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TVA, University of Tennessee Baker School Release Clean Energy Study

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Baker School of Public Policy and Public Affairs presented the results of a study on Feb. 14 at the quarterly meeting of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Board of Directors. The study for parts of seven Southeast states quantifies sources of greenhouse gas emissions and evaluates pathways to reach net-zero emissions across the Valley by 2050.

TVA noted that the study is the first of its kind for the region, which includes parts of seven Southeast states.  

The study quantifies carbon emission sources by economic sectors and evaluates actionable strategies for the region to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The Baker School will provide future updates as data is available.

The study looked at carbon emissions and gathered data from 24 sources -- including agricultural, transportation, industrial, residential -- and used scenario-based analysis to compare various possible solutions to help determine the timing, scale and effect of achieving carbon reduction goals. 

The Tennessee Valley region emits 200 million tons of carbon each year -- about 3% of U.S. carbon emissions.

As of 2019, the region’s carbon emissions have fallen by 78 million tons or 30% since 2005. Much of this reduction is attributable to a 50% reduction in emissions from TVA’s electricity generation and 39% reduction from agriculture due to the adoption of no-till farming.

In Fiscal Year 2023, 55% of TVA’s overall power supply was carbon-free.

“Unlike the rest of the nation which still uses fossil fuels for 60% of its power. Reductions in the electricity sector alone are unable to bring the entire region to net-zero by 2050,” TVA said.

If TVA achieved net-zero by 2050, the region would still produce almost 150 million tons of carbon. Therefore, support from other economic sectors is required, TVA said.

Dr. Charles Sims, who was recently named as TVA’s Inaugural Distinguished Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy, noted that 73% of the emissions are non-electricity related and the private sector is going to have to drive change as the region’s population is projected to grow by 22% by 2050.

Transportation is the largest source of carbon emissions – at 36% – and will continue to rise unless action is taken. Vehicle miles traveled is projected to increase by 59% by 2050.

Industrial, and Residential/Commercial buildings generate 21% of the region’s emissions, while agriculture and non-energy emissions are 16% of the region’s total. This includes sources such as methane emissions from cattle, waste disposal, and storage and wastewater treatment.

Study Modeled Several Actions

The study modeled several actions that are building blocks for creating the net-zero economy of the future which include:

  • More Electric Vehicles: Electrifying light-duty vehicles is the single largest carbon reduction opportunity. Between September 2022 and September 2023, the Southeast increased the number of electric charging stations by 69% and now has 15,036 stations across the region, according to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
  • Make Homes/Businesses More Efficient: High-efficiency heat pumps, LED lighting, and weatherizing buildings, can decrease emissions, reduce utility bills, and relieve stress on the energy grid. TVA is investing $1.5 billion in residential/commercial energy efficiency rebates to help consumers kickstart their savings.
  • Develop Low-Carbon Fuels: Research and invest in low-carbon fuels to unlock emission reductions for aviation, trucks, and industry.
  • Education & Innovation: Support every facet of a net-zero economy, from workforce training to research and development for carbon capture.

“Carbon reduction touches every household, business and community, and success means we must work together to develop actionable strategies to accelerate the transition to a clean-energy economy,” said TVA President and CEO Jeff Lyash in a statement.

“As a clean energy leader, TVA is on the forefront to drive carbon reduction across all sectors of the economy and provide the clean power needed to give our region a competitive advantage. We will continue to work with all our partners across the region to achieve our clean energy goals, together,” he said.

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