The second part of this morning’s session of the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 asked a collection of panelists, “How will consumers benefit from a clean energy future?” The topics covered included the new smart grid, green buildings, electric vehicles, and manufacturing. Here, I paraphrase and provide summary of the speakers’ arguments. Feel free to browse the videos for full comments.
Rose McKinney-James (moderator): This panel is about consumers and information for consumers going forward.
Jesse Berst (smart grid expert, Smart Grid News): We are remaking electricity top to bottom. It’s been called the single greatest engineering accomplishment of the 20th century. The system is amazingly complicated. Without it, life was dark, smelly, difficult, and painful.
The choices we make today will reverberate for many years to come. We are about to electrify our transportation! Think about this in historical context. Edison invented the grid, Eisenhower designed it, and Nixon installed it. If we were to compare other technologies to that time, e.g. rotary phone vs. smart phone, computer of 1950’s vs. servers today, there’s massive differences and innovation. But with our electrical grid, we are where we were.
Grid 2.0 will have smart devices, smart communications, and smart software. It’s more observable, controllable, and self-correcting. There are already some great examples in play in many cities throughout the country. We need to spend at least $1 trillion to update the system anyway, so let’s do it smart. It works out to be the price of an extra large pizza per household per month.
In 1950 the 20% of US GDP was dependent on electricity. This jumped to 60% after some decades. Just like the transcontinental railroad, Internet backbone, interstate highway system, Grid 2.0 is a legacy of prosperity. We can devise the technology to provide electricity to the last 20% of people in this world who still lack it. We have to do this right and do it right now.
Roger Platt (US Green Building Counsel): Buildings waste tons of energy and fixing that can create jobs. Buildings represent 70% of our electrical use and about half of our greenhouse gas emissions. We spend about $400 billion per year using all of that energy and about 30% of that, or $130 billion, is horrendously wasteful. Let’s reinvest that in and create good jobs.
Our building sector is very slowly improving its efficiency, faster than cars, but still slow. We want to create demonstration projects, 10,000 buildings around the world that meet the LEED standard for green energy performance. We want better air quality in buildings.
How do we accelerate progress and give more people a taste of the future? Going from Edison’s work to smart phones required constant innovation. While we haven’t been innovating in the same way with buildings, there’s much potential. Obama is doing a good job with his Better Buildings Initiative.
Jim Motavalli (environmental writer): V2G (vehicle-to-grid) is the ability for your cars to return energy to the smart grid. In the future cars will be a lot smarter and far more integrated into our electrical system. People will get paid by allowing their cars to provide energy back to the grid during peak times.
The idea of electric cars has been proposed before. In fact, a majority of the first model cars were electric or steam-based, as gasoline was still noxious and loud. Another attempt was made in the 1990’s but it was a total failure.
Price is key. It’s hard to make a $20,000 electric car! The Tesla Roadster, a luxury electric vehicle is great, but at $109,000, it’s largely unaffordable. Regarding the other prominent EV’s on the market, about 10,000 and 4,000 Nissan Leafs and Chevy Volts have been sold so far, but that’s somewhat artificial because supply has limited this number. According to owners, they love them! The Leaf, an all-electric vehicle, can go 100 miles on a charge, while the Volt, which sports a back-up gas engine, has a range of 400 miles.
There are other company and brands like Aptera 2E, Wheego Whip, Coda sedan, Fisker Karma, BYD E6, and BMW Active E developed EV’s as well. Be on the lookout.
The benefits of electric vehicles include mitigating global warming, side-stepping peak oil, zero emissions, no smog, instant torque, fast recharge availability (soon), quiet operation, and programmability. However, they are initially expensive, have limited range, requiring behavior modification to plug-in rather than fill up, and there’s a finite battery life.
It’s an emerging industry, and while the future is unclear, having about 10% of road vehicles be hybrids by 2020 is realistic. Obama has helped this effort by supporting electric battery start-ups in Michigan.
So will EVs succeed in the marketplace? Considering climate change and peak oil, this seems inevitable as long as people understand our world’s new constraints.
Chandra Brown (President, United Streetcar): Manufacturing is responsible for 70% of all private-sector research and development spending and 90% of all American patents. Also, manufacturing is a major driver of economic growth – every dollar in final sales of manufactured products support $1.37 in other sectors of the economy. They pay over 20% more than the average job.
My company, Oregon Iron Works – United Streetcar, manufactures many products including ships, streetcars, and wave energy generators. While Portland, Oregon installed the first modern streetcar in 2000, we learned that there weren’t any manufacturers in the United States and saw this as a market opportunity. We hired welders, machinists, engineers, etc. and created an industry!
We brought jobs back to the United States. There are lots of parts of a streetcar (seats, for example) that we don’t make. There are over 200 vendors in 20 different states that are partners with us.
We recommend increasing transparency and accountability of Buy America regulations. Also, we should support American manufacturers in retooling facilities to increase competitiveness. We must continue investments in research and development. We should establish a national renewable electricity standard. We should pass a fully-funded, six-year extension transportation and infrastructure bill that continues meaningful investment in mass transit and transportation electrifications.
A roundtable discussion moderated by Rose McKinney-James from Energy Works LLC followed.
Chandra Brown: We believe in the Recovery Act, but we believe that we should be getting a lot back for each $1 of federal investment.
Jim Murren (Chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International): At MGM Resorts board, we agree that training and communication are important. We’ve set up green teams throughout our company, invested in their training. If you stop at the top, you’ve failed. You need to bring it down to the company at large. Second, you have to reach into the community and get them to buy into what you’re doing and why it’s important.
Roger Platt: Luxury has historically become ubiquitous over time, e.g. cell phones in cars and first run movies in homes. LEED standards for great buildings can be part of that future, but let’s accelerate it.
Jesse Berst: The smart grid is the glue that makes everything else possible. This is needed for renewables at scale.
Jim Motavalli: We are on a track to electrify transportation, but people are rightfully skeptical because we still need to generate that electricity at power plants, which do emit. In fact, generating electricity purely from coal gets you to the emissions standard of a Toyota Prius. A truly clean grid can lead to real zero-emission cars.
We’ll also be able to know what causes electrical disruptions and respond organically.
Rose McKinney-James (moderator): What are the opportunities to create jobs?
Jesse Berst: The smart grid is already doing that as a recent study from Duke reveals. We need to be leaders in this, because that’s where the jobs will come. We need to clean up our own back yard and move international from there.
Jim Motavalli: The lithium ion battery market is primed to go entirely to Asia. What Obama is trying to do is preserve this market in the US in Michigan. As the center for auto development, it should also be the center for battery development.
Roger Platt: Devices meant to save water in buildings are part of a whole new host of technologies being developed.
Chandra Brown: In addition to what I’ve mentioned earlier, I can add that small companies in this country are hiring. There are growth markets, so perhaps this is a messaging issue.
Jim Murren: To me, it’s all about education. If consumers demand sustainability, companies will be motivated to make those changes. People book here at the ARIA resort because we are the largest LEED certified center in the world.