Southern Company Commits to Net-Zero Carbon by 2050

Southern Company Commits to Net-Zero Carbon by 2050

At its annual stockholder meeting last week, Southern Co. announced its goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is an aggressive goal from one of the largest electricity producers in the U.S. and the largest wholesale provider in the Southeast.

There’s been quite a stir in the wake of this announcement with several articles discussing the implications. I’ve been following some of the social media comments on this over the past week, and it’s interesting to see groups pat each other on the back for their efforts to put pressure on Southern Co. to make this commitment. However, Southern Co. wouldn’t be in the position to set this goal had it not been for three key factors.

First, its calculated, conservative approach to incorporating renewables, particularly solar PV, into its energy portfolio. Second, fracking technology unlocked vast resources of domestic natural gas, allowing the utility to offset coal-fired power with combined cycle natural gas, which emits half the CO2 per MWhr of electricity generated while ensuring reliability. Third, nuclear power–in particular, the construction of Units 3&4 at Plant Vogtle. I may be speaking out of school, but it’s my guess that if those two reactors were not under construction and about to be put into service for the next sixty years, Southern Company’s low-carbon goal would be much less aggressive. And, ironically, some of the very groups applauding Southern Company’s commitment, were against the construction of those very reactors.

Nuclear, natural gas, carbon capture and storage, renewables, afforestation–It remains to be seen how Southern Company will reach this goal while maintaining gird reliability, which is their bottom line, and keeping rates low, which is a key objective. Nonetheless, they’re to be commended for being so bold.

However, I think they’ll need more nuclear capacity to pull it off–and, given the progress we’re making in advanced nuclear reactor development, that would be welcome news.


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