Debunking carbonization myths
January 17, 2024
Dr. Mani Vadari

Guest Contributor: Dr. Mani Vadari

Decarbonization is a complex and challenging process that requires a radical transformation of our energy system and our society. However, it is also a feasible and desirable process that can deliver multiple benefits for our planet and our people. By debunking the myths and presenting the facts about decarbonization, we hope to inspire and inform more action and support for this vital cause.

The NPUC (National Public Utilities Council) annual utility decarbonization report 2023 has identified six reasons for decarbonizing utilities calling it the “Grounds for Change”. My analysis of these reasons are in the right-hand column below.


Mounting Levels of CO2: The 2023 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report warns that as CO2 concentrations and global temperatures continue to rise, there is a pressing need for immediate action toward decarbonization across all sectors. Specifically for utilities, shifting away from emission-intensive electricity sources is more important than ever before.

FACT: There is now enough evidence pointing to this as a fact.

Global temperature is rising. The oceans are getting warmer. The ice sheets are shrinking. Glaciers are retreating. Sea levels are rising. Extreme weather events are increasing in frequency.[1]


Growing Demand: With population growth, electrification, and increased industrial activity, electricity demand across the globe is rising each year. Decarbonizing the electricity sector could trigger decarbonization in other sectors that rely on electricity, resulting in a domino effect.

FACT: Both points are factual.

Between 1980 and 2022, electricity consumption more than tripled, while the global population reached almost eight billion. Growth in industrialization and electricity access across the globe have further boosted electricity demand[2].


The ESG Advantage: The adoption of sustainable practices can attract climate-conscious investors, enhance brand reputation, boost investor confidence, and strengthen relationships with regulators.

Part FACT and part MYTH: Customers, boards and investors are increasingly focused on ESG. However, many investors are hesitant to accept a lower rate of return in exchange for ESG benefits. [3]

Many utilities are part of competitive markets where capital chases returns. No concrete evidence exists that people who invest in utilities are ESG-conscious. This becomes even more true across the world where most utilities are government-owned.


Monetary Incentives: Utilities can reap significant monetary advantages from decarbonization. Examples of such advantages include lower fuel costs, increased revenue streams (e.g., through the sale of renewable energy credits), reduced regulatory costs, and increased opportunities to obtain tax credits. In turn, consumers also stand to benefit from lower costs or rebates as a result of more competitive pricing.More MYTH than FACT: This is questionable since most utilities are heavily regulated requiring them to pass costs or benefits back to the rate-base. Also, lower costs for the customer have not yet been borne out due to significantly higher delivery costs.
On the other hand, in the US, utilities have many new federal incentives to encourage them to make different investment choices. Regulatory reform is needed to create a just transition that is reliable and fair to ratepayers.


Electrified Transport: As the transportation fleet electrifies worldwide, the two sectors contributing the most to GHG emissions, electricity, and transportation, are merging. Decarbonizing electricity can decarbonize the use phase emissions of all electric vehicles (EVs).Mostly FACT: Electrifying transportation will reduce carbon emissions, improve air quality, lower EV operating costs, enhance grid stability by providing new sources of demand response, energy storage and ancillary services, and increase energy security by reducing reliance on imported oil and diversifying energy sources.


Energy Security: The Russia-Ukraine conflict of 2022 demonstrated that dependence on foreign oil and gas can trigger economic shockwaves. Embracing clean energy sources like wind, solar, and nuclear enhances energy security, reducing dependency on other nations and protecting against fossil fuel price volatility and supply disruptions.More MYTH than FACT: Nuclear is not a solution for all countries, which leaves other clean energy sources like solar and wind, which are intermittent. So, where does the energy security come from for countries where nuclear generation is not an option? Can we make up the difference with energy efficiency and conservation? Or is hydrogen or carbon capture the answers? There is no one-size-fits-all solution for every country.

These are only six issues surrounding decarbonization. When we start to analyze them, more questions quickly emerge…

  • Solar and wind are “free.” What seems to be the problem?
  • Why don’t we just add storage to this equation to solve the decarbonization problem?
  • If Ireland can provide electricity for an entire day from renewable energy sources, why aren’t other countries doing the same?
  • How can we balance the trade-offs between decarbonizing the industrial sector and maintaining its competitiveness?
  • How can we enhance regional and international cooperation on clean energy development and trade?
  • How can we ensure energy equity?
  • How do we manage the cost of the energy transition when fuel costs may be lower with renewable energy, but the overall cost of generation is still high?
  • How do we optimize planning the path to decarbonization when, for example, moving everyone to solar panels because of the downward costs has a consequence of stranding expensive assets that customers may still be paying for?

Bottom line: We will get there!

We may not all be able to relocate to Mars just yet, but we are thoughtful engineers who can solve complex problems. Let’s not forget that before the International Space Station, the Panama Canal, the Internet, or the automobile, electricity was discovered by scientists and harnessed and improved by engineers over the last 100+ years. Electricity is the foundation for all our modern technologies and has improved the quality of life, health, safety and productivity of millions worldwide.

Today, we are called to help transition our electricity systems by decarbonizing them and positively impacting our environment and society for ourselves and future generations. That is all FACT!




Dr. Mani Vadari is President and founder of Modern Grid Solutions, a global energy consulting firm specializing in delivering strategic services to utilities and vendors seeking deep subject matter expertise in setting the business and technical direction to develop the next-generation electric/energy system. Dr. Vadari is a well-known keynote speaker and contributes regularly to several industry publications. His most recent book “Smart Grid Redefined: Transformation of the Electric Utility” was released to strong reviews from industry and academia. His first book “Electric System Operations – Evolving to the Modern Grid” is in its second edition and is still being used as a textbook at several universities.