Our position is clear: in order to combat the climate crisis, we need to increase the share of sustainable energy as quickly as possible. That means a big shift to EVs, electrical climate control, and to homes and businesses generating their own electricity.
The energy systems that keep us comfortable, connected and mobile are experiencing a revolutionary change. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain will help keep the lights on and the cars moving, but the complexity and speed of the energy transition revolution is causing some surprising problems:
- Can we create enough energy for 100% electric transportation fast enough?
- Will we be able to create enough storage to accommodate the growth of sustainable energy?
- Will we all buy EVs just to be sitting around in bigger traffic jams?
- Are we experiencing local power outages more often?
- How can the transition to sustainable energy address the ‘last mile’ problem?
- Sustainable energy is great if you’re living in sunny California. What about my rainy and northern city?
- Are electricity markets ‘freer’ in the United States or in the European Union?
- How is the energy transition playing out differently in urban and rural areas?
Can we create enough energy for 100% electric transportation fast enough?
If every combustion vehicle is replaced by an electric vehicle, we’ll need 40% more energy than we’re producing right now. Renewable energy capacity is growing, but not as quickly as demand for EVs. That means we need to find ways to make transportation more efficient. While we prepare for a revolution in mobility, we also need a complete reimagining of how we get around, how we work, even how we build our homes and cities.
How can we confront the climate crisis by re-coupling sectors that separated long ago?
Battery technology becomes more affordable and efficient each year. Electric vehicle fleet owners are using the fleet’s batteries as ‘virtual power plants’ that can store electricity when it’s cheap and earn their owners money by uploading during a seller’s market. Same goes for solar PV plus home battery schemes popping up everywhere. Will the incentive to make money with storage meet the need for back up as cold snaps and heat waves become more extreme? Not likely – unless we envision storage differently. Everything from thermal to chemical to mechanical storage will add unimaginable amounts of complexity to energy markets.
How can we create a market for storage flexibility?
Will we be able to create enough storage to accommodate the growth of sustainable energy?
Will we all buy EVs just to be sitting around in bigger traffic jams?
Possibly. Even worse, the more EVs in a neighborhood, the higher the risk of grid instability and black outs. While we’re reducing emissions by electrifying transport, we should also work toward revolutionizing traffic systems to reduce the number of cars on the road, the number of roads we need and the amount of time we spend getting from here to there. Instead of thinking about our vehicles, we need to think about our mobility.
How can we make it easy for people to make mobility choices based on expanding and increasingly complex options?
High voltage transmission operators are working hard to keep their power lines up, running, and safe for the public. So are local distribution operators. Grid congestion, weather, and maintenance funding all provide significant challenges yet for the most part, electricity services are still remarkably reliable. But researchers predict that with a 25% contribution of decentralized sustainable energy, the complexities of balancing supply and demand locally may cause an increase in power outages. In contrast, the more decentralized sustainable energy we add into the energy mix, the more difficult it becomes for electricity grid operators to get the funding to increase grid capacity and maintain their networks, because decentralized energy leads people to believe the grid will become less necessary. ‘Gridless’ energy, if at all possible, is many decades away. Right now we are experiencing more grid congestion due to higher demand.
Grid infrastructure is important, but why should we only think about increasing grid capacity when we could ‘sell’ energy consumption avoidance instead?
Are we experiencing local power outages more often?
How can the transition to sustainable energy address the ‘last mile’ problem?
Getting energy from A to B is easy. Getting it out to XYZ is costly and difficult. But just because you’re at the end of a network line doesn’t mean you should have to pay more for electricity – or does it? There was a time when politicians argued that a letter mailed to Alaska should cost more than one mailed to NYC.
How can we ensure reliability and affordability of sustainable energy at the farthest reaches of electricity distribution networks?
Even in California, relying on sustainable energy is creating challenges. Ever heard of the ‘duck curve’? We’re going to need a diversity of energy resources – solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, etc. – along with geographic diversity and coordinated local and regional policy making to boot. Each county, parish, province has a different characteristic.
How can we make sustainable energy work in such a wide variety of geographies when we’re used to just firing up a power plant the same way everywhere?
Sustainable energy is great if you’re living in sunny California. What about my rainy and northern city?
Are electricity markets ‘freer’ in the United States or in the European Union?
Many Americans would guess that electricity markets in the US are more ‘liberal’ – that consumers have more choice – than in the European Union. Not so. Europeans and Americans may be different, but we have one thing in common – markets have strict borders but electricity interconnects us all.
What can the US and the EU learn from electricity market policy and regulation success and disasters on both sides of the Atlantic?
The dawn of renewable energy didn’t cause the urban/rural divide but it’s not helping it either. Rural areas, in general, have more ability to harness the wind and sun in principle, but the economy of scale created by population density eases the development of sustainable energy capacity.
As rural areas struggle with the decline of mining and manufacturing, how can we ensure that they aren’t also disadvantaged by paying off stranded assets of industries gone by while the sustainable energy produced in their own ‘backyards’ heads toward the city?