According to an inter-agency assessment, a net-zero power grid with electrification is a priority area for research and development, with R&D needed to advance distribution systems, transmission planning, long-term energy storage duration and use of highways for transmission.
The US government is pursuing 37 research and development (R&D) opportunities to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050, according to a White House report.
R&D opportunities are listed in the table above. The Ministry of Energy takes the lead in most of them.
The report attributes the importance of existing technologies such as solar power, onshore wind, energy efficiency and electric vehicles, saying they will “always be the main drivers” of decarbonisation. But the report cites an International Energy Agency projection that “nearly half” of the emissions reductions needed worldwide “will come from technologies that are currently in the demonstration or prototype phase.”
Identifying the 37 R&D priorities is “a first step toward a coordinated and accelerated national net zero innovation strategy,” the report says.
According to the report, three recently enacted laws that support this strategy are the CHIPS and Science Act, which allows for R&D that may include early-stage net-zero innovation, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, which allows for the demonstration of clean disposal hydrogen and carbon, and the Cut Inflation Act, which accelerates the deployment of clean energy technologies through tax credits, loan guarantees, grants and rebates.
The report does not address the specific funding levels available for R&D.
Within the priority area of a net-zero electricity grid and electrification, the report focuses on four R&D opportunities.
“Transformational change” in electricity distribution is needed, the report says, to enable widespread electrification of vehicles, appliances and industry; the integration of production, storage and flexible customer demand resources; and new grid architectures.
To advance transmission, the report says “innovations are needed” in transmission planning, network enhancement technologies, network architecture and operational control.
Beyond that, allowing transmission along the 48,000-mile interstate highway system, plus 140,000 miles of freight rail lines, could “speed up the siting and reduce the costs” of adding the transmission. Meanwhile, R&D efforts could develop advanced construction methods for the burial of high-voltage, high-capacity AC and DC cables.
As for long-term energy storage, the Department of Energy aims to reduce its cost by 90% within a decade.
R&D solar, wind
Describing “advanced solar” opportunities, the report points to “innovative thin-film solar cells,” including solid-state perovskite, which could be easier and less energy-consuming to manufacture than silicon solar cells, and have higher efficiency, with ‘even higher efficiency when used in tandem with silicon.
“Advanced wind” opportunities are being considered for floating wind turbines, aiming to reduce deep water offshore wind costs to $45 per MWh. To bring electricity to land, the R&D opportunity is to advance technologies and control systems for long-distance high-voltage direct current transmission.
The report sees a key role for net zero hydrogen and ammonia, which could be produced with renewable energy.
The other four priority areas listed in the report are efficient building heating and cooling, net-zero aviation, large-scale fusion energy, and low-carbon industrial processes.
The White House report is the result of an interagency process and is titled “American Innovation to Meet 2050 Climate Goals: Assessing Early R&D Opportunities.” The list of R&D opportunities is subject to future review, according to the report.
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