One of the most common questions I get is, “What does the future look like in your industry?” As I approach 37 years in the electricity business, looking back 10 years is the most helpful way to pontificate on what an electric future looks like.
No pun intended, but I feel strongly that the electric future is very bright. Why? The answer is a simple two words: Beneficial Electrification. Beneficial Electrification or BE is a term for replacing direct fossil fuel use (propane, gasoline, heating oil) with electricity in a way that reduces overall emissions and energy costs for the consumer of the electricity.
How does the past play into this new paradigm? Well, for literally decades, electric utilities have had energy conservation programs, rebates for efficient appliances, discounts on LED bulbs, and many other programs to get the consumer to use our product wisely. It was almost as if we were saying, “Sorry, I know you have to use our product that is mostly generated by fossil fuels. Let us help you use less of it.”
Well, wholesale power supply portfolios have changed and will continue to change. Your utility has generation resources that are over 60% carbon-free today. Other utilities in our region and state are striving to join us. The grid today is cleaner than it has ever been, and it will get even better in the decade before us.
BE is simply the electric industry shift to no longer apologizing to the consumer for using our product. In the decade ahead, consumers will be tasked with the responsibility of making a low-carbon choice. Saving the environment will evolve from a utility responsibility to a consumer choice.
Water heating should be a leader in the BE movement. When low-carbon power supply is available, everybody wins when a consumer uses electricity to heat water rather than a fossil fuel. The consumer saves money as electricity prices are much more stable than propane. The utility is able to keep costs down because of the increased sales. The environmental win is obvious.
The wins are bigger when we look at home heating. Ground source heat pumps and air-to-air heat pumps powered by electricity can put even more dollars in the pocket of the consumer and more stability in the rates of the utility.
I believe we are on the cusp of an even larger combined win in the transportation sector. Complete electrification of the U.S. transportation sector would double electricity use by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gases by 70%. Obviously, we are years away from such a lofty mark, but if you look around, you’ll see electric vehicles are starting to seep into our society. The number of available models will increase in the next five years. Competition and technology advances will make prices fall. I am confident that my 2017 vehicle is the last gas engine I will ever own.
Instead of asking, “How can I use less electricity?” in the decade ahead, I see everyone asking themselves, “How can I use electricity for that, that, and that?” Stop by my house when the grass starts to grow, and we can discuss the electric future over a beverage while my electric robot mows my yard (for the third summer in a row). The future of electricity is not only cleaner and more cost-effective, but it is also quiet, less time-consuming and absent five-gallon cans of gas. Now, that’s Beneficial Electrification!