign of the power sector” to adapt to a system of mostly intermittent resources such as wind and solar energy, which rely on the wind blowing and sun shining to generate electricity.

It’s estimated that 1,600 gigawatts of wind and solar capacity would have to be added at a cost of about $1.5 trillion. That’s more than 11 times the nation’s current wind and solar capacity.

While the costs of wind and solar power have come down, a sharp increase in demand could strain supply chains and send prices of key materials such as steel and copper upward.

The study also said 900 GW of energy storage would be required to make sure wind and solar assets can work reliably even when the weather isn’t cooperating, 900 times more than is currently installed. That sharp increase in investment in still-nascent energy storage technology would raise the cost of all-renewable generation to $4 trillion, the report said.

Finally, adding 322,000km of high-voltage transmission to get wind and solar energy from the plains or deserts to major metropolitan areas would add another $700bn.

Source: Reuters