A Federated System with a Global Perspective: Part 1

This series of blogs was initiated by two conferences that were organized by my school, with a focus on the ongoing energy transition (decarbonization of the energy sources) from fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases that have a toxic impact on the climate, to sustainable energy resources that have fewer detrimental effects. One conference, titled “2024 NYC Solar + Storage Installer Workshop” was specifically targeted at local NYC solar and storage installers. I am referring to it as the “installers conference.” The second conference, titled “NYC Future Energy,” was targeted to a broader audience and I am referring to it as the “CCNY conference” to emphasize that this meeting was mainly organized by CCNY (City University of New York), one of the senior colleges of CUNY.

The last two blogs were focused on the installers conference, with an emphasis on the bidirectional movement of electricity between a centralized generation (electric utility) and distributed generation of electrical power. The bidirectional movement of electric power is often called “net metering.” This and the following few blogs will focus on the CCNY conference. The CCNY conference (NYC Future Energy Conference) was based on the US federated governance system, so there were representative leaders of organizations running throughout the federated energy management. These include the US Department of Energy, the Department of Energy Protection of the City of New York (DEP), the Sustainability Office of CUNY, CCNY’s Schools of Architecture and Engineering, Con Ed (the main public utility of NYC), and NYC community representatives and independent companies such as TRC. NYSERDA, the energy arm of NYS, was not included there but was present at the installers conference. The only representation that was missing in this discussion was the global component. Next week’s blog will be dedicated to this component of the federated energy management structure. The CCNY meeting also showed very active participation of students through a dynamic poster session. To my great surprise, contributions of electrochemistry and photoelectrochemistry, in which I have a lifelong interest, played a major role in these presentations.

All of this came about due to the changes that the energy transition is going through as we shift to electric power. Here is how this was recently summarized by the New York Times:

Many power companies were already struggling to keep the lights on, especially during extreme weather, and say the strain on grids will only increase. Peak demand in the summer is projected to grow by 38,000 megawatts nationwide in the next five years, according to an analysis by the consulting firm Grid Strategies, which is like adding another California to the grid.

“The numbers we’re seeing are pretty crazy,” said Daniel Brooks, vice president of integrated grid and energy systems at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit organization.

In an ironic twist, the swelling appetite for more electricity, driven not only by electric cars but also by battery and solar factories and other aspects of the clean-energy transition, could also jeopardize the country’s plans to fight climate change.

To meet spiking demand, utilities in states like Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia are proposing to build dozens of power plants over the next 15 years that would burn natural gas. In Kansas, one utility has postponed the retirement of a coal plant to help power a giant electric-car battery factory.

Burning more gas and coal runs counter to President Biden’s pledge to halve the nation’s planet-warming greenhouse gases and to generate all of America’s electricity from pollution-free sources such as wind, solar and nuclear by 2035.

Figure 1 – The new estimated surge in electric power use in the US (source: The New York Times)

As the NYT piece emphasizes, this comes from the mandated shifts in federal policies to sustainable energy sources. As most of us experienced recently, federal policies can change in an instant depending on who holds power and we have a presidential election in November this year.

Another big reason for the shift to electric power was mentioned in a recent article in the Washington Post: “Amid record high energy demand, America is running out of electricity,” which put part of the blame on the recent growth of artificial intelligence (AI), which requires a great deal of electrical energy to train:

Vast swaths of the United States are at risk of running short of power as electricity-hungry data centers and clean-technology factories proliferate around the country, leaving utilities and regulators grasping for credible plans to expand the nation’s creaking power grid.

The soaring demand is touching off a scramble to try to squeeze more juice out of an aging power grid while pushing commercial customers to go to extraordinary lengths to lock down energy sources, such as building their own power plants.

“When you look at the numbers, it is staggering,” said Jason Shaw, chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission, which regulates electricity. “It makes you scratch your head and wonder how we ended up in this situation. How were the projections that far off? This has created a challenge like we have never seen before.”

To focus on the required changes that are now needed in the electrical grid to satisfy these needs, I will quote the changes to the mission statement of the organization that sits at the top of US federal energy governance: the Department of Energy (DOE):

On October 18, 2023, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced up to $3.5 billion for 58 projects across 44 states to strengthen electric grid resilience and reliability across the United States, all while improving climate resilience and creating good paying union jobs. These projects will leverage more than $8 billion in federal and private investments as part of the Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships (GRIP) Program, funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and administered by DOE’s Grid Deployment Office (GDO).

The GRIP projects will tackle a range of grid needs to increase resilience and reliability across the country, with a few major trends popping up across the various selections. They include:

  • Wildfire prevention and resilience: State-of-the-art technologies will protect the grid from wildfires and prevent wildfires caused by aging infrastructure. Smart grid investment will help predict, identify, and address problems earlier and improve real-time responses to threats.

  • Neighborhood resilience: Microgrids that expand renewables and distributed energy resources will allow consumers to keep the power locally on even when the grid experiences outages.

  • Lower energy bills and increased clean energy: DOE is making critical investments in our grid without passing costs down to consumers, all while enabling cleaner energy sources, less pollution, and an easier time installing solar panels or plugging in an electric vehicle at home.

  • Investments in disadvantaged communities: Through Community Benefits Plans, all GRIP projects have outlined strategies to leave lasting impacts on local communities beyond infrastructure upgrades alone, including locally focused economic development and thousands of good-paying, union jobs.

In addition, the DOE recently issued a blueprint of how to decarbonize the American building sector, the main energy user in most cities:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Biden-Harris Administration yesterday released Decarbonizing the U.S. Economy by 2050: A National Blueprint for the Buildings Sector, a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions from buildings by 65% by 2035 and 90% by 2050. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) led the Blueprint’s development in collaboration with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other federal agencies. The Blueprint is the first sector-wide strategy for building decarbonization developed by the federal government, underscoring President Biden’s whole-of-government approach to cutting harmful carbon emissions and achieving the nation’s ambitious clean energy and climate goals.

One of the key issues that was discussed at the CCNY conference was how to price the new grid. California is experimenting with pricing that could make the transformed energy affordable to everyone:

The controversial plan to require California’s three biggest utilities to start charging their customers based on how much money they make has been shelved by state regulators — at least for now.

Instead, the California Public Utilities Commission is proposing a less radical — if not necessarily less controversial — approach to complying with a state law demanding that it examine new rate structures to reduce the burden of rising electricity rates, a problem that will only deepen as the state further embraces electrification.

That proposal? Reduce per-kilowatt-hour rates but institute a fixed charge of $24.15 per month for most customers of utilities Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

The proposal would add smaller fixed monthly charges of $6 per month or $12 per month to customers who are signed up for two different special rate programs for low-income earners. This carveout for low-income ratepayers is distinct from the income-graduated proposals that were under consideration.

Fixed charges are common features of utility bills across the country, the CPUC noted in a fact sheet accompanying the release of its proposed decision on Wednesday. That’s because utilities pay for a lot of fixed costs that aren’t tied to how much electricity customers use, and fixed charges are one way to recoup those costs.

Future blogs will further explore this issue.

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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One Response to A Federated System with a Global Perspective: Part 1

  1. You’re very welcome! I’m glad to hear that you’re open to exploring various topics. If you have any specific questions or areas of interest you’d like to delve into, please feel free to share them. Whether it’s about the latest advancements in technology, recent scientific discoveries, thought-provoking literary works, or any other subject, I’m here to offer insights and assistance. Just let me know how I can help, and I’ll do my best to provide valuable information and engage in meaningful discussions!

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