GOLDEN, Colo. — U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm visited Colorado Wednesday, where she announced $38 million in investments to convert four national laboratories to net zero in the coming years.
The facilities include the Idaho National Laboratory, the National Energy Technology Laboratory, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, located in Colorado.
“It will be an example to others that they too can do it," Granholm said during her visit at the NREL Flatirons campus. "If you can get to net zero when you've got all of these super computers and, you know, these huge user facilities, then others will be able to do it around the country as well."
Despite leading in the research of solar and wind technology, in 2020, NREL emitted roughly 25,724 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air. That’s the equivalent of the rough annual emissions of 2,300 homes or 4,600 passenger vehicles.
The Biden administration has called for the U.S. to be net zero by 2050 and to have a carbon-free electric grid by 2035.
The $38 million investment will help the four campuses electrify their vehicle fleets, upgrade their technology to be more energy efficient and lower emitting, expand their carbon capture and carbon storage, and more.
Martin Keller, the director of NREL, says they plan to have the 305-acre Flatirons campus reach net zero by the end of next year and the main NREL campus net zero by 2026. Part of his commitment was to ensure that all new facilities on campus will be constructed to be net zero from the start.
However, the discussion comes as many across the country are continuing to face high gas prices, just in time for summer road trips.
Granholm took some time during the press conference to address the gas prices, saying every country is looking for ways to increase supply so that the energy market can stabilize.
In April, the Biden administration announced a plan to release one million barrels a day from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the next six months to boost supply. It is the largest ever release from the reserve.
“In theory, it helps a little bit, but the amount that they released is a very small percentage of what we consume every day," said Jeffrey Logan, director for policy and analysis at the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "So, I think if anything, it will have a very modest impact."
It also comes as the oil and gas industry criticizes the Biden administration for restricting land leasing in some areas.
Granholm says gas prices could get worse before they get better.
“So when China comes back, opens up after COVID, people will be driving, that will be a pull on demand and we will see an upward pressure on prices," Granholm said. "When the EU actually does ban Russian oil and gas, which they are contemplating doing, that too will create an upward pressure on prices because of the Russian oil that is pulled off the market."
The challenge in the short-term is figuring out how to replace that oil and gas supply with something else. Along with pulling from the national reserves, Granholm says President Joe Biden is also encouraging companies in the U.S. to increase their production.
During a visit to Louisiana Tuesday, Granholm told reporters that the administration isn’t ruling out the possibility of restricting fuel exports to help bring down gas prices at home. However, the administration is also weighing the idea of secondary sanctions against countries that purchase Russian oil, which could drive some prices up as more countries compete for the same energy exports.
“It is an exclamation point for why we have to accelerate to clean because truly, no one has ever weaponized access to the sun. No one has ever weaponized access to wind," Granholm said. "The way we are energy secure is building homegrown, clean energy, and other countries looking for that as well."
This is why, Granholm told reporters, the president is calling on Congress to put clean energy on the grid through tax credits to make building out supply chains and clean energy generation easier.
Logan says making these laboratories net zero is not going to make a large difference in the overall carbon picture, but it will prove to large companies that the transition is possible. However, he says if the U.S. is serious about reaching its energy goal, it will have to start increasing its transition, and fast.
“In the year 2020, we installed a record amount of wind and solar. It was a little more than 30 gigawatts of new wind and solar. In order to get to 100% renewable electricity, or 100% zero carbon electricity by 2035, we will need to triple that amount that we install each year,” Logan said, “It's doable, but we need political willpower to make it possible.”