How many of you actually know what net-zero means? Let me explain it here before we jump in on how that can lessen our carbon footprints across many sectors. 

Net-Zero occurs when our greenhouse gas output is effectively removed from our atmosphere. This is a delicate balance. It means that to balance the scales we must reduce our emissions and remove them. Why is this important?

Some factions have confused carbon neutrality with net zero. They are not the same. There are similarities. For instance, both seek to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Let’s look deeper. 

Carbon neutrality limits any increases in carbon emissions by neutralizing them. Net-zero is focused on the reduction of carbon emissions along with its residual. 

Carbon emissions come from automobiles, energy production, and airplanes. Decarbonizing means making a choice to move from using traditional fossil fuels to electricity or other means of propulsion and emission. Bio-fuels, synthetic fuels, and sustainable aviation fuels are all being tested, but they cost quite a bit more to use at this time. 

You may have noted the automobile industry making and pushing to sell electric vehicles or vehicles powered by hydrogen cells. This is all part of reaching and achieving a net zero status but it also comes at a hefty price. 

In transitional periods there is always an opportunity for those who are thoughtful enough to think forward or pivot. Opportunities in the automotive sector begin with the creation of low-emission vehicles and the manufacturing of EV batteries and fuel cells, as well as all the other essential components that go along with same. (I.e., battery charging or refueling stations, revising the power grids, etc.) 

Despite the hurdles ethanol and biodiesel made up 17% of the automotive renewable energy consumption in 2020. This was also notably less than in the years prior to Covid. The current logic suggests that this percentile will grow in the years to come. 

Energy production has had one foot on traditional coal-based use while concurrently pursuing solar, hydro, wind, and nuclear options for quite a while. While there have been strides in that pursuit there have been many who simply believe that if we are doing fine with coal-based energy we ought to leave it alone. I’m not so sure that is a viable option given the changes we see in temperatures and weather across the world. 

In the United States about 20% of our energy usage in 2022 came from renewable sources. (I.e., hydropower 7.3%, solar 3.3%, and wind at 8.4%) However, that is up 42% from 2010. Biomass is responsible for 98% of the renewable energy used with approximately 60% coming from biomass wood, some 31% from biofuels, and 7% attributed to biowaste. 

There are numerous things that affect the renewable energy sector. Market conditions top that list, but policy decisions and regulations also factor into that equation.  

Recently, wind and solar have seen some marked price reductions which has added to their demand. For example, from 2010 until 2020 the price for onshore wind dropped 39% and the price of utility-scale solar photovoltaics plummeted 82%. If we add more incentives and continue to see the cost fall that sector is anticipated to see superb growth. 

Aircraft are responsible for approximately 1/3 of the radiative CO2 and 2/3rds of the nitrous oxide and water vapor that creates contrail cirrus clouds. Overall emissions from aircraft have dropped some 40% during the 2020 Covid pandemic but have reached all-time highs due to pent-up demand in the years after. 

The aviation industry has been a bit slower to adopt such changes largely due to the cost. For example, bio-fuel represented about 1% of the aircraft fuel usage in 2019 and cost 2 to 5 times more. The first airplane to fly entirely on biofuel was in 2021. Some airlines have attempted to use electric or hydrogen powered planes, but it has been noted to only be feasible for the flights that are under three hours in duration.

 I hope this article has helped you to discern the differences between being carbon neutral and net zero, as well as learn a bit more about how we can achieve both given our current circumstances and the path forward. No doubt more incentives to make these changes can go a long way toward actually achieving them. Legislation and regulation must be broad enough to foster research and development while also being narrow enough to prevent any potential abuses. 




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