Infrastructure

At PCI, we believe that many different kinds of solutions are necessary to mitigate climate disruption, as might be expected for one of the greatest challenges our civilization has ever faced. Pricing carbon is the best broad, economy-wide policy to efficiently incentivize many of these more local solutions, and this is the primary focus of PCI.

With that said, much of our national and international infrastructure also has massive opportunity to be overhauled or replaced with more climate-friendly (and, in most cases, people-friendly) alternatives as our pace of technological development has continued to accelerate. We see three major areas of focus:

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Energy production and distribution – In 2013, more than 80% of energy in the U.S. came from fossil fuels, as seen in this very helpful infographic. Deployment of renewable energy production is growing rapidly, but needs to continue to accelerate in the coming decades. This requires further cost reduction throughout the production and deployment process and massive amounts of cheap energy storage to handle lack of consistent availability and variable demand. Finally, many changes are needed and problems must be solved in the electricity grid in order to support massively distributed production (photo credit: Koza1983).

Three converted Prius Plug-In Hybrids charging at San Francisco City Hall

Transportation of people and goods – Today our transportation networks are both very inefficient (in terms of energy required per unit of useful cargo moved) and heavily reliant on petroleum and the combustion engine. Electric vehicles such as those produced by Tesla Motors and distributed charging stations will help us migrate away from petroleum usage and take advantage of renewable production in the transportation sector. Advances in automated driving will improve efficiency of routing. Technologist Saul Griffith argues that we need to think much smaller and lighter than automobiles (even EV’s) as we consider the options for sustainable human transport.

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Efficiency in general infrastructure – Efficiency in areas like building heating and cooling, manufacturing lighter, smaller and more efficient consumer goods, and common appliances are all areas with huge opportunity. As reported last year by the International Energy Agency, energy efficiency has been a primary, although generally underrated, driver for growth in per capita energy consumption in developed countries to trend well below the increases in per capita income and availability of energy services. This trend will need to continue and accelerate through market deployment and continued innovation in the coming decades if we want to reduce our global carbon footprint while maintaining or improving our current lifestyles.

We believe that carbon pricing will encourage investment in these alternatives across the board (and particularly in the efficiency space, where price sensitivity is higher for individual large purchases). However, this incentive may not be enough to accelerate especially the largest, most systemic infrastructure investments at the necessary pace to ward off the worst impacts of climate. Examples include bringing new technologies to the broad market or updating the national energy grid. We support more direct, targeted investment and public and private coordination in these areas – investments like the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, the SunShot Initiative, and ARPA-E. A great deal of commitment, work and investment will continue to be necessary over the next 30 years and beyond to widely distribute these technological innovations throughout the world – but recent research suggests that all these changes will have a net positive impact on humanity and the world economy versus the status quo, independent of the climate and sustainability impact.