What? How? When? Why? Aren’t there better solutions to the emerging climate crisis? Why can’t the government resolve the situation? Our power grid is already failing, so how can it support massive electrification?
Many questions arise around de-carbonizing our lives and our world, and the smart people from science, engineering, tech, and even legislators are seeking answers. But right now, the primary available solution we have in hand, is to electrify everything.
To prevent the planet from warming over 1.5C and reaching tipping points in places like the Arctic or Amazon rainforest, we have to take urgent challenging actions to phase out fossil fuels and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon removal, whether nature-based, as in afforestation and soil sequestration, or engineered, as in direct air capture and storage, is a long-term solution. Similarly, hydrogen power and nuclear power will potentially take decades to reach a scale helpful in our efforts to save a livable planet – if they ever reach this point. But we have run out of decades!
So, electrify we must, and rapidly. Our health will improve and our bills will be lower as we remove fossil fuels from our lives.
In the U.S., numerous incentives have become available with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to help homeowners change appliances, vehicles, even a building’s entire power source, to clean renewable electricity now. A heat pump HVAC system can result in a $2000-$8000 tax credit, an electric range or dryer in $840 credit, an electric panel upgrade in $4000 credit. A new or used EV can result in a $4000 to $7500 tax credit, and rooftop solar or geothermal heating or battery backup installation brings a 30% rebate. Rewiring America (rewiringamerica.org) estimates households will save on average $1800 yearly by going electric.
What about electricity suppliers that only purchases about 6-7% of its power from clean renewable sources? A homeowner can request a source change from that power supplier and a list of options for clean, carbon-free energy. The key is to understand the prices, terms and conditions of any contract you sign. Your original power company will still be responsible for repairs, power outages, and billing. So, you can still rely on these for any problems with your service, while supporting renewable energy developers elsewhere.
Can the grid withstand the added volume? In the U.S., we actually have seven separate grids built after World War II and 70% of the transmission lines and transformers are over 25 years old. While the grid is aging, electricity demand has risen about 10% in recent years (and may triple as we electrify everything), partially due to massive growth of digital devices and greater demand for air conditioning as the climate warms. Additionally, severe weather events are increasing, and expected to worsen with the changing climate, so that 68% to 73% of all power outages are due to weather.
Fortunately the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), provides $15.5 billion in funds to upgrade our grids to a “smart grid” which would work similarly to the Internet. (For example: Instead of Texans only relying on the Texas grid, and Marylanders only relying on the PJM grid, power would be distributed as needed anywhere in the country.) Also, in January of 2022 the Department of Energy (DOE) launched the Better Grid Initiative to support the buildout of needed transmission facilities, while expediting financing and permitting for grid improvements.
Does this sound like a lot of government, to you? It is absolutely necessary that the government put in place a working infrastructure for the entire country. Power outages already cost us about $150 billion a year (DOE) from our taxes. Meanwhile, a smarter national grid may cost as much as $476 billion – but this investment would pay itself off in about three years considering the cost of outages. Upgrading the grid, according to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), would in turn provide $1.2 to $2 trillion in social and economic benefits. We can pay a for a new grid now or pay more dearly later as more violent storms and power outages cause hardships and losses, destruction of livelihoods, and deaths. Our governments need to lead our massive electrification project.
What can we do? Each of us can ‘vote with our wallet’ and our voice. Let’s make the wish for a grid upgrade heard in the community. We must do it to allow for a livable climate for our children, to breathe better in our homes and cities, to get our life expectancy back up to par with other developed countries, and to keep more of our hard-earned dollars in our own pockets – now and in the future.