How to achieve 100% adoption for electrification
This scenario of replacing anything that uses energy with a zero carbon solution when it is taken out is called a 100% adoption rate. Today, when a car reaches retirement age, there is little chance that it will be replaced by an electric vehicle (EV). If 1 in 10 people buy an EV, then the adoption rate is said to be 10%. Because machines like your car have a long lifespan, it means that traditional gasoline powered cars will stay on the road for a long time. To reduce emissions, however, our world can no longer afford these slow adoption rates. We need everyone to buy electric vehicles. Likewise, we need every business that buys a power plant to choose solar power over natural gas and wind power over coal. Fortunately, we are further along on this project than you might think. In 2018, 66% of new power plants in the world were powered by renewable or carbon-free energies! But while that’s a good thing, it’s not quite enough: Overall, we now need 100% adoption rates. This full adoption rate is required by the final decarbonization that we ultimately need.
While this sounds dramatic, it doesn’t mean you must miss out on buying a new EV today. This means that the next time you need to remove a car or any other machine, it will need to be replaced with one that does not emit CO2. When your car finally dies, you need to replace it with an electric one. Consumer Reports says the average life expectancy of a new car is eight years and 150,000 miles on the road, although well-maintained cars can last much longer – I have a 1963 Land Rover with 400,000 miles on it. and a new engine, but the next engine will be electric, even for that old car. The same logic applies to your water heater, furnace, and stove. Your roof also needs a solar upgrade. Likewise, the natural gas-fired power plant that was built in your city in the mid-2000s will not be decommissioned tomorrow, but it must be at the end of its life, which is probably 2040 or 2045. Start lobbying today.
Water heaters last 10 years; refrigerators, 12; dryer, 13; roofs, 15; stoves, 18; cars and trucks, 20; thermostats, 35; power plants, 50. No matter how effective climate activists are in convincing people to buy green technology, we are unlikely to decarbonize faster than the natural lifespan of existing machines. That is why we will need incentives such as buyback programs and subsidies to replace fossil fuel machines with electric ones as soon as possible.
We can save a little extra time if we shut down the most polluting infrastructures before they end their natural life. This is why people are arguing for early retirement from fossil fuel power plants, especially those that burn coal. But consumers, utilities and other organizations will need extreme motivation to retire their fossil fuel-dependent infrastructure early due to their sunk costs. You’re not going to ditch your gasoline car unless there are financial incentives to allow you to easily replace it with a new EV.
A 100% adoption rate is only achieved by tenure and with strong financial incentives to support it. It usually takes decades for a new technology to become dominant by market forces alone, as it slowly increases its market share every year. Electric cars still only accounted for 2% of U.S. vehicle sales in 2018, although they accounted for 5% of all vehicle sales in California in 2019; but that’s 15 years after Tesla was founded and 20 years after GM stopped production of its first electric car, the EV1. We need electric vehicles and other zero emission vehicles to account for 100% of vehicle sales as soon as it is physically and industrially possible. We don’t yet build 1 million electric vehicles per year in the United States, and the new vehicle market is home to 17 million cars, trucks, SUVs, and minivans per year.
The challenge of 100% adoption presents a giant conflict that we must face head on: the “free market” as we know it is not up to the task of keeping the world below 2 degrees Celsius / 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit and has absolutely no chance of getting us to 1.5 degrees Celsius / 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. It may sound like a screed for government intervention, but it is not! I am simply saying what is technically necessary. If your toilet was broken and you called me and asked me what to do, I wouldn’t say “the free market will fix this” I would tell you to call a plumber. This is where the world stands on climate change: No hope in free market solutions can change the fact that it is now too late to rely on the free market to act quickly enough. We need to call plumbers (and electricians, engineers and manufacturers) to fix our infrastructure now.
This does not mean that companies and the market do not have a role; they are critical. But in emergency situations, ideologies must be put aside. When Mother Nature struggles with the invisible hand, she will always win. As my friend economist Skip Laitner says, the free market needs an invisible foot to kick it in the ass every now and then. It is urgent that each player act and do their part. Individuals, governments, businesses and the market: we need all the tools in the box, and we need them to work together.
The emergency response to this climate emergency is quite simple in concept:
- We need to electrify the vast majority of our energy supplies and uses. This electricity must come from renewable energies and nuclear power.
- We need to transform our heavy infrastructure as well as the personal infrastructure that we create with our household purchasing decisions.
- Your next car must be electric. Your next furnace should be a heat pump. You need solar power on your roof. This is your personal decarbonisation infrastructure.
- We must demand that politicians drive this transformation faster than only free market forces can.
- Industry must be encouraged to increase production of green technologies at a rate similar to mobilization in wartime.
- Bankers and policymakers must create new financing mechanisms so that everyone can afford to be part of the solution.
Decarbonizing our country and moving to clean energy will create jobs in all postal codes – in manufacturing, construction, installation, infrastructure, agriculture and forestry. This is an opportunity to revitalize our cities, to rejuvenate our suburbs and to revive our rural towns. We can rebuild a prosperous and inclusive middle class, as we knew it after WWII, with tens of millions of good new jobs that are vital and worthy of pride. If America does it right, everyone’s energy costs will go down. Everyone has a role to play in the war effort.
We now face a climate emergency as difficult as all of our other 20th century emergencies put together. It requires mass mobilization with extraordinary speed and resources. Without a doubt, you are worried, scared or worse. It’s reasonable, but there’s nothing we can do, and it’s also a huge opportunity to make the world, and our economy, better for everyone.