Electricity game changers: Cleaner, greener, decentralized

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, indicates that technological changes developed in the United States when applied globally will help save the world. He cited multiple examples of game changing applications in wireless technologies over the last 20 years that have changed how we live, work and play and envisions a similar rapid change in the electrical sector from implementing wind, solar and efficiency into electric markets.

The changes will occur if the right policies exist to drive energy markets and potential barriers can be overcome. We know how to build energy efficient buildings and power them with wind and solar energy. But widespread rapid implementation can be slowed by opposing economic interests.

A game-changing system in the electricity sector will enable us to have a cleaner, greener and more decentralized system. Such a transition represents an opportunity to solve the climate problem which is the moral, business, economic, policy, political and technological challenge of our generation.

Learner described the work of the ELPC as driving policies that shift markets and help align economies in combination with technological innovations which can achieve powerful environmental and climate change solutions going forward.

Agreements reached in Copenhagen 21 have aligned the U.S. and China and nearly 200 developed and developing nations to cut carbon emissions to avoid exceeding a 2o Celsius global temperature increase. Consideration is being given to setting a limit of 1.5o Celsius. Funding was created to assist countries in making a transition to cleaner energy sources.

Electrical consumption in the US has dropped. In the ComEd service area electrical sales have fallen 4 percent over the last three years. The reduced demand occurred despite an increase in electrical devices, modest economic growth and 100,000 new customers. It is attributed to ongoing improvements in the efficiency of appliances and electric motors.

Changes have also occurred in the energy sources used to generate electricity. Production from coal has fallen and nuclear output remains flat while the use of natural gas and renewable energy, especially wind energy, have increased. Exelon’s Board of Directors decided to close the nuclear plants in the Quad Cities and Clinton as they are no longer economically competitive. However, they did introduce a legislative proposal to keep the plants open by securing a subsidy from ratepayers to make them profitable.

Learner sees wind, solar and efficiency as being as disruptive to the electricity industry as cell phones were to landlines. He pointed out that when faced with competition, however, AT&T did not seek a subsidy to protect its landline phone business from cell phone competition.

He went on to point out that over the last 15 years Midwest wind capacity increased over 25 times from 750 MW to 25,000 MW and will continue to expand. Solar electricity is following a similar growth curve. In 2009 an installed solar system cost over $7 per watt; this year costs should fall to $2 per watt depending on the size of the system. Panel efficiency continues to improve at a rate of 1 percent to 1.5 percent per year.

A similar story is unfolding with battery storage since the costs have already fallen 75 percent as more companies have entered the competition.

Gains in energy efficiency to continue to grow. An ELPC study projects that between 2016 and 2023 increase in LED lighting in Chicago will result in a 7 percent reduction in electrical demand without considering reductions from efficiency improvements.

As consumption continues to fall and cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar are available at lower prices, pollution will be reduced as will the need for centralized production facilities. A combination of smart policies and technological innovations will continue to drive energy markets and help change the world both globally and locally.

Learner concludes: Continue with the work of the IREA, install energy efficiency and solar and wind systems in your buildings and encourage your friends, relatives and neighbors to do likewise to help save the planet.

This is a shortened and modified version of the speech given by Howard Learner (pictured) at the 2016 Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair which we believe honors the essence of his presentation. Minor direct quotes have been left in without marks to allow it to be more readable.

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