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Climate change

The world can’t afford to wait for an energy miracle

The cost of shifting to clean energy will skyrocket unless we begin making investments and long-term plans to deploy advanced technologies now, according to a new study.

The findings: The paper, published today in Nature Energy by researchers at the Imperial College London, explored a range of simulated scenarios for the British power system. The authors found that transitioning to zero-carbon electricity will cost 61 percent more by 2050 if we rely only on short-term strategies and existing clean technologies, like wind, solar, and nuclear.

Why? Such an approach would lock in a less-than-optimal mix of energy sources over time, ultimately requiring far more energy-generating capacity and supporting infrastructure.

On the other hand: Coupling “unicorn technologies” that have been demonstrated but not widely commercialized with long-term, systems-wide planning could reduce total costs 13 percent by midcentury (see “Praying for an energy miracle”). Those technologies could include tools to capture and store carbon dioxide, small modular nuclear reactors that can adjust plant output to match shifting demand, and battery storage with the capacity and durability to meet the daily needs of the grid.

Getting there will require public-sector investment and support on a level we’ve not yet seen. But we’ll need it soon if we don’t want our clean-energy future to cost us dearly.

Deep Dive

Climate change

This CRISPR pioneer wants to capture more carbon with crops

New research at Jennifer Doudna's institute aims to create faster-growing, carbon-hungry plants using the gene-editing tool.

giant kelp underwater
giant kelp underwater

Running Tide is facing scientist departures and growing concerns over seaweed sinking for carbon removal

The venture-backed startup believes kelp could be a powerful tool to combat climate change. But some scientists fear the ecological risks on large scales.

biomass with Charm mobile unit in background
biomass with Charm mobile unit in background

Inside Charm Industrial’s big bet on corn stalks for carbon removal

The startup used plant matter and bio-oil to sequester thousands of tons of carbon. The question now is how reliable, scalable, and economical this approach will prove.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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