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Decarbonizing Virginia's Economy

This report explores four strategies for decarbonization in Virginia: efficiency in energy use, eliminating fossil fuels from electricity generation, electrifying transportation services and building energy use, and capturing and sequestering remaining CO2 emissions. The authors recognize that reaching carbon neutrality by mid-century will require aggressive deployment of low-carbon technologies.  

Recent policy initiatives in Virginia reflect an increased urgency in addressing the state’s contribution to global warming. This report presents results from the first study to analyze quantitatively and comprehensively the actions needed to make Virginia’s economy carbon neutral by 2050.  

Emissions trajectory for baseline and net zero scenarios.

Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from Virginia’s energy system will drive major changes in how the Commonwealth generates its electricity, heats its buildings, powers its vehicles, and charts its economic future. But decarbonization is achievable and affordable. The effort to decarbonize brings with it ancillary benefits in public health and in the reduced need to import energy resources from elsewhere.  

But the shift away from fossil fuels will not be fast enough or deep enough to achieve mid-century decarbonization targets without careful planning and policy design. The Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) focused on reducing emissions from electricity generation, which accounts for about 30% of Virginia’s CO2 emissions. Transportation accounts for nearly half, buildings and industry for the remaining 20%. Eliminating carbon emissions will require long-term energy storage, producing non-emitting liquid and gaseous fuels and even some amount of CO2 removal from the atmosphere. 

The study found there are four essential components to a cost-effective decarbonization strategy: 1) efficiency in energy end-use; 2) decarbonization of energy sources, especially electricity; 3) electrification of energy services in buildings, vehicles and factories; 4) carbon capture and sequestration for residual emissions. Even though electricity demand can be expected to nearly double by 2050, total energy demand in Virginia is not projected to increase in most of our scenarios, because increased electrification of buildings and transportation brings with it substantial efficiencies in energy use. If implemented efficiently, the economic benefits of decarbonization, in reduced health and climate costs, will be greater than the costs of achieving it. There will also be broader economic gains from substituting cost-effective local production for imported fuels and from reduced exposure to price volatility in international oil markets. Additionally, economic multiplier effects from increased in-state investment could yield additional net benefits for Virginia. 

For the full report and related material, download the files below. 

Schedule of actions for a 2050 Virginia decarbonization pathway.

Decarbonizing Virginia's Economy: Pathways to 2050_full report


Decarbonizing Virginia's Economy: Pathways to 2050_executive summary


Decarbonizing Virginia's Economy: Pathways to 2050_workshop summary


Decarbonizing Virginia's Economy: Pathways to 2050_powerpoint