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Our path forward toward a clean energy future

Emily Levin, Energy Programs Lead -

Connected globe

On the heels of the Global Climate Strike on September 20 and the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City, discussions of how to address the climate crisis are in the spotlight. To mitigate the catastrophic impacts of climate change, we must significantly reduce carbon levels in our atmosphere. One of the largest levers to pull in the fight against climate change is the advancement of clean energy. This work is already underway; however, the pace and scale must increase to address the urgency of this crisis.

Approximately 90 cities and two states across the U.S. have established aggressive clean energy goals to reach 100 percent renewable energy targets by 2050. Advancing renewable energy generation, such as solar and wind energy, is essential to meeting these targets. However, another side to the equation – the demand side – is just as important.

There are three key demand-side pathways for decarbonizing energy.

PathwaysToLowCarbonEnergy
These pathways are widely recognized as key components of decarbonization and included in many state and city clean energy plans. However, energy efficiency programs and services are rapidly evolving, and efforts to support customers with flexibility and electrification are still nascent. At VEIC, we work across these areas of demand-side decarbonization and we’re continually evaluating and improving our methods as our energy system evolves. In the coming months, we will release a series of whitepapers taking a closer look at each of these pathways to decarbonization and our vision for their role in a clean energy future.
  

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency plays a central role in the energy system. Since 1980 the energy intensity of the U.S. has improved at a steady rate, thanks largely to energy efficiency. “Avoided energy” accounts for a large slice of the pie in energy demand planning. Yet, as the energy system transforms and the electricity generation mix shifts towards renewable energy, there is some debate over the continued value of energy efficiency.

At VEIC, we believe that energy efficiency will continue to serve as a critical pathway to decarbonization, by reducing the cost and accelerating the speed of energy system transition. We see a substantial opportunity to continue leveraging efficiency to not only avoid energy use, but to optimize the way it is distributed and consumed. The graph below demonstrates the continued projected value of efficiency in our home state of Vermont. By 2050 efficiency will be one the largest “sources” of energy. This is possible through shifts to new sources of energy savings, an emphasis on data-driven strategies, strong coordination with energy flexibility and strategic electrification, and updates to energy efficiency program goals. We will explore this transition and a reorientation of energy efficiency programs toward carbon reduction in our upcoming whitepaper series. Vermont Pathway to Clean Energy

Source: Developed for SunShot Initiative, U.S. Department of Energy. Vermont’s Pathway to 90% Renewable Energy by 2050.

Strategic Electrification

As the electric grid becomes less reliant on fossil fuels, strategic electrification becomes an increasingly important decarbonization pathway. Fuel switching heating and cooling systems and vehicles from fossil fuels to electricity can lead to substantial carbon emission reduction.  The graph below is from an analysis commissioned by the California Energy Commission that evaluated ten different scenarios for California to achieve its long-term greenhouse gas reduction goals. The study found that a scenario with high electrification of vehicles and building loads has both low cost and low technology risk compared to alternatives. E3 2050 Pathways in California

Source: Data specific to California, developed by Energy + Environmental Economics, Deep Decarbonization in a High Renewables Future.

Electrification must be deployed strategically, to avoid worsening peak demand. Strategic electrification requires effective coordination between utilities, transportation agencies, and efficiency program administrators. It is a focus area for energy efficiency programs as they reorient toward carbon reduction – and it provides opportunities for grid-interactive technologies to catalyze smarter demand management. We will explore the electrification pathway, focusing on successes to date and opportunities for the expansion, in our upcoming whitepaper series.

Energy Flexibility

Amid these transformations to increase electrification and evolve energy efficiency programs, energy flexibility is a crucial enabler of decarbonization. Energy flexibility is the term VEIC uses to describe a range of next-generation strategies for shifting demand using smart, grid-connected devices. This type of flexibility includes bring-your-own-device demand response as well as rate designs and other strategies to “incentivize consumers to adapt their energy usage habits to patterns in renewable generation, thus shaping load to make sure it is balanced.” Energy flexibility also considers the potential for energy storage, microgrids, heat pumps, electric vehicles, and other emerging technologies to serve as tools for management. Energy flexibility enables an electric system that seamlessly integrates energy efficiency, renewable energy, and electrified technologies.

We will take a deeper look at the challenges and opportunities of energy flexibility in our upcoming whitepaper series.

A clean energy future on the horizon

We have just begun to scratch the surface of the potential of these pathways to decarbonize energy. The climate crisis is upon us, and the need for action is urgent. We have confidence that with an efficient, strategic, flexible approach, significant carbon reduction is possible. The time is now to harness the potential of demand-side strategies to support a decarbonized energy system.

Stay tuned for the first part of our whitepaper series on demand-side pathways to decarbonize energy, coming October 2019.

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