Can the World's CO2 be Stopped From Doubling?

At the time of this presentation a team at NOAA had developed a national energy simulator that used highly detailed weather and electric load data to determine the role that various energy sources could play in the coming decades. The “energy system simulator” can integrate any source of energy (coal, nuclear, wind, solar etc.) over the 48 continental US states, and includes a potential national High-Voltage-Direct-Current transmission network, allowing power to be shared over the domain. Using linear programming the simulator identifies cost-minimized geographic configurations of power plants that could continuously and reliably supply electricity over all parts of the country.

The study shows that there are many paths to lowering carbon emissions, but approaches that can achieve electric costs comparable to today and large carbon emission reductions are quite limited. Those involving existing small load sharing areas or large increases in storage would significantly increase the cost of electric energy. Without large-domain transmission, the rapid reductions needed in carbon dioxide emissions will not be feasible. A 2030 simulation that limits carbon emission intensity to levels found in today’s natural gas power plants, and includes a national High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) network, would lower US electric sector emissions by up to 80%, with costs about the same as today. The transportation, heating and air conditioning sectors will also need to have much higher levels of electric usage to realize the full potential of decarbonizing energy. Our studies show that this approach is feasible for the major world carbon emitters, including the US, China and Europe. There is a potential path to transforming the global energy system to much lower carbon emissions by the 2030s without major economic harm.

Sandy Macdonald
Sandy Macdonald

At the time of this presentation Dr. Alexander “Sandy” MacDonald was director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory (NOAA ESRL in Boulder,CO. and served as the Chief Science Advisor for NOAA’s Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) line office. Like many meteorologists, he became interested in weather as a child, and spent his career in the field. His undergraduate degree was in Math and Physics at Montana State University. He started his professional career as an officer in the US Air Force, then obtained a M.S. and Ph.D. in Meteorology from the University of Utah. He started working for NOAA in 1973 at the National Weather Service Western Region Headquarters in Salt Lake City. When the Program for Regional Observing and Forecasting (PROFS), was established by NOAA OAR in 1980, Dr. MacDonald became leader of its advanced weather prediction development team. He was the first Director of NOAA’s Forecast Systems Laboratory (1988), and the first Director of its Earth System Research Laboratory. From 2006 to the end of 2012 he was the Deputy Assistant Administrator of NOAA OAR.

The focus of his career has been the application of advances in science and technology toward the improvement of services. As a weather forecaster in the Air Force he was acutely aware of how important a weather forecast can be, and the many limitations of weather prediction. At the University of Utah, he developed his first weather prediction model, and became fascinated with the potential of computers and information technology to improve geophysical prediction. Under his leadership, PROFS and the Forecast Systems Laboratory greatly contributed to the modernization of the National Weather Service.

He has been a leader in many important areas of research and development. He led the team that developed the advanced weather information system for the NWS, has pushed for new observing technologies such as Unmanned Aircraft Systems, and published extensively in advanced weather prediction modeling. He has published important policy discussions on the dangers of regional climate change. He is the inventor of Science On a Sphere, a display system in over 200 museums and other institutions around the world, educating people of all ages about our science.

He has received many awards, including a Service to America nomination, a Gold Medal and four Presidential Rank Awards.


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Last updated: 10/11/19
Author: NOAA
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