The 21st century will be the century of electricity. We are in the midst of a profound electrification frenzy that will leave its mark – an electric mark – on every aspect of human activity.
I thought so before I attended the Edison Electric Institute annual meeting and convention in Orlando. Now I think so more than ever. The institute is the trade association for investor-owned utilities.
Civilization was already running on electricity, but it will do so more fully in the future. Simply put, what will happen is that what hasn’t been electrified will be. Manufacturing, mining, farming and processing of everything from grain to concrete making will be electrified.
The first big change that we can all see and that we can all participate in is the total electrification of transport. This will include aircraft eventually, but light aircraft are already in the experimental phase.
You can see this with the plethora of electric vehicles from older brands hitting the market; but what’s exciting are the new companies making everything from huge tractor-trailer trucks to sleek new pickup trucks and sedans.
Three of them were part of a line of all-electric vehicles on display at the Orlando convention:
– The 2022 Lucid Air: a stunningly beautiful sedan and MotorTrend’s Car of the Year, with an impressive range of 530 miles and an equally impressive price tag of around $139,000.
— The Rivian pickup: one of a range of all-electric pickups; this one is designed for lighter loads but still boasts an 11,000-pound towing capacity.
— Freightliner eCascadia: A tractor-trailer with a load capacity of 82,000 pounds but a range of only 230 miles.
The important thing here is the number of new manufacturers. This means new ideas, new visions, new materials and new horizons.
Every huge advancement in transportation required new entrepreneurs – otherwise the automakers would have built the plane. It wasn’t Chrysler, General Motors and Ford that took off, but new names like Boeing, Douglas and Sikorsky.
Ultimately, markets will decide, and markets are not welfare organizations. They are cruel judges and executioners, as well as extremely generous patrons.
The driving force behind this revolution is climate change. Twenty years ago, we could still debate its reality with some credibility. Today, the proof is in all the weather forecasts. Things heat up and, as any science student will tell you, when things heat up, reactions occur.
The utility industry has embraced the logic of change to modify and one day reverse climate change by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the air. It starts with their own generation and will soon encompass all the carbon escaping from boilers and tailpipes.
Revolutions are messy things. Once on the way, they have their own life. There is confusion and mistakes made at the barricades. But once on the way, they cannot be turned back; yesterday cannot be summoned to rule tomorrow.
The utilities I spoke to in Orlando believe they will be able to meet new electrical load demand with a power-leveling mix of intermittent renewables. This is called DSM (Demand Side Management) and uses smart metering data to manage demand in conjunction with their customers. For example, getting commercial businesses to agree to shut down certain operations during peak demand and even making deals with landlords to run dishwashers and other appliances late into the night.
Then there is the use of the transport fleet as a big battery. The theory is that your new EV can feed back into the grid as needed when fully charged. But some doubt that will be enough to close the gap between production and future demand. Andres Carvallo, one of the fathers of the smart grid and polymath who manages the numbers about the future from his perch at Texas State University and his company, CMG Consulting, thinks it will take a lot more real-world production to meet the electrification growth.
Presumably, much of that would come from the new Small Modular Reactors. Here is a paradox. Utilities leaders tell one person nuclear is needed, but none say how it will be purchased, sited, and built. When nuclear is brought up by utilities, there is a dreamy quality about it.
The big goal of the industry, or of the revolution, is zero emissions by the middle of the century. All embrace the electrification push. Many utilities have plans to phase out their own emissions, but none are ready for a huge increase in demand nationwide, nor is there a national plan to deal with pressing obstacles like the lack of transmission.
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.