Biden’s Bet on a Climate Transition Carries Big Risks

Richard Rhodes, the energy historian whose recent book Energy: A Human History describes the technologies and innovations that have changed energy over centuries, said an Italian physicist, Cesare Marchetti, discovered a hard truth in the 1970s after he had examined thousands of energy transitions. It takes about 50 years for a new energy source, be it coal or oil, natural gas or renewable energy, to dominate only 10 percent of the world market. Then it takes another half century to reach 50 percent.

This, Rhodes said, was true despite wars, economic conditions, and government intervention.

White House officials say the country can brave history in a number of ways to meet Mr Biden’s goals, including reducing emissions from farms and city buildings. However, two sectors play a major role: electricity, in which the president needs far more renewable energy, including advanced batteries to store electricity generated by solar panels and wind turbines; and transportation, where reliance almost entirely on gasoline must be shifted to electricity.

Mr Biden has proposed a carrot-heavy approach that includes spending on research and development, efficiency improvements in households and schools, and the power grid to better support renewable energies. As part of his infrastructure plans, he would like Congress to require utilities to switch to lower-emission power sources.

Mr Biden’s emissions target is based on the fact that electricity companies will significantly reduce their emissions by 2030 and zero them by 2035.

“Our analysis says we could get there by 2050,” said Nick Akins, general manager of American Electric Power, an Ohio-based utility company, but not by 2035.

“If we go too fast, we can jeopardize the reliability of the grid,” he added, citing recent power outages in Texas

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