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Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
November 2022

Pathways to Net-Zero for the US Energy Transition

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Pathways to Net-Zero for the US Energy Transition cover
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What will it take to achieve a net-zero carbon emissions footprint for the US economy by 2050? This report from Energy Pathways USA helps strengthen the evidence base on what will be required for a robust US energy transition and elucidates key barriers and opportunities for reaching net-zero goals.

The authors examine past and present emissions trends and highlight common threads across recent quantitative analyses of potential net-zero trajectories, identifying sectors and shifts that could significantly boost decarbonization. Transforming the electricity grid—with clean energy production, increased high-voltage transmission, and grid modernization for resilience and reliability—is critical to all of these projections. Electrifying transportation and buildings, pursuing hydrogen as a fuel source, and expanding carbon management solutions are also commonly identified as significant ways to spur decarbonization.

The authors also offer an overview of the federal and state decarbonization policy landscape—including analysis of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act passed into law in 2022.

“For the US to reach its climate goals, these federal government investments will need to galvanize a multiplicative effect of private and subnational investments—along with construction of infrastructure and deployment of new technology—at an unprecedented scope, scale, and pace,” the authors note.

The report closes with a selection of challenges and opportunities for the US net-zero project that require further attention:

  • Accelerated deployment of clean electricity and the electrification of vehicles
  • Accelerated energy efficiency and the electrification of buildings
  • Development and deployment of advanced energy technologies, including hydrogen; carbon capture, utilization, and storage; direct air capture; zero-carbon liquid fuels; and advanced nuclear and geothermal energy sources
  • Reduced industrial-sector emissions through electrification, efficiency upgrades, the deployment of advanced energy technologies, and low- or zero-carbon fuels
  • Reductions in methane emissions in oil and gas exploration and development
  • Enhanced conservation and sequestration in forest and agricultural lands
  • Accelerated state and regional coordination and efforts
  • Ensured equitability for the energy transition
  • Increased domestic supply chain sourcing to support all aspects of the transition

The report closes by outlining future areas of work for Energy Pathways USA. This Duke-based endeavor brings together corporate partners and thought leaders across multiple key industries to accelerate net-zero progress in the US.