The electric industry is slowly moving toward a cleaner electric grid, but not fast enough to head off the worst effects of climate change. We need to do more. While economic pressure already exists to replace inefficient and polluting coal plants with wind and solar, the market push is modest because the future and current costs of carbon emissions are not being paid for by the polluters, but rather passed on to future generations. Natural gas, especially from modern high-efficiency combined-cycle gas plants, is half as polluting as coal and is considered by many as a transition fuel on the way to a grid powered completely by renewable energy, but this gets just part way toward a clean electric grid.
We can do more. The choices we make as we design new buildings, run our lives, or manage our businesses can have a big impact and can accelerate our transition toward a clean electric grid and a sustainable future. Our choices can push beyond what the electric industry is already doing and what regulators are already requiring though renewable portfolio standards.
From the first two parts, you know something about how electricity is produced and delivered to your home or business, the impact it is having on the environment, and how it is contributing to climate change. The potential is there for more renewable energy in the future through wind, solar and battery storage, but we need to move past these slow-moving market and regulatory forces. Some areas of the country are way behind on the movement to a clean electric grid. See Figure 12. Architects, engineers, contractors, home owners and property managers can all take action that goes beyond what utilities are doing. This is the subject of this part of the book.
Electricity from the grid is not clean and won’t be for some time even in progressive states like Massachusetts and California. The first thing we should do is use as little electricity as we can and when we need to use electricity, try to use it during periods when the grid is cleaner. In solar-rich grids, it is best to wash our clothes, run the dishwasher and heat our water in the middle of the day, as opposed to night or the early evening or late at night.
The next step is to install our own solar systems. These will produce clean renewable energy over and above what the utilities may already be providing. If solar is not possible for your building, there are other options in most areas for buying renewable energy from the grid. Many utilities have special 100% renewable energy plans and community solar programs are available to many. Larger customers have many more options.
Once we are using clean electricity either through our own solar system or through off-site renewable energy procurement, we should replace our gas consumption with electricity consumption. This means getting rid of that gas water heater and furnace and replacing them with efficient electric heat pumps. Induction ranges can replace our gas cooktops and new and efficient electric clothes dryers are now an alternative to gas dryers. Substituting electricity for gas also makes sense with regard to our travels. Trade in that gas-powered car for one that runs on clean electricity.