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Mass electrification requires conservation

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

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  • Nov 15, 2021
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The United States entering a period of mass electrification, but its grid isn’t ready. In theory, the future demand could be met with improved transmission, to move renewable energy to where its made to where it’s needed, and new nuclear power. However, it doesn’t seem like either of those things are going to happen at the necessary scale. This leaves us one choice: energy conservation. 

The bulk of new electricity demand this decade will come from the transportation sector. Futurists have been predicting an electric vehicle revolution for as long as I’ve been alive, but it seems to finally have arrived. On the policy side of things, President Joe Biden issued an executive order on August 5th calling for 50% of annual new car sales to be zero emission vehicles by the end of this decade. The administration is backing up the talk with dollars, too. The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $30.7 billion in zero emissions vehicle funding, split between the cars themselves and infrastructure to support them. What’s more, the House’s Build Back Better plan includes provisions to continue the federal $7,500 tax credit for electric and hybrid purchases.

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Uncle Sam’s push for EV’s just adds to the market momentum that’s been building for years now. General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis have planned to release a combined 50 different EV models in the coming years. Perhaps most importantly, Ford is offering an electric version of its ridiculously popular  F-150 pickup next year. The auto company has already received 160,000 pre-orders. The entry of these big players into the market will make the decision to own an EV much easier. Unlike with Tesla, buyers can rest assured they can get their cars fixed and serviced without having to get on a month-long waiting list. 

In my ideal world, the strain this electric swing puts on the grid would be mitigated through a modern, interconnected transmission system, and many new nuclear power plants producing clean, fully scalable energy. 

I don’t think either of those things are going to happen, however. Despite facing summer after summer of blackouts or near blackouts, California still plans to retire the Diablo nuclear plant, which produces a whopping 23 percent of the state’s clean energy. FERC has made a lot of noise about reforming transmission planning processus, namely by making them more democratic: "One of the goals is to try to get affected communities, whether it be environmental justice communities, but others as well, to participate in our proceedings,” said the chairman.”

As much as I cherish liberal democracy, I don’t think it does transmission lines well. According to an article this year in the Atlantic, China has built over 18,000 miles of ultrahigh-voltage transmission while America has built 0. Indeed, whenever I see the community brought in on transmission decisions, it seems NIMBYISM almost always prevails

The nation’s inability, or unwillingness rather, to pursue a better grid and more nuclear power leaves us no choice but to conserve our energy. A recent paper on how Texas could meet demand in a future extreme weather event through energy efficiency gives us clues on how the rest of the country might prepare for higher demand this decade. The ACEEE proposes 7 big investments. On the building front:  incentives for attic insulation, smart thermostats, electric furnace upgrades, electric water heaters and heat pumps. The report also calls for demand response programs that would target air conditioning, EV charging, and water heating. Nobody likes cutting back, but at this point, what other options do we really have?

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