Texas economy

How Texas’ economy can grow even if the state cuts carbon emissions to net zero

Good news, Texas: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions can help the state’s economy meet our needs and the wants of our investors and customers. Our research shows that decarbonization is good for business and the environment.

Over the past two and a half years, we’ve conducted an in-depth analysis that has looked at different pathways to bring Texas to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We’ve come to several important conclusions.

First, there are many ways to bring the Texas economy back to zero.

Second, it has significant economic benefits such as GDP growth and job creation.

Third, reducing carbon dioxide emissions has key environmental benefits, such as reducing water consumption by the electricity sector and preventing air pollution.

Fourth, the oil and gas industry has its place in a low-carbon future.

These are exciting findings as they are further evidence that Texas can play a leadership role as the global economy decarbonizes.

For a state that has made big bucks without caring about carbon emissions, it’s natural to fear that our prosperity will suffer if Texas starts caring about carbon emissions. However, our research comes to the same conclusion as other objective third parties who have studied national decarbonization: it just doesn’t have to be.

Getting to net zero requires several steps: cleaner fuels, increased efficiency, electrification, hydrogen and carbon management. The Texas electricity market is already rapidly replacing coal with natural gas, wind and solar, as these cleaner options are cheaper and abundant in Texas.

This reduces CO2 emissions from the electricity sector. And this means that if we use the cleaner energy sector to electrify other activities such as transport and industrial processes, the emissions from these sectors will also decrease. Also, electric motors and heat pumps are more efficient than gasoline engines and gas boilers, so electrification reduces the energy we need in Texas despite a growing economy and population.

For parts of the economy that are difficult to electrify, we can use cleaner fuels like hydrogen. Hydrogen can also be used as a process heat carrier and as a building block for chemicals and other materials.

Carbon scrubbers at chimneys, machines that remove CO2 from the air, and multiple carbon management technologies, including land management, can mitigate the remaining emissions from gas-fired power generation.

The economic benefits of avoiding costly air pollution and investing in the deployment of so much infrastructure means the economy will grow and create jobs. In future scenarios focusing on hydrogen and carbon management, these industries could be excellent job creators. The new technology is enabling the oil and gas industry to pivot to the hydrogen and carbon industry. This leverages the highly skilled capabilities of Texas energy operators for the benefit of all of us.

But why should we care and give ourselves all this trouble? Because our customers care. Whether or not Texas accepts the risk of climate change, consumers around the world are looking for low-carbon goods and services. Reducing our CO2 emissions will give us a competitive advantage and maintain our global energy leadership. If we ignore our customers’ demands to clean up our act, they will look elsewhere.

Just because we are energy leaders today doesn’t mean that will always be the case. We are in competition with cities, regions and countries around the world who would be happy to take this leadership role away from us. It would be foolish of us to give them that option.

By adapting with agility to the economy of the future rather than digging in to protect the legacy of our past, we can maintain our leadership role and harness the resulting economic gains. As our research shows, not only are we able to bring our economy back to net zero emissions, but it’s the right thing to do. And time is running out.

Isabella M. Gee is a research associate and Michael E. Webber is a professor of energy resources at the University of Texas at Austin. They are co-authors of a recently published report, “Don’t Mess With Texas: Bringing the Lone Star State to Net-Zero by 2050.” They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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