Electricity’s Carbon Footprint: 2 Ways to Lower It

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster" by Bill Gates. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How much CO2 does electricity production generate? What can we do to reduce electricity carbon footprint worldwide?

Electricity production is the second largest contributing factor to global CO2 emissions (coming after manufacturing). Curbing emissions generated by electricity production is the most critical step in addressing global warming because it can help reduce carbon footprint across the board.

In this article, we’ll look at two potential solutions for reducing electricity carbon footprint.

Carbon Footprint of Electricity Generation

According to Bill Gates, eliminating electricity’s carbon footprint is an important step in curbing carbon emissions because non-carbon electricity can also help reduce emissions in all other industries.

For example, electric cars reduce emissions in the transportation category, and electric heat pumps can reduce emissions from furnaces in the heating and cooling category. As of 2021, fossil fuels account for two-thirds of electricity production worldwide, with hydropower contributing 16%, nuclear 10%, and renewable sources (including solar and wind) 11%. Gates highlights solar and wind as promising renewable/non-carbon energy sources. We’ll briefly discuss each. 

The US Needs a Grid Update

Between the market trend of electrifying everything, the surge in electric car purchases, and the Biden administration’s goal of a carbon-less power sector by 2035, the US is placing increasing demands on an electrical grid that is becoming less reliable as it ages. For instance, there have been more than twice as many power outages in the last six years as in the preceding six years. 

Unfortunately, updating the US electrical grid is expensive and complicated. A new grid could cost more than two trillion dollars. Perhaps more problematically, such a project promises to be politically controversial due to local and state legislators’ control over their region’s electrical systems. For instance, politicians may oppose grid updates to save their constituents’ money. Therefore, the electrical grid itself is likely to be a limiting factor in the US’s ability to run on clean electricity. 

Electricity’s Carbon Footprint: 2 Ways to Lower It

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  • Bill Gates's technology-based strategies for reducing global carbon emissions
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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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