Understanding the Uncertainties in Consequences of Climate Change for the United States Power Sector Infrastructure when Considering a Realistic Mitigation Pace and Adaptation Needs.

Monday, 14 December 2015: 16:20
3014 (Moscone West)
Ines Azevedo, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, United States
In order to overcome the potential damages associated with climate change, a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is necessary. Achieving these levels of emissions reductions will require dramatic changes in the U.S. electricity generating infrastructure: almost all of the fossil-generation fleet will need to be replaced with low-carbon sources and society would have to maintain a high build rate of new capacity for decades. Because the build rate of new electricity generating capacity may be limited, the timing of regulation is critical—the longer the U.S. waits to start reducing emissions, the faster the turnover in the electricity sector must occur in order to meet the same target. We investigate the relationship between climate policy timing and infrastructure turnover in the electricity sector. How long can we wait before constraints on infrastructure turnover in the electricity sector make achieving our climate goals impossible? We show that delaying climate change policy increases average construction rates by 25% to 85% and increases maximum construction rates by 50% to 300%. We also show that delaying climate policy has little effect on the age of retired plants or the stranded costs associated with premature retirement. We show that as we delay policy action, some goals won’t be possible for attain. For example, unless we enable emissions reductions today, reducing cumulative emissions between now and 2040 by 50% when compared to a no-policy scenario is not possible.