Why taxing carbon could be the easiest way to cut emissions, slow climate change

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Taxing carbon could be an effective way to help reduce harmful carbon emissions and slow climate change, researchers suggest. In a recent case study, various policy changes were analyzed to determine which would be the most effective at cutting the cost and effect of carbon emissions in Texas. The team of researchers say that putting a price on carbon according to the cost of climate change had the most effective results.

“If the goal is reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, what we found is that putting a price on carbon and then letting suppliers and consumers make their production and consumption choices accordingly is much more effective than other policies,” argues Ramteen Sioshansi, senior author of the study and an integrated systems engineering professor at The Ohio State University.

The study also evaluates policies such as the inclusion of a mandate that a specific amount of a region’s energy must come from renewable sources. However, the cost of renewable sources was sometimes more expensive. Also, results show that the use of renewable energy was not as effective at reducing carbon emissions as they had thought.

Additionally, researchers used a model to determine the outcome should other methods be used to cut the emission of carbon 80 percent lower than the level in 2010 by 2040. Results indicated that taxes on natural-gas units and coal could potentially lower carbon emissions to that extent but at only 50 percent of the renewable energy tax credit cost.

‘Market-based solutions can work’

In the study led by a graduate student in Sioshansi’s lab, Yixian Liu, expenses and the reduction in carbon from wind, solar, nuclear, natural gas, and coal were modeled. Additionally, the cost for storing energy was modeled, along with the possible reduction in carbon emissions from energy storage. According to previous studies, energy storage is necessary to allow systems to manage renewable energy, especially when energy sources change from fossil fuels to cleaner fuels such as solar and wind.

“The results of the study were not surprising, given that a similar program has been in use to reduce levels of sulfur dioxide, one of the chemicals that cause acid rain. We have known for the last 40 or more years that market-based solutions can work on issues like this,” says Sioshansi.

Even though studies show an overall decrease in carbon emissions from renewable energy sources, they would cost more than can be managed.

“If no one had to pay for the subsidies and they were truly free, that would be a great option. Unfortunately, that is not how they work,” adds Sioshansi.

The case study is published in the journal Current Sustainable/Renewable Energy Reports.

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