Major work ahead in energy, transport to achieve net-zero emissions in Florida by 2050

carbon emissions smog ap
The good news is that there has been progress.

Getting to net-zero emissions in Florida will take a structure that so far state leaders have yet to put in place, despite the climate issues at our doorstep or, for many unfortunate state residents, inside their homes through flooding and storm damage. There is a path, though, and it runs through the processes of electricity generation and transportation.

Faculty and interns at the University of South Florida (USF) and Florida International University (FIU) — along with the universities of Florida, Florida State, Central Florida and Georgia — teamed up on a project jointly funded by the VoLo Foundation and the Environmental Defense Fund to determine that path, looking at both emissions and reductions of those greenhouse gas emissions through aspects like carbon capture.

“A broad and diversified set of net-zero actions were identified across sectors of the greenhouse gas emissions inventory, and for each action we provided research to support potential emissions reductions as well as general information on the feasibility and rough estimates of cost,” said Tiffany Troxler, an FIU associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environment, and the Sea Level Solutions Center in the FIU Institute of Environment.

Troxler helped present the report as part of Florida Climate Week, a virtual conference hosted by the VoLo Foundation.

The energy sector, mostly through fossil fuel combustion, shoulders the majority of the emissions per economic sector, more than 251 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018. In comparison, the state’s gross emissions from economic activity and waste is more than 304 million metric tons, with net emissions around 292 million metric tons for the year.

“Considering the energy sector as the major contributor, we tried to look at the distribution between the electricity generation and the transportation,” said Kebreab Ghrebremichael, associate professor at the Patel College of Sustainability at USF.

“These two constitute about 82%, and they’re almost equally divided. Transportation is about 42, and electricity production about 40. The focus for reduction should actually be on these two sectors.”

Scaling up solar power can make serious inroads here, according to the research.

“For instance, over 50% of electric power sales come from residential electricity use, and another 38% from commercial use,” Troxler said. 

“Thus, transforming electric power generation from fossil fuels to renewable energy — for example, solar — from residential to utility-scale and increasing efficiencies, both with modest rates of annual conversion, and continuing uptake of solar by medium-sized and large utilities, eliminates greenhouse gas emissions from direct electric power consumption by 2050.”

On the transportation side, building out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure and a corresponding changeover in vehicle ownership from fossil fuel-burning to electric, would have a similar effect on that sector.

The report looked at historical and baseline greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 through 2018, along with emissions projections for the future for scenarios accounting for no change in behavior, 100% “clean electricity” by 2035, and net-zero emissions by 2050. The six greenhouse gasses considered were carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride.

“But the total greenhouse gas emissions was reported in … carbon dioxide, based on the global warming potential of each of these gasses,” Ghebremichael said.

The report notes no change in behavior is projected out to result in more of the same, around 270 million metric tons of carbon dioxide released in 2050. A clean-energy scenario drops that to just under 200 million metric tons, and a net-zero scenario leads to a net-negative result of around -29 million metric tons — more carbon removed than emitted.

The good news is there has been progress. Emissions per gross state product have been declining for the past 30 years or so as processes become more efficient and people turn to cleaner forms of power.

“This is encouraging, in terms of possibly achieving net-zero in the future,” Ghebremichael said.

“Although the total greenhouse gas emissions are either increasing or staying stable, the per-capita and per-(gross state product) values are declining. When you do more of this, there is the opportunity to achieve the objectives of reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the end.”

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook:


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