Notes from the Road: Energy Transition North America
December 19, 2022
Kevin Cheung

The macro-takeaway from this year’s Energy Transition North America conference? Change is coming, whether we’re ready or not. And although the energy transition is already happening, successfully navigating the full transformation of the grid will hinge on how well prepared we are to embrace this historic level of change.

We recently wrapped up a busy 2022 conference year at Reuters’s Energy Transition North America conference in November. As you can imagine, there was a lot to talk about after two years off the circuit due to the pandemic. Here are some of the most significant trends and biggest ideas that were discussed when we all came together in Houston.

Energy Transition is a given

When it comes to the Energy Transition, it’s no longer “if” or “when.” It’s happening, and it’s happening even as you’re reading this. Achieving net zero by 2050 has been an ambitious goal from Day One, and it’s always been entirely dependent on the industry being nimble, proactive, and aggressive with strategies to move to renewables. We’re ramping up quickly because deploying later is simply not an option.

We no longer have time to mull or ponder. We can’t spend cycles working to identify a single silver-bullet solution. Ultimately, profitable, clean solutions will end up winning the day. Our best option right now is to get all our options on the table, compare the pros and cons, and watch the best solutions reveal themselves.

Working with government policymakers is essential

Another key to a rapid and smooth energy transition is working with government entities. Discussing the pragmatic implications of the transition with lawmakers and agencies will result in easier permitting for transmission projects and streamlined processes for adding new assets to the grid. Thankfully, tax incentives for R&D and investments in alternative energy initiatives have already been enacted via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Recycling isn’t just for your paper, bottles, and cans. The principles of reuse can also be applied as we focus on infrastructure for our move to net zero. As it turns out, reusing existing infrastructure, such as locating new renewables at decommissioned coal plant sites, can optimize resources, reduce spending, and speed execution. Overall, reuse and upcycling are a win-win for the Energy Transition.

Electric vehicles are inevitable—but they will challenge the infrastructure

Based on many auto manufacturers’ announced production plans, EVs are poised to take hold in a huge way. And while they’ll put a massive strain on load and distribution systems, they have the magnitude to be the solution for the renewable load balancing challenge.

Current EV buyers are already on board with the Energy Transition’s purpose and are ready to be highly cooperative with utilities, many electing to charge their vehicles during the daytime solar hours, instead of peak hours, when they get home from work. Influencing this daytime charging at the consumer level is low-hanging fruit.

Another way to make a big impact will be through the conversion of commercial fleets to EVs. Cooperation between fleet owners and utilities to locate ideal fleet charging sites can significantly contribute to reducing carbon emissions and reduce implementation times and costs for both parties.

Three things are certain: Death, taxes, and the energy transition

Fighting the Energy Transition is a waste of time, and at this point, we don’t have time to waste. Utilities, vendors, local governments, and large corporations have already publicly proclaimed their carbon targets, and we all need to get on board and embrace the change—and the rapid pace required to achieve our goal of Net Zero by 2050. Getting left behind isn’t an option; the stakes are too high. Success will be measured in degrees.

The Energy Transition is not just an imperative—it’s an opportunity. The positive fallout from the move to renewable energy will result in hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs (especially in rural areas where much of the manufacturing and installations will be based), a more diverse workforce, and healthier communities.

Recently, a Texas utility generated a heat map of low-income communities, minority neighborhoods, low education test scores, high rates of asthma and cancer amid long-standing fossil generation locations. With the Energy Transition, we now have an opportunity to rectify inequalities by decommissioning these fossil plants and replacing them with clean generation that provides stable, healthy, well-paying jobs while contributing to healthy living.

The move forward

From what we learned at this year’s Energy Transition North America event; we can envision a strong three-step strategy for moving ahead to net zero:

  1. Push carbon-neutral deployment – Roll out as many types of renewable energy sources as possible, including wind, solar, hydro, and tidal
  2. Address grid balancing issues – Address concerns presented by non-dispatchable renewables through market systems and incentives, existing storage technologies, and new storage technologies
  3. Pull the plug on fossil fuels – As balancing brings stability to the new grid, start aggressively decommissioning the biggest environmental threats, including coal, and peaker plants; identifying and cleaning up leaks at fossil-fuel processing plants; and expediting the shut-down of fossil fuel and nuclear facilities.