From decarbonizing transport to the way we heat our homes, innovation, technology and clean energy will be key to driving down emissions

20 September 2018

Written by Rudolph Wynter, President & COO Transmission, Generation and Energy Procurement, National Grid

The challenge of climate change is very real. It also presents a unique opportunity – one that can create jobs, advance environmental goals, and leave this place better than we found it for the next generation. That’s an important opportunity. To capitalize, communities, businesses and local utilities must work better together on long-term, holistic energy planning.

At National Grid, we’re one of the world’s largest investor-owned energy companies, powering the lives of 20 million people in Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island. Our size puts us on the front lines of the climate change battle. But we are also a local business at heart. We live and work in the communities we serve; our employees and their neighbors are also our customers. That fills us with a sense of responsibility to get this right.

For many years, local utilities have reacted to – rather than planned for - the changing community around them. Many times playing catch-up to economic development with a patchwork of infrastructure solutions.  At National Grid, we know that’s not going to help the states we serve reach their goals. Careful, thoughtful planning can support economic growth, reduce emissions, and help us deliver new infrastructure more affordably for customers.

The old utility paradigm was focused on keeping the lights on, heating homes and responding to power outages. Today, we continue to perfect these tasks; but we know we must also evolve to address new priorities. National Grid’s new energy company model merges utility basics with innovation, technology and clean energy to address concerns around energy conservation, air quality, climate change and other social and environmental concerns. This new model requires increased agility, more experimentation and greater diversity of solutions – that’s the shift we’re creating now.

The Challenge of Achieving 80x50

For years policymakers, in an effort to reduce emissions and combat climate change, have focused primarily on the power sector – through programs such as the US Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and others. These programs have succeeded in cutting power sector emissions dramatically.

However, even getting to zero emissions from power generation won’t get us to an interim target of reducing overall emissions 40% by 2030. That’s a target that many Northeast US states have adopted as a transitional point between the Northeast’s current emissions and goal of reducing overall emissions 80% by 2050 (“80x50”).

If we are to get anywhere near the interim target for 2030 and our ultimate 80x50 goal, policy and investments increasingly need to focus on decarbonizing transportation and we need to do more with how we heat homes and businesses.

But what does this look like?

Put simply, National Grid thinks it’s about three actions that need to occur by 2030:

  1. Accelerate the decarbonization of power generation – by achieving a 67% zero-carbon electricity supply, as opposed to 45% today.
  2. Electrify the transportation sector - the number of light-duty electric vehicles on Northeast roads would need to reach more than 10 million (50% of all light-duty vehicles), compared with fewer than 75,000 today.
  3. Convert heating from oil to natural gas and, where it makes economic sense, to electric - the rate of efficiency retrofits would need to double, and nearly 5 million oil-heated buildings would need to convert to electric-heat pumps or natural gas.
From 2030 to 2050

This progress across the generation, transportation, and heating sectors will help us achieve our interim targets – but the challenge of getting to 2050 remains.

Beyond the interim 40 percent target for 2030, to achieve 80x50 will require even deeper and more sustained technological innovation on both the grid side and customer side, coupled with ambitious policy.

While it’s still too early to identify all of the leading options beyond 2030, some of the key pathways have begun to emerge:

  • By 2050, the electricity generation sector will need to be effectively a zero-carbon system – with renewable energy and energy storage solutions playing an important role.
  • The post-2030 challenge will require broader progress across all transport sectors – with new zero-carbon options will be required for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, as well as non-road uses such as ships, railroads and aviation.
  • Beyond 2030, the heating sector will require sustained efficiency investment and conversion to heat pumps; steady decarbonization through renewable natural gas, hydrogen and synthetic fuels; and the conversion of many natural gas homes to hybrid natural gas-heat pump configurations.

This is a broad view of what goals are possible to achieve, and we must be unbiased in our pursuit of solutions.

For example, smart planning and strategic use of natural gas – yes, a fossil fuel – can paradoxically help us get to a decarbonized energy world sooner IF we use it to displace coal and oil in the immediate term and work aggressively to decarbonize gas networks in the medium and long-term.

Let’s not shut out any option that can ultimately help us achieve our goals.

National Grid is Committed to Change

National Grid isn’t just talking the talk on climate change – we’re already working towards our clean energy future. A few examples of how we are trying to do our part:

  • We have committed to enabling 10,000 public EV charging ports by 2025 in our United States jurisdictions with the approval of state our regulatory agencies. This commitment includes providing infrastructure and rebates for a variety of charging station installations (e.g., Level 1, Level 2, DC Fast Charging, transit and heavy-duty vehicle charging) in our service territory.
  • We make $660 million in energy efficiency grants annually, and we have a planned investment of $100 million in a fund to develop clean energy solutions.
  • In Buffalo, New York, as a pilot, we installed over 100 neighborhood solar installations in a low-income community, lowering electric bills, contributing to system efficiency, and advancing renewable energy.
  • Over the next five years, we plan to invest $3 billion in our electric transmission system, much of it to develop the highly intelligent, flexible, agile network that will be needed to interconnect the variable, remote, and distributed energy sources that will be part of our clean energy future.  

We also invest $3 billion in infrastructure every year in across our service territories of New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

We are making the financial commitment, we are thinking differently, and we are working alongside the communities and states we serve to create more sustainable solutions.

Partnerships are Key

Working together every day on existing and emerging energy solutions will be essential to our collective success. We need the expertise, engagement and leadership of a diverse group of stakeholders across the Northeast, United States, and the globe to bring an energy roadmap such as this to life.

We at National Grid have been grappling with how we will deliver energy to our customers and communities in a changing climate for the better part of the decade and we still haven’t found all the answers.

To get those answers, we need inclusive discussions that span multiple organizations, industries, and agendas to forge the way forward.

So, let’s build relationships – within our communities, states, and across the globe -- that foster innovative planning.

Let’s work with partners, both public and private, to achieve the clean energy future we envision.

Let’s invest in a smarter energy infrastructure that will create smarter local economies with higher-skilled, better-paying jobs, and a more resilient, flexible, agile energy grid to support people, industry, and enable our clean energy future.

National Grid stands ready and willing to build these partnerships and effect meaningful reforms to help achieve our goals – let’s get to work!

Rudolph Wynter, President & COO Transmission, Generation and Energy Procurement, National Grid
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