A panel of energy experts on Thursday debated the best course to expand the nation’s electrification resources but agreed there is a growing consensus on the need to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that affect climate change.
.S. Sen. Angus King (I-ME), a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said there is an expanding awareness of both Democrat and Republican senators of the need for expanded electrification resources and a switch to cleaner sources of energy as a recognition of climate change, something that has been a traditional hard-sell to Republican lawmakers. He said some senators from oil and gas states have openly endorsed the move to reduce greenhouse gases. He noted that Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Republican chair of the energy committee, whose state is a big producer of oil and gas, has moved forward with hearings and legislation on climate change, energy storage and energy efficiency.
Amy Farrell, senior vice president of government affairs at AWEA, said a comprehensive electrification strategy is needed to shape well-planned investments in transmission, renewable energy and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure that could ultimately pay for itself.
“There is substantial cost savings to planning and investing in EV charging stations, the renewable energy projects that will fuel them and the power alliance to connect them all at the same time,” Farrell said. “Electric utilities are well-positioned to design and manage an electrification strategy because they already play a central role in the grid and delivering electricity to consumers.”
Conner Prochaska, director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions, said the federal government believes the right approach is to “innovate, not regulate.”
“We want to make sure that we are maximizing U.S. taxpayers’ research dollars,” he said, adding his agency spends $14 billion a year on research. DOE, he added, is trying to ensure “we get technology into the hands of people who can execute it.”
But King said the government needs to lead in setting certain goals, such as CAFE or renewable energy standards, in order to guide the marketplace. “I don’t think that setting measurable, achievable goals is necessarily equivalent to regulation,” King said.
King called on industry players that may be nominally considered losers in the move to renewable energy sources to innovate to take advantage of the trend. “You’re talking about change and change is always difficult,” said the senator. “If you don’t innovate you’re going to close.”
Most of the hour-long discussion focused on the expanded use of electric vehicles as a major way to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. Genevieve Cullen, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, said it is important that Congress maintain incentives for electric cars, not only for the incentives they provide to drivers, but also to manufacturers, which help build on the U.S. lead in the market. “Do we want to continue to lead in this market that we built or cede it to others?” she asked.
Gil Quiniones, president and CEO of the New York Power Authority (NYPA), said the expansion of electric transportation “is not a choice” but is imperative. He said other transportation sectors, like long-haul trucking, must be electrified also.
The panelists agreed that more electric charging stations need to be available to the public in order to make it easier for electric car drivers. Gladys Brown Dutrieuille, chair of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, agreed on the need for more charging stations but said that need has to be balanced with the costs. Sen. King said an increase in charging stations will follow a greater need, just like the proliferation of ATMs. “I think it’s going to move fairly fast in the next few years.”
Quiniones said NYPA is moving ahead with efforts to extend the availability of fast charging stations near all New York highways, airports and urban hubs.
He said if electrification continues on its current trend then the peak load demand for the electric grid may come in winter, not summer, as it is now when air conditioning drives peak demand.
King suggested a way to smooth out demand, saying electricity suppliers ought to charge “time of day pricing,” so that pricing may be lower at night when there is lower demand. “People do respond to price signals,” said King. “At night the grid is underutilized. This would lower electric bills.”