How 35 utilities plan to hit net zero

February 25, 2021

While the electric power industry has been reducing its carbon output since 2005, its old plan brought it to net zero somewhere in the 2070s. The new target is 2050, said Arshad Mansoor, the president and CEO of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), explaining that the industry has to decarbonize roughly twice as fast to reach its goal. Mansoor believes that energy efficiency, cleaner power and the electrification of transportation will help the industry meet its near-term goals. But, as he puts it, “a fourth tool” will be needed after 2030 if the industry is going to reach net zero, or come close, 20 years later.

The leading innovation appears to be “green” hydrogen, an energy carrier that can be produced with little or no CO2 emissions. During the last six months, 35 U.S. electric utilities, including many of EPRI’s largest members, have set net-zero carbon emission goals by 2050, Mansoor noted. He sees it as a bet on green hydrogen. “If somebody told me five years ago that the electric industry would put that much on something that was so far out,” he said, trailing off and shaking his head. But now, he added, there is new industry and government research on how to clean up the conventional process that makes 99% of hydrogen currently used by oil refineries and other industries that need it. It involves reacting steam with natural gas. Developing an efficient way to capture the carbon emissions from the process, he pointed out, would be a major step toward more green hydrogen.

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