Our Turn: Clean energy technologies can benefit us

Published: 5/27/2021 8:00:23 AM

Jerry Seinfeld once said, “No one likes change except a wet baby.” Most of us would just as soon avoid change, but like it or not, the fossil fuels to which we’re accustomed are a dying breed and the science says we must cut emissions pollution in half by 2030. Fortunately, we are in the midst of dramatic technological innovations that could allow us to use non-polluting renewable energy at affordable prices in efficient ways. The three main components of this energy transition are efficiency, electricity and renewable energy sources that produce electricity.

Nationwide renewable electricity generation has nearly doubled over the last decade — close to 90% of the expansion has come from wind and solar. The technologies available to New Hampshire a decade ago are nothing like those we can wield today. And while emerging technologies like renewables-based hydrogen and long-duration storage show potential, New Hampshire already has the technologies it needs to get underway. Below we explore existing technologies close to home that could benefit more people, provided we have supportive state strategies.

Heat pumps. Heating and cooling account for about half of all residential energy consumption. Less than a generation ago electric heat pumps were a poor alternative for New Hampshire because heat pump efficiency crashed with colder temperatures. Today the latest generation of heat pumps can provide heat even when outside temperatures dip as low as -15 degrees Fahrenheit. And more people (authors included) are discovering that this technology offers heating in winter and efficient air conditioning in summer.

Wind. Progress in recent years has helped make the case for offshore wind even stronger. The federal commitment to 30,000 MW by 2030 is huge and important, and we can benefit. (At full power, one 13 MW turbine can cover one household’s daily electricity needs in under seven seconds!) 400,000 Massachusetts homes will get their electricity from an offshore wind project approved just this month.

Solar. Rooftop, community or utility-scale. Solar energy is being deployed in many ways and demand is growing (according to the SEIA, prices have fallen 45% over the past five years). Trade in your oil-fired hot water heater for an efficient electric one and presto, free hot water powered by panels and no household emissions!

Batteries and storage. We’ll need energy storage to grow renewables in New Hampshire. Advances in technology are bringing battery storage to consumers today. Lithium-ion batteries are now 73% cheaper than they were six years ago. Storage facilitates adding additional renewables to the grid, eventually squeezing out coal and gas-fueled power plants. Battery storage is available to homes and businesses and can be developed at “utility scale” too. Storage can lower residential electric bills, strengthen resilience to power outages and contribute to cleaner air.

Wheels. The physics behind combustion remains the same regardless of fuel efficiency. For every gallon of gas burned, about 20 pounds of CO2 is released into the air (imagine a bag of charcoal every 30 miles driven in a 30 mpg car). In addition to reducing vehicle miles traveled by combining trips or trading in for a more efficient vehicle, driving an electric car (or F150 truck!) is where individuals can make the biggest difference. Faced with more EVs entering the market and attractive incentives, people are climbing in the driver’s seat of this proven technology.

Efficiency. Clean energy technologies exist and need to be deployed. But an equally intensive effort must be made to drive demand down for heating oil, natural gas, gasoline and electricity by doubling down on energy efficiency and weatherization of homes. Efficiency can emerge from incremental common-sense home improvements purchased at local hardware stores. Efficiency measures resulted in a 43% reduction of energy use during the period 1977-2017, an amount that is 30 times the energy generated by renewable energy sources. Many new efficiency technologies are available today.

Changing energy landscapes notwithstanding, the cold beverages, hot showers and reliable transportation we expect today can still be there in 2030. But supportive state strategies are essential to meeting emissions targets through efficiency and renewables. Are you interested in cleaner air, transportation solutions, buttoning up your home or business and increasing renewable energy options and reliability? Make your comment known. Every three years New Hampshire must update its “10-Year State Energy Strategy”. The Governor’s Office of Strategic Initiatives is about to begin updating the 2018 strategy and is accepting public comment until June 4.

(Roger Stephenson is Northeast Regional Advocacy Director, Union of Concerned Scientists. Rep. Peter Somssich serves on the NH House Science, Technology & Energy Committee.)




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