MAE energy and climate experts weigh in on the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act

Professor commenting on climate

Molly Seltzer, Office of Communications
August 27, 2022

The Inflation Reduction Act, passed in the Senate and House of Representatives and signed into law by President Biden last week, is the largest bill ever to address climate change, along with its provisions for healthcare and tax programs.

According to research from the REPEAT project run by Jesse Jenkins’ ZERO lab at Princeton University, climate investments from the IRA are likely to lead to about a 42% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, which would be close to the federal target of 50%. That would put the country on a pathway to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, according to Jenkins’ projections — reaching the point at which humans are emitting no more carbon into the atmosphere than they are taking out of it each year. 

MAE Professors Emily Carter and Jesse Jenkins, alongside other Princeton climate and energy experts, weighed in on the significance of the bill and what it means for reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change.

Jesse Jenkins: An alignment of incentives  

Assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment

Jenkins, a Princeton engineer who models the impact of climate measures, predicted that the Inflation Reduction Act’s clean energy investments “will drive the first sustained period of declining fossil energy consumption in U.S. history.”

At the same time, he said, by spurring increased use of electric vehicles, heat pumps and other appliances that run on electricity, the new law will begin the first sustained period of rapid electricity demand growth in two decades.

He said the bill creates the conditions in which it makes financial sense for businesses, utilities and individuals across the country to make cleaner choices.

“For the first time ever, we have the full financial weight of the federal government at the backs of the clean energy transition,” Jenkins said. “That’s game-changing.”

Jenkins said this alignment of economic incentives is necessary but probably not sufficient to get the United States on track for net-zero emissions. “Now the challenge shifts to: ‘How fast can you build all this stuff?’”

Emily Carter:  “A fantastic down payment”  

Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment
Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, and the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics

Senior strategic advisor for sustainability science at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Carter, an engineer focused on clean energy and former dean of the engineering school, called the act “a fantastic down payment” toward a net-zero future, pointing to measures for cleaning up the country’s electricity supply and incentives for consumers to use electricity for heating, driving and cooking instead of less efficient fuels derived from coal, natural gas or oil. 

“There is still a lot more to do in terms of electrification of civilization writ large and eventually getting carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, both storing it and utilizing it,” she said.

Carter called attention to an overlooked provision of the new law that will charge a fee for methane leakage from oil and gas wells.

Looking ahead, she hopes to see additional investment in new technologies for industries that likely won’t be electrified, including shipping, where electric batteries aren’t feasible for moving heavy cargo over long distances.

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