Flip the Switch | Beyond COP 21 and the Clean Power Plan

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Flip the Switch | Beyond COP 21 and the Clean Power Plan

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National Grid @DeanSeaversNG says model to lower carbon emissions already exists to improve future #Connect21 #COP21 http://3bl.me/m98frq

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015 - 8:45am

CAMPAIGN: Energy Efficiency

CONTENT: Article

by Dean Seavers

In the lead-up to COP 21, the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, many Americans have rallied around a target year of 2050 for a decarbonized energy infrastructure in the U.S.  As the leader of one of the nation’s largest electricity and natural gas utilities, you can count me in. 

Done right, I believe that New York and New England, demonstrating national energy leadership, can get from our current levels of renewable and hydro power – less than 30% of the energy we use today – to a fully decarbonized energy network. 

How? Look at how well-prepared the Northeast is to meet the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan compared to other parts of the country. Since 1990, the amount of electricity generated from coal has fallen by 82 percent in New York and 66 percent in New England, leading to declines in carbon emissions of 52 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

While renewable energy sources grew, they still make up less than five percent of the electricity generation in the region. The real game changer was natural gas, which went from less than a quarter of the power generation in the 1990s to about half today.

Looking out further, to 2050, many frame the future in terms of renewable resources – when will all of our energy needs be met by wind and solar? These renewables will be vital to creating a sustainable economy, but it’s more useful to examine what we actually want that future to look like – a world with lower carbon emissions.

All three of the states National Grid serves, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island, have established goals of 80 percent reductions in emissions economy-wide versus 1990 levels. These states have already made progress toward their targets, but almost all emissions reductions in the Northeast have come from cleaning up power generation, which is what sets up the region so nicely for meeting the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Meanwhile, the largest polluter, transportation – emissions from the tailpipes of trucks, trains, planes and all of our cars – hasn’t budged since 1990.

The way I see it, our next step is to use the same model that cleaned up power generation – a balanced approach of renewables, energy efficiency, and natural gas – to enable an all-electric transportation sector.

At the same time, we would continue to decrease heating emissions for homes and businesses by converting from oil to natural gas, and use gas and eventually energy storage innovation as backstops to bring on more intermittent renewable energy generation, both distributed and large-scale.

Investments in natural gas infrastructure, green transmission, and energy efficiency and storage innovation today will prepare us for the electrification of transportation and cleaner home heating tomorrow.

Of course, this will be no small feat. We need to accelerate the pace of change.  Now.  The energy supply chain – system operators, generators, distributors, and customers – plus policy makers, technology companies, and climate change advocates must collaborate at a level our country has never seen before.

I have faith that we can get there. On the first day of COP 21, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced Mission Innovation, a 20-country initiative focused on accelerating clean energy innovation and cost reduction. I can’t wait to see what else comes out of the conference: Climate change is the great challenge of our time, and we’re all in it together. 

[Dean Seavers is president of National Grid in the U.S., an energy company that serves the needs of more than 20 million people and businesses in New England and New York.]

For more information please visit our website: www.nationalgridus.com, or our Connecting website. You can also follow us on Twitter, watch us on You Tube, Like us on Facebook and find our photos on Instagram.


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