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How Can Individuals Help Protect the Grid?

Todd Carney's picture
Writer Freelance

Todd Carney is a graduate of Harvard Law School. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Communications. He writes on many different aspects of energy, in particular how it...

  • Member since 2021
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  • Jul 27, 2022
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This summer continues to create record temperatures that are putting stress on grids in the US and beyond. Politicians, the media, and experts have all talked about the best ways to reduce stress on the grid. They have discussed legislation, innovation, and other top down approaches from powerful institutions such as governments or big business. These approaches should be part of the solution, but they cannot be the whole answer. Part of the change comes from communities. Fortunately, several communities have started creating solutions.

Conservation

Companies have called on people to reduce their footprint, but using high energy appliances less, such as dishwashers, laundry machines, and air conditioners. The directive has said people should particularly use these appliances less in “peak hours” when many people are likely to be using these products.

These companies would like for people to make slight behavioral changes, such as say having their thermostat at 80 degrees, instead of 75 degrees, doing more loads of wash together, and washing dishes by hand instead of using a dishwasher.

This is all a balance act, as everyone could shut off their air conditioners and save a lot of energy, but that would put people at risk for heat exhaustion. Additionally, for some people who have to work long hours to support their families, it might not be feasible to take the time to wash dishes by hand. Some might also feel that they are wasting their time in going through all of this extra work because none of their neighbors are. If only one person did actually do this, it would make no impact.

To convince people to make these sacrifices, the government and businesses will need to show that it does make a difference, and perhaps provide easier ways for people to change their activities. The limitations with this approach show that greater change will need to come from other actors.

Renewables

Some grid operators have worked towards providing further solutions through the use of renewable energy. For example, the grid operator for the Midwest approved 18 new power lines that were connected to renewable energy sources. These power lines will not finish until 2028, but will bring a significant amount of new energy to 15 states. This move has prompted people to call for other grid operators to make a similar decision. These advocates argue that taking this approach is the most responsible course of action since grids are stretched thin from existing energy sources.

Although this might seem like a top down approach, for better or worse, customers will bear the cost of creating these lines for the time being. Grid operators argue that long-term customers will save a lot of money on energy, so this works as an investment essentially.

This sounds reasonable, but often long-term building projects can become boondoggles, so some are concerned customers could end up paying a lot more than they expected. Additionally, whatever benefits this project brings, it will not come until 2028. In the meantime, grids are faced with exhaustion. It seems that grids need a more streamlined and transparent process.

Transparency

Finally, some energy companies are empowering customers to make changes by letting them choose packages to reduce energy use. This might sound like simply having consumers use less energy, and at its core it is. But these packages show consumers how much money they will save and the actual impact of their footprint. Additionally, there are varying levels of energy use packages that customers can choose from. This is better than simply asking consumers to use less energy, because in this situation, they know their impact, and feel they are getting something specific for their action. Moreover, these kinds of packages can appeal to those who want to be active on the environment, and others that want to just save money. Everyone has different needs and desires, and this approach does not cast judgment.

Still, at the end of the day, some people, if not the majority, need to use more energy, regardless of the cost or the concern for the environment. If these energy packages could provide all of the solutions, then the problems with the grid would not exist. This approach still can play a role in the larger solution.

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