The Renewable Takeover

    How Long Will It Take And What Must We Do In The Meantime?

    This article was written by Nooshin Behroyan.

    As we navigate the complex landscape of the energy transition and sustainable energy forms, it’s essential to confront the stark reality that only 13% to 24% of the energy needed in the United States is currently provided by renewable sources. This figure underscores the pressing need to accelerate our transition to cleaner energy solutions. Copious amounts of money are flowing toward this effort. More than US$400 billion is under the direction of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is looking for projects that can quickly build sustainable infrastructure. However, as this transition unfolds, it’s equally vital to ensure that our current energy supply remains uninterrupted.

    Americans are not accustomed to living with brownouts and blackouts while we await the full realization of renewables. In this column, I will delve into the specific measures that utilities can take to optimize and safeguard energy infrastructure and prevent disruptions during this period.

    The transition to renewable energy sources is undoubtedly necessary to combat climate change and reduce our carbon footprint. It represents a profound shift away from fossil fuels, which took generations to build and have powered our nation since the 1800’s. As it should be, the conversation about renewables is very loud in the press, but I feel strongly that the public should understand that we are not close yet. This shift takes time to build out, buoyed by substantial investment. So much must happen in the meantime. Here are my suggestions:

    Grid Resilience And Modernization

    To guarantee uninterrupted energy supply, utilities should prioritize the resilience and modernization of the electrical grid. This involves upgrading aging infrastructure along with grid hardening, implementing advanced grid technologies, and enhancing grid cybersecurity. A resilient grid can better withstand extreme weather events, reducing the likelihood of blackouts during storms or wildfires.

    Energy Storage Solutions

    Energy storage systems, such as batteries, play a crucial role in ensuring a stable energy supply. Utilities continue to invest in large-scale energy storage projects to house excess energy generated during periods of high renewable output and discharge it during times of peak demand or renewable scarcity. This technology acts as a bridge between intermittent renewables and uninterrupted energy delivery.

    A Diverse Energy Portfolio

    While renewables are the future, we cannot rely solely on them at this stage. As such, our utilities should maintain a diverse energy portfolio that includes natural gas, nuclear power, and breakthrough technologies like hydrogen and, maybe much sooner than expected, fusion energy. These sources can provide consistent and reliable energy when renewables catch up to meet demand.

    On the electrical side, a proactive and powerful wildfire mitigation plan is imperative. For gas, there are innovative technologies out there such as “methane recapture” that saves 99% of the methane that would be normally flared or vented off during pipeline operations. This is a significant factor utilities are currently making toward environmental stewardship; and it needs to be much more widespread.

    Demand Response Programs

    Implementing demand response programs can help utilities better manage energy consumption during peak periods. These initiatives incentivize consumers to reduce their electricity usage during high-demand times, thus alleviating pressure on the grid.

    Reducing Methane Emissions

    Methane-recapture technology allows utilities that own gas pipelines to save up to 99% of the methane that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere during maintenance procedures from pigging, stoppling, and purging to other maintenance operations.

    Wildfire Mitigation

    For utilities operating in wildfire-prone regions (and in previously low-risk areas like Maui), proactive wildfire mitigation strategies are essential. This can include investing heavily in advanced auditing systems so each unique area can understand — and respond appropriately to — vegetation, weather, technological capacity, and then implement the appropriate technologies to mitigate risk.

    Public Safety Power Shutoff Systems

    Public safety power shutoff systems (PSPS) are necessary for overhead electrical infrastructure, especially in areas susceptible to wildfires. These systems can prevent power lines from sparking fires during extreme weather conditions. This is a complex switching system that allows energized lines to be shut off and turned on remotely based on a series of conditions that include wind speed, air moisture content, and heat.

    Collaborative Efforts

    The energy transition is a collective endeavor, requiring cooperation among utilities, regulators, policymakers, and the public. Transparency and communication are paramount to ensure that everyone is informed and involved in the transition process.

    Financial Investments

    Investments in energy infrastructure are substantial, but they change with political movement. Utilities must secure adequate funding to support the necessary upgrades and innovations to maintain energy reliability. As mentioned, the EPA has amassed an exceptionally large fund to support clean energy projects.

    Steps In The Right Direction

    In conclusion, the transition to renewable energy is imperative but won’t happen overnight. Utilities are taking steps to guarantee uninterrupted energy supply using grid modernization, energy storage, diverse energy portfolios, and methane recapture. By embracing these measures, we can bridge the gap between our current energy landscape and the sustainable future we aspire to achieve. Together, we can navigate this energy transition successfully and emerge with a cleaner, more sustainable energy system for all.


    About The Author

    Nooshin Behroyan is the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of an ESG-inspired oil, gas, and utility startup, Paxon Energy & Infrastructure Services (Paxon). Behroyan is an Iranian immigrant and considers herself an “energy futurist.” One of only 7% of female CEOs in the industry, the UC Davis environmental engineer and UC Berkeley LEED architect built Paxon into a high growth revenue player in the American utilities landscape. Behroyan is focused on bolstering the existing infrastructure to ensure a seamless transition. Paxon’s services include pipeline integrity services, methane capture, wildfire mitigation, and other services vital to ensuring that light, heat, and transportation remain in full swing without further damaging the planet. Behroyan serves as the board president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Association for Women Business Owners. She is an active mentor and advisor to UC Davis.