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Resilience and Equity Take Center Stage at EPRI’s Electrification Virtual Summit

Posted to EPRI in the Utility Management Group
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Samantha Gilman's picture
Communications Manager Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)

Samantha Gilman is the communications manager for the Power Delivery and Utilization sector at EPRI. Samantha has spent a decade in communications, public relations, and digital marketing within...

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During the opening plenary session of EPRI’s recent Electrification Virtual Summit, EPRI President Arshad Mansoor said expanded electrification today in the form of transportation, efficient appliances, and heating can benefit those households that need it most in the same way President Franklin Roosevelt’s program in the 1930s provided affordable electricity to low-income and disadvantaged rural communities throughout America.

The five-day conference attracted more than 2,400 participants for sessions devoted to a wide array of electrification topics, including electric mobility, decarbonizing heavy industries, community electrification, and how to build a more resilient energy system.

Equity and resilience were recurring themes throughout the week. For example, in the opening plenary session, Pedro Pizarro, president and CEO of Edison International (the parent company of Southern California Edison), discussed the importance of devoting financial resources to bolster electrification in low-income communities. Southern California Edison’s $436 million plan to install 38,000 light-duty electric vehicle chargers includes installations at multi-family housing developments and public facilities (such as shopping centers) that can be easily accessed by underserved customers. The plan, which has been approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), also includes funding for rebates for used EVs, which are more affordable than new automobiles.

Equity was a major topic particularly on the summit’s final day, when CPUC commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves, Sheryl Carter of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Agustin Cabrera of the advocacy group Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy discussed how to foster equitable community electrification. Cabrera spoke about the importance of utilities directly engaging low-income communities in electrification efforts as well as the need to consider electrification’s unintended consequences such as gentrification.

 

Towards a More Resilient Energy System

In the opening plenary, Edison International’s Pizarro talked about one of the biggest challenges to creating a reliable, resilient power system: climate change and the increasingly extreme weather it is causing throughout the United States. This year’s historic wildfires in California were a stark illustration of the threats posed by climate change. “We feel it and know more is coming,” said Pizarro.

Resilience grows in importance as more of the economy is electrified. Rob Chapman, EPRI’s senior vice president of energy delivery and customer solutions, said that while electricity supplies 20% of end use energy today, it is forecast to supply 60% in 30 years. “That increases the importance of electricity resilience,” he said.

Besides extreme weather, Chapman also highlighted how grid decentralization and digitization challenges traditional utility approaches and tools to support resilience and reliability. During the same session, Alex Fitzsimmons, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, said that much of the $1.1 billion in R&D funding his office oversees is focused on grid resilience through research areas such as cybersecurity, energy storage, and connected communities.

Other summit highlights included:

  • An animated discussion about how to accelerate the transition toward electric transportation. In this session, four electric vehicle veterans acknowledged the tremendous progress while discussing the regulatory, business, and education work that remains.
  • A deep dive into the challenging task of decarbonizing heavy industries, such as shipping and transportation. One of the speakers, Bo Cerup-Simonsen, who heads the Maersk McKinney Moller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping, noted that there are 60,000 cargo ships sailing across the world’s oceans. Each year, those vessels consume 300 million tons of fuels and produce 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The center is identifying technologies, fuels, and policy and financing tools to eliminate those emissions.
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