On Nov. 13, in advance of his departure for international climate change negotiations in Paris, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Earnest Moniz outlined the conceptual ideas for the U.S. team. The Secretary’s focus is on solutions for carbon reduction. Central, are five technologies with recent dramatic decreases in costs: land-based wind, distributed solar photovoltaics, LEDs, electric vehicles and utility-scale photovoltaics.
The Secretary spoke at an on-the-record armchair conversation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. This was the Secretary's last public event before leaving for Paris. Importantly, complementing his remarks, Moniz announced the release of a new DOE report "Revolution Now: The Future Arrives for Five Clean Energy Technologies-2015 Update."
Moniz said that this technological approach, or "pathway", as he referred to it, has documentable benefits that attract other nations and leaders. He cited three core strengths to this pathway.
- Lower costs. Costs for LED bulbs, for example, since 2008, declined by nearly 90 percent. It is these reductions that enable supportive policies to move forward more quickly.
- Politically, the low-carbon landscape has changed drastically compared to a year ago, at least internationally. The Secretary cited China's interest in cap-and-trade and the U.S. Clean Power Plan. There are now carbon commitments from over 160 countries, according to Moniz. He added that this may still not be enough but, again, because of technological innovations and advancements, a virtuous cycle has started that can gain momentum on its own. Innovation and lower costs can lead to yet more ambitious CO2 reductions.
- This allows and supports long term perspectives. Moniz said to "keep squeezing down CO2" depends on technology and lower costs. He referenced a timeline extending to 2050 and even 2100.
More generally, Moniz said the U.S. must continue with an "all of the above" energy perspective. For example, he said that carbon capture from coal plants needs to be practical and affordable because in the not-too-distant future that technology will need to be used on the natural gas plants that replace coal.
He predicted that the U.S electricity sector will be decarbonized by midcentury. He said that all of this work could proceed more efficiently if Congress would work with the Administration and approach these issues on an economy-wide scale, rather than the sector-by-sector approach that is politically required now.
Moniz was asked about tax incentives and subsidies. He said the U.S. is still at the stage of accelerating non-fossil energy and related projects. He said that some of these "well-placed credits should continue. Forever? No, probably not."
Moniz also said that a cost of carbon would help with pricing. For now, he said, we need to retain current tax advantages, particularly in order to accelerate development and implementation.
"Fossil (tax) breaks," the Secretary added, "are harder to justify."