Electric America Celebrates One Year!
Electric America was founded one year ago with a simple mission: to connect the power user to the power producer –to learn about how electricity is produced and powers homes and businesses across the country. And, of course, to share it with you.
Because I’m genuinely terrified about the impacts of climate change on human life and activity, and think we need to stymie the effects (and simultaneously prepare for them). Electricity is a big part of that.
Energy and transportation go head for head as top U.S. greenhouse gas emitters. Both industries are transforming and intertwining in a way that impacts everyday life, and in ways we have never seen before, with the deployment of more electric vehicles, and with technologies that help us manage and optimize electricity production and use.
The idea of electrification, or using electricity for end uses usually fueled by other sources, such as heating homes, cooking or driving, which today are mostly fueled by the direct burning of gas or oil, not electricity- is proliferating among academic communities, the policy world, green designers and builders.
Everyone is talking about what resources we should use to make electricity, and if all-electric is really the way to go. There is a lot of debate over how quickly we, as consumers, will become our own suppliers (via rooftop solar, community solar, batteries) and how that will affect the role of the utility, as well as impact the economy, environment, and health and security of communities on a local and national scale.
Over the last year we've seen a lot: hurricanes Harvey and Irma; another type of storm with the rise of women speaking up about harassment in the workplace, a modern story that echoes the voices of barrier-breaking women who took to the coal mines in the 1970s; a surge in jobs in the renewable energy sector; and unkept promises of job security to coal workers from President Trump, and from mining companies that declared bankruptcy to avoid paying for pensions and healthcare for their employees.
All of these phenomena showed themselves in the various places I visited. At a natural gas plant in Alabama I heard in passing about the pressure to absorb personnel from nearby coal plants for any new positions at the gas plant rather than recruit from outside. I heard an inn owner's concern for a friend's son who recently chose to go to the mines instead of working in his father’s autoshop. And of people in those same communities who are being trained for other jobs, some excited by the prospects, and others clinging on to coal or gas jobs. I met men late in their careers who made the transition to solar from the fossil fuel industry. I also saw firsthand the astounding trend of veterans serving the energy industry.
I see gems of progress. I am particularly hopeful about offshore wind, and the discussion among Northeastern States such as NY, NJ, and MA, along with Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Ohio to, at minimum, study the potential of the industry with an eye toward investing in the infrastructure. On Block Island, there were significant improvements in the quality of electricity and life for residents of the island once it switched to wind power and received reliable 60 hz electricity from the ocean turbines.
What’s clear from the year is that change is happening in a major way. I recently spoke with a renewable energy developer, someone who, as he puts it, is in the business of figuring out what’s next. He agreed: “We’re in a dramatic transition of how electricity is produced and how people use it. When you’re in the eye of the hurricane, you have to go to the edges to actually see what's happening inside.” I’m working my way to the edges.
The million dollar question is: when does an electric future become a renewable future? How fast will utilities abandon their fossil and nuclear plants and send clean power to our homes? Can we, as energy users, ratepayers, and American citizens, demand it and accelerate a transition? And will it happen quick enough to help offset global temperature rise, and sea level rise?
We have lots of resources to produce electricity and new innovative ways to manage it. If we make buildings all electric, will it add resiliency? Which supply chains and delivery systems are less vulnerable? Recent winter storms remind us that most systems need electricity to start up, and a run-of-the-mill winter storm can leave communities without power and heat for days.
Every time I engage with an expert, or with any energy user, I come out with more questions. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Cheers to 365 days with power on the mind.
Thank you for being part of it.