The energy system of the future might look very different than what’s in place in the U.S. today: Influencers ranging from the White House down to college professors are pushing for more renewable energy, more battery storage and more efficient technology.
But how does the country get there? According to one researcher, it could happen a lot more quickly and efficiently if leaders look beyond just electricity.
Rhys Roth, director of the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure at Evergreen State College in Washington, published a white paper Feb. 18 outlining a vision for how the Pacific Northwest could improve its electricity efficiency at least 50 percent and produce at least 90 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2040. While other research projects have struggled to push numbers for the region that high, Roth wrote in the paper that breaking down silos could do the trick.
The complex system he described pulls efficiency and power generation from many different places:
The report acknowledged that the area would still likely need some fossil fuel-based power generation capacity by 2040 even if all its components fell into place. A big reason for that is the need to meet an increased demand for power during the winter months — during those times the sun shines less often, removing that power generation source. And if the state went through a dry spell, hydroelectric dams wouldn’t be able to produce as much power either.
The benefits of Roth’s system, he wrote, extend to a lot of different areas. Customers would end up paying less for electricity, the region would stop leaking money to oil-producing states, cleaner air would save people money on health care and the power grid would have many more assets to control its operations.
He gave seven recommendations for steps state governments can take to support the development of his clean, energy-efficient future, including clear goal-setting, remaking of utility regulations and striking up partnerships to help encourage investment.
“A serious and sustained commitment to a state infrastructure strategy will create a platform to consider whole systems and identify integrated solutions that deliver benefits across silos,” Roth wrote. “Wide deployment of heat pumps and electric vehicles, for example, may increase demand on the electricity system, but will save money, create jobs and reduce fossil fuels for the Northwest as a whole.”