|In an OurEnergyPolicy webinar on April 22, 2020—the 50th anniversary of Earth Day—former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz (Energy Futures Initiative) spoke with Ed Morse (Citigroup) about a new partnership between his organization and the AFL-CIO, as well as energy jobs, new energy technologies, and efforts for decarbonizing the economy.
Energy Futures Initiative (EFI)—a non-profit climate solutions organization of which
Moniz is the President and CEO—announced a new labor-energy partnership with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) that morning. The goal of the partnership is to focus on a series of critical policy analyses to provide practical, achievable solutions to developing a “framework for the 21st Century energy system that creates and preserves quality jobs while addressing the climate crisis,” according to EFI’s press release.
In the OurEnergyPolicy webinar, Moniz said he found AFL-CIO to be a terrific partner while he was Secretary of Energy. The two organizations plan to jointly initiate workshops and analyses on a variety of issues from grid modernization to carbon capture to supply chains for offshore wind.
“We have always viewed job creation and the management of the evolution of the workforce in the energy transition to be absolutely critical to get to low-carbon as fast as possible,” Moniz said.
He explained that the economic situation from the virus lockdown makes it even more important to emphasize jobs; recovery will involve not only returning the workforce to their previous jobs, but creating new jobs. Moniz said that fortunately, as they’ve seen in EFI’s annual Energy and Employment Report, transitioning the energy sector has shown itself to generate jobs at roughly twice the pace of the economy as a whole.
Moniz emphasized the importance of having a “coherent, systemic, sensible policy” that manages not only the technological aspects of the energy transition but also the social impacts, including jobs.
“There are tremendous opportunities here, and I think the workforce will be expanded greatly with this low-carbon transition,” Moniz said.
Over the short-term, he said the oil industry will need to recover, but over the long-term, employees in the oil industry could transition to the carbon capture and sequestration workforce, which will need to have a scale of the oil industry today. He said there is a large overlap in the skill sets of these two industries, and it will be important not to be left with a stranded workforce once oil demand declines permanently.
Energy efficiency is a sector that employs many Americans—2.4 million jobs and growing. He suggested a program equivalent to “Cash for Clunkers” for Energy Star appliances. Moniz said there are also a lot of opportunities for jobs in manufacturing—especially for infrastructure (e.g., building high-voltage transmission lines), vehicles, and wind turbines for the growing offshore wind industry.
Cross-Sectoral Solutions, Resilience, Energy Storage
Moniz said that EFI is committed to a cross-sectoral view of addressing climate change. He described electricity as the “lead horse” in decarbonization, as it is decarbonizing more rapidly than other sectors and can help other sectors to do the same. However, decarbonizing other sectors, such as industry and agriculture, is also important. Moniz remarked on how carbon capture and sequestration is a good option for industrial decarbonization. Energy-intensive industrial processes, such as those that use very high-temperature process heat, will likely still need some kind of fuel.
When asked about resiliency, Moniz replied that many utilities are making substantial investments in climate adaption, even though they may not call it that. He said that beyond that, utilities need to make the grid smarter, providing different opportunities for power flows in certain directions and microgrids.
Moniz also spoke on the prospects for energy storage technologies.
“We need to open the aperture a lot on storage,” beyond battery technologies, he said, noting that although batteries can provide as much as 4-hours storage in some places, this is not enough to provide the necessary resiliency and reliability to the grid on a day-to-day basis. There is essentially twice as much solar power generated in the summer than in the winter, he noted, referencing EFI’s analysis on deep decarbonization in California.
“If you’re going to have solar as a major contributor, that’s just one example pointing out that you will need seasonal storage, for which we do not have a credible, zero-carbon answer today,” Moniz said.
Decarbonization Pathways & Hydrogen
When asked about alleviating technology bottlenecks, Moniz answered that in their California study, EFI looked at 30 technology pathways across all sectors to meet California’s 40% decarbonization goal, and reaching that goal requires hitting pretty close to all 30 of those pathways.
Moniz said transportation is accountable for 40% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the number one contributor to reducing its emissions in energy efficiency. Retaining aggressive CAFÉ standards is important, he said. Also, even as the transportation fleet transitions to electric vehicles, low-carbon liquid fuels—such as advanced biofuels or renewable natural gas—will still be important because there will still be internal combustion vehicles on the road.
“While we have to hit on all cylinders for those technologies we see today, we’re also going to have to have some big breakthroughs to [reach net-zero by mid-century],” Moniz said.
He stated that one development that would be a game changer would be an economically supported hydrogen economy. EFI is also focusing on carbon removal through direct air capture and technology-enhanced natural processes, such as developing new plants with extremely deep root systems to fix CO2. He said EFI has a whole portfolio of these approaches that could scale up by 2030 to mid-century and be a big contributor.
Moniz said he is also hoping for breakthroughs in carbon capture, which will make decarbonizing the rest of the economy easier and will enable reaching even negative economy-wide emissions in the later part of the century.