Repowering the world: the challenge of electrification

Adam Tooze

As far as we are currently able to judge, our best chance to halt the further escalation of the climate crisis through decarbonization of the economy depends on electricity and electrification. Given the current horizon of technological expectations, electric power and electric technology offer us the best chance of reconciling the insatiable desire for energy with the stretched and frayed environmental envelope.

Electricity today is still a major driver of environmental disaster. This is because it is overwhelmingly generated by burning fossil fuels and coal in particular. It is in fact, the largest single source of pollution, more than fossil-fueled powered transport or agriculture. Not only do they contribute to climate change, emissions from coal-fired power stations around the world are so toxic that they kill millions of people annually. But electricity is one form of energy that we do know how to generate without CO2 emissions, most obviously by solar, wind, hydro or nuclear generation. So, the path to a low-carbon future depends on greening the electricity generation system and at the same time expanding the total volume of electric power generated so that we can apply clean electric power to more purposes than we currently do….