Electrification: What’s the carbon deal?

There are three main ways to move towards a carbon-neutral future without losing our current quality of life or standard of living – and it’s no surprise that each of these involves shifting how we use energy rather than eliminating it. After all, if we can make energy carbon-neutral, with unlimited availability, why would we not use as much as demand entails?

3 min read


Jordan Flagel

Sustainability & Environmental Specialist, certified GRI professional for sustainability reporting

But wait! If we electrify everything, won’t that mean demand will rise by quite a bit? Well, yes. Definitely, actually.

Perhaps because a lot of people have ingrained in their minds that energy use is equal to environmental destruction, or they cannot separate carbon and energy in their minds. Whatever the reason, it must be reiterated: there is no rule that states that energy must emit carbon into the air. So how can we move forward in the best way possible? The best of the three main ways would appear to be electrify everything.

The first way forward would be to find a way to greatly improve carbon capture and storage, continue burning fossil fuels, and store carbon underground. This is probably the worst of the three options, and the least likely to go forward. It is expensive, wasteful, and will not fully solve the problem, though there is definitely a place for using CCUS in certain situations.

The second way is to convert our current fossil fuel use into biofuel and synthetic fuel use. This is a bit better from a carbon standpoint, but it still doesn’t address the core issue of creating more energy to meet future demand. And it also doesn’t fully take into account the land use issues with creating more biofuels, or the energy component of creating synthetic fuels. These will have an important place in the future, likely in air travel and international shipping, but will probably not make a significant portion of the general energy budget for everyday life.

So, that leaves the best for last: electrification. This essentially means we electrify everything that can be electrified and get all of our electricity from carbon-free sources. Cars, trucks, industry, heating – everything that can run on electricity must run on electricity. That’s our path to the future.

There are varying levels of optimism for if this can be reached with renewable energy. Some prominent advocates think we can easily reach 100% of our electricity needs on a combination of wind and solar. However, it appears this is very, extremely unlikely – at least until you add in hydro, geothermal, and emerging renewable sources. Then it might be possible.

But wait! If we electrify everything, won’t that mean demand will rise by quite a bit? Well, yes. Definitely, actually. So, we won’t have to supply the current demand with 100% renewable energy, which is probably not entirely possible as of right now, we will have to supply future demand with a massive increase in the number of things that consume electricity. The worldwide electric grid will have to grow by around 3x it’s current capacity – and be carbon-free. Even the most optimistic people should be able to see the issue with this.

Luckily, there is a solution that is waiting for people to accept its existence. And when they finally do, it will be able to provide the necessary baseload power in tandem with hydro, and solar, and wind, giving us a legitimate chance to have a giant, carbon-free grid to power everything that can be electrified.

This solution is SMR thorium nuclear power. And it is essential for our energy future.