Electrify (Almost) Everything to Tackle Climate Change

BY ON October 18, 2018

green city graphic

What can we do to make a substantial difference in mitigating climate change for our families? The usual ideas of advocating for strong policies and making small personal changes can feel futile, far away, or abstract. But climate change expert David Roberts’ theory Electrify Everything offers a hopeful framework for solving climate change that is both inclusive and possible.

The Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at University of Pennsylvania recently hosted a lecture by Roberts that I attended. The Seattle-based writer, who writes about climate, clean energy, and politics for Vox, has been covering these subjects for almost two decades.

According to the premise of Electrify (Almost) Everything, the U.S. must effectively eliminate carbon emissions from its atmosphere. It’s complicated, but in the short term, the strategy is simple. We have the resources – abundant solar and wind power. We just need to store it, spread it, and apply it.

The two-part solution Roberts outlines involves moving to zero-carbon sources of electricity, and shifting as much energy use as possible onto the grid, especially transportation and heating. While the concept is practical in nature, it can be daunting to make happen due to political forces.

In order to get everything onto the “green grid,” Roberts says we need to balance the grid and implement electrification policies. By “balancing the grid,” we would examine the current model where the supply is dispatchable (you can turn it on and off) and demand is inflexible. Based on a predicable model of daily household use, utilities now simply respond to the demand. But this model is changing due to an influx of solar and wind power that can supplement our utilities. The renewable supply is more variable and that makes the load more flexible.

Currently, the problem is that while supply is changing, demand can’t keep up with the current bursts of renewable energy sources. These “swoops” are unpredictable for backup utilities (coal and natural gas) and they become over-generated when the sun goes down. This causes a wildly expensive and exhaustive energy burst.

In order to accommodate more wind and solar, we need to find a way to avoid those “swoops” in the fossil fuel charge. Right now most of that balancing act is being done with natural gas. Electrifying everything means finding ways to balance short and long term variations in wind and solar with the basic solutions found here in David’s Vox article.

The takeaway for powering our lives with solar and wind in response to a cleaner way to combat climate change, is to take the Electrify Everything theory and implement it on the local level. As parents, we can educate ourselves on the Electrify Everything theory and present it to local legislators. Advocating for strong energy policies lets politicians know we want clean energy sources to power our lives now.

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TOPICS: Coal, Natural Gas, Renewable Energy