Tapping the Evolving Benefits of Electricity
Finding new ways to use electricity can equal cost benefits to consumers and utilitiesBy Diane Huis
When electric co-ops first began delivering power to their communities, electrification changed everything. From simple things, like steady, dependable light replacing flickering lamps and candles at night, to transforming the business of farming and spurring an industrial revolution — these first acts of innovation developed into a full culture of innovation that is now leaps and bounds ahead of its starting place.
The electric grid is now more interconnected and flexible than ever because of the way technology is being incorporated. Advanced metering and infrastructure, as well as automated sensors throughout the grid allow for better monitoring and control of electricity. With this environment in place, we are entering a new era of electrification: We call it beneficial electrification.
Beneficial electrification refers to the change in how people and businesses use energy, switching from fossil fuels at the end-use to electricity. Currently, electricity accounts for 20 percent of the country’s total energy mix; as this percentage grows, we’ll see an overall reduction in emissions economy wide. The switch to electricity can also lower costs for both utilities and consumers, through a more efficient utilization of the power grid, reduced fuel and maintenance costs for electric vehicles, and lower operating costs for advanced industrial equipment.
Electricity is a cleaner form of energy than power produced by using fossil fuels on-site. North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have a fuel mix that is low in carbon intensity (see page 7 for more about our fuel mix). As the fuel mix becomes even cleaner, the focus needs to broaden from finding more efficient ways to use electricity to finding the most efficient ways to use energy overall. In many cases, this means going electric.
Transportation is a great example. Transportation accounts for 40 percent of the overall energy mix, and two-thirds of that is consumed as gasoline by cars. Costs are dropping for electric vehicles (EVs), and more automobile manufacturers are now expanding their fleets of EVs. In fact, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a nonprofit research organization, recently published “A U.S. Consumer’s Guide to Electric Vehicles” (bit.ly/epri-ev-guide) that projects the 40 models of EVs currently available to grow to 90 models by 2022. As electric cars are charged using electricity, electricity usage and the demand on the grid will go up. This would be an overall beneficial change — the better “tank to wheels” efficiency of electric vehicles and the diverse fuel mix being used to generate electricity result not only in overall energy savings, but also in a reduction in emissions.
There are huge opportunities here for transportation in general. Think of farm equipment, forklifts, golf carts, ferries and trucks. A shift to electric forklifts would provide additional health and safety benefits for employees who drive the forklifts, often in tight quarters. (No more breathing exhaust fumes!)
Not only are North Carolinians concerned about local and regional air quality in our beautiful state, we also care about water quality. Along these lines, EPRI is exploring new manufacturing technologies that, in addition to increasing efficiency, result in less handling of chemicals and better use of our natural resources.
Beneficial electrification is an important part of how North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives are working together to build a brighter energy future. We are excited about the benefits it can bring to our electric cooperative communities, from reduced costs and economic development to cleaner air and water, and an overall improved quality of life.
About the AuthorDiane Huis is vice president of Resource Planning and Portfolio Management for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives.