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Everything You Need To Know About How Electricity Works ...

... but may have been too embarrassed to ask

    Practices Engaged

  • Carbon
  • ESG + Corporate Sustainability
  • Energy
Welcome to a 4-part series where our Operational Carbon Technical Lead and Licensed Engineer, Ilana Cember, dives into:

“(Almost) Everything You Wanted to Know About Electricity But Are Embarrassed to Ask” 

Understanding the basics of electricity generation, distribution, purchasing, greenhouse gas emissions, and the utility grids is key to understanding how we change any of those to keep our global commitment and meet the Paris Climate Accord.  We will go into the “why” for each of these topics as they are covered.

TOPICS WE WILL COVER 
  • All things utilities 
  • Electricity grids 
  • Carbon emissions and decarbonization 
  • End with some good news

Part IV: Some Good News

WHY? 

Climate doomerism is a luxury we cannot afford. (xxxv)

From Rebecca Solnit: 

Proclaiming something’s defeat contributes to it. It’s a form of sabotage. This is as true of the climate movement as anything else – in fact, it is bedevilled with defeatists and doomsayers. What motivates us to act is a sense of possibility within uncertainty – that the outcome is not yet fully determined and our actions may matter in shaping it. If we can recognise that we don’t know what will happen, that the future does not yet exist but is being made in the present, then we can be moved to participate in making that future.

Uninformed and misplaced hope leads to fruitless effort and disappointment. One of the complexities of climate change activism is that there is much to hope for, but within the parameters of the possible. For example, we can with swift and heroic effort stabilise global temperature, scientists tell us – but that will not stop the ice sheets melting and the seas rising for centuries to come (though it will help with the pace and extent of that melting). We can campaign for proven solutions and honest innovations, and not be taken in by the distractions, delaying tactics and false solutions now being pushed by the same interests who once brought us climate denial.

To hope is to risk. It’s to take a chance on losing. It’s also to take a chance on winning, and you can’t win if you don’t try (even though the campaign may be won without you). We who have materially safe and comfortable lives, and who are part of societies that contribute the lion’s share of greenhouse gases, do not have the right to surrender on behalf of others. We have the obligation to act in solidarity with them. This begins by recognising that the future has not yet been decided, because we are deciding it now. (xxxvi)

To that end, we have the technologies today to reduce 75% of the carbon emissions from current fossil fuel systems. (xxxv) This includes utility-scale renewable energy for carbon-free electricity and electric vehicles (EVs) for road transportation, in addition to the previously discussed heat pumps. 

Figure 27. The Largest Areas of Fossil Fuel Demand Are Most At Risk(xxxi)

a slide that says “The largest areas of fossil fuel demand are most at risk. Over 75% of fossil fuel demand today is under direct threat by exponentially growing cleantech”. A bar graph adds up the electric alternatives of electricity generation, transport, buildings, industry, and energy industry.

We have likely already hit the 1.5°C threshold (xxxix), but we have the power to prevent further global warming.

Figure 28. We Can Stop Further Global Warming (xxxv)

A slide that says “Climate: The Paris Agreement goals are within our reach. There is no room for despair or complacency” and shows three graphs of solar and wind share of generation, electricity share of useful energy, and emissions. The charts show paths for 1.5°C to 2.5°C with the current projected trend in between but close to the 1.5°C path.

In Conclusion

Electrification can be an in-depth process, but the solutions are straightforward. That said, the increase in demand of many components is outpacing the supply while manufacturing spurred by the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law catches up.  

If your electrical service is not large enough to handle the increased load with new electric equipment, starting procurement now is crucial to meeting 2030 carbon commitments. Transformer lead times are currently more than 2 years. 

Here are some other opportunities to consider:

  • Greenhouse gas inventory (Scope 1, 2, 3 including Scope 3 materiality assessment). 
  • Net zero, carbon neutral, and decarbonization planning. 
  • Schematic or pre-design analysis and recommendations for new construction 
  • Portfolio analysis for asset prioritization or portfolio planning
  • Onsite or remote energy audits for site-specific decarbonization and efficiency strategies, including maximizing incentives and rebates
  • Building reduction strategies, such as energy management or Whole-Building Life Cycle Assessment
  • Evaluating direct carbon reductions versus purchasing offsets
  • Project implementation consulting services, e.g., design documents, scope of work descriptions for bidding, etc
  • ESG Reporting
  • Setting short-term and long-term carbon goals
  • Submitting target documentation or annual disclosures, e.g., SBTi, CDP, ISSB, etc

Regardless of where you are in your journey, from starting your greenhouse gas inventory to decarbonization planning to project implementation, Brightworks Sustainability can assist at any stage. Request a Proposal

Written by Operational Carbon Technical Lead Ilana Cember, PE, CEM

return to Part III

 

Our Work

Related Projects

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ABB is a global leader in industrial technology. Across 17 states, Brightworks conducted sustainability assessments on more than 50 buildings in ABB's North American portfolio, including manufacturing, office, and warehousing facilities. An extensive report providing a baseline assessment for each site helped ABB prioritize energy efficiency measures, budget for carbon reduction efforts, and calculate ROI as part of its GreenCRREM program.

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Autodesk

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In an effort to drive carbon reduction for a new, modular multi-family housing development, Autodesk engaged Brightworks Sustainability to incorporate carbon considerations into its generative design process. These ranged from carbon sequestration in the landscape to reducing the total embodied carbon in the modular units and site design.

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Benton County

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Benton County

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The remodel of this office building allowed Oregon's Benton County to consolidate departments and demonstrate its commitment to health and wellness. Brightworks worked with the county to refine the project’s sustainability goals and achieve LEED Gold certification and Fitwel 1 Star rating.

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