by Charles Hernick
The future is here — if we clear the way for it. That message is loud and clear during National Clean Energy Week, taking place in Washington and with events around the country.
Right now, groundbreaking advancements in energy technology have opened the door to new solutions for our nation’s growing energy demands. Wind, solar, geothermal and advanced nuclear are not merely experiments anymore, they are increasingly practical options for widespread use. Energy storage options are available and ready to deploy. And energy productivity from an economic standpoint is higher than ever thanks to energy efficiency.
Congress must pave the way for these technologies to compete in the marketplace by removing the red tape that hinders innovation and systematically favors traditional energy options.
The key to unlocking the full potential of America’s clean energy revolution is to update regulations to keep up with our fast-paced economy and the rapid growth of technology. We can’t afford to be behind the curve; we have to anticipate where innovation is headed next. It’s no surprise that our current laws are geared toward traditional industries. But leaving these regulations in place stifles innovation in the energy sectors.
We need to shrink the bureaucracy, beginning with Congress passing legislation that would establish more discipline and accountability in the environmental review process to reduce the time of permitting for advanced energy projects. The Council on Environmental Quality has taken steps to speed up permitting, but Congress needs to assure that that everyone is on the same page.
Better coordination of permitting and oversight at the federal, state and local levels can accelerate deployment of advanced energy projects in the United States. These projects help modernize the power grid, encouraging investment in innovative and flexible technologies that bring jobs to all parts of the country, while building a more dynamic and responsive electric power system.
Clean and affordable energy depends on an efficient mechanism for moving bulk energy from generation to local distribution and effectively matching supply and demand. Unfortunately, transmission planning has not kept up with our changing energy requirements. The current legislation surrounding our power grid favors larger investments over the operational benefits of adopting new technology. Too many times, the smart- and often local-option for updating our grids is passed over in favor of traditional transmission methods. Without solid infrastructure to get energy into homes, many of the benefits of clean energy technology will be lost.
All options should be on the table — and that includes non-transmission alternatives. By taking advantage of technology advancements like advanced power flow control, dynamic line rating, advanced conductors, and topology control we can ensure that a reliable energy transmission framework is in place.
We need increased transparency into how these technologies fare against traditional investments in the energy market. Congress should assure that data are collected to shed light on how often new technologies and non-wire alternatives are used. This data would help improve decision making and improve overall energy transmission.
But modernizing the electric power system is not just a “hardware” issue. Utilities face challenges when trying to adapt additional energy capabilities into their operations. They need access to cloud-based software solutions that can be updated with ease as energy processes evolve. Existing rules make it burdensome for utilities to invest in cutting-edge software simply because of how costs are accounted for. Congress should fine tune legislation in this area as well so that utilities can use secure and manage advanced software to modernize their businesses.
Finally, more flexibility needs to be designed into the energy system. Electricity coverage in many states relies on long-term contracts with power plants that require decades to pay back. The grid planning and procurement processes involved in these contracts favor — in many cases — high-emissions energy sources, and don’t allow energy storage or energy efficiency options to compete. This is problematic because in many states, companies are unable to meet their sustainability goals due to the restrictive policies in place, which exclude opportunities for clean energy. Congress should assure local governments have the tools they need to cater to large energy consumers who desire emissions-free energy sources for millions of consumers.
Fortunately, these problems are solvable. Indeed, the options proposed by CRES Forum with Advanced Energy Economy present a host of opportunities for members of Congress to take the lead on the development of clean energy and energy innovation. Legislation that makes room for advanced and sustainable energy solutions during resource planning provides ratepayers with a healthy mix of electricity from renewable and traditional energy sources. These changes would save money for homeowners and businesses.
Opening the market to new energy resources boosts job creation in developing energy sectors nationwide. Taken together, these and other changes could open the door for clean energy and strengthen the economy while achieving critical environmental goals.