How To Electrify Everything
As humanity blindly bolsters its addiction to burning fossil fuels in the face of climate disaster, it can be easy to look away and give up hope. What, after all, can one person do? Our need for energy is fundamental and deeply intertwined in every aspect of our lives. As a civilization, how can we make this unprecedented leap to renewable energy, and how can we accomplish this in the shrinking window of opportunity that remains?
Saul Griffith has an answer, at least to the engineering piece of the challenge; Electrify Everything.
Griffith, an inventor, entrepreneur, engineer and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” is the founder of the nonprofit Rewiring America, and founder and chief scientist at Otherlab. In 2017, Otherlab was contracted by the Advanced Research Project Agency of the Department of Energy (ARPA-e) to “review all available energy sources and create an ultra-high resolution picture of the U.S. energy economy.” Griffith and his team created a “Super-Sankey” tool, an interactive Sankey diagram mapping the entire U.S. energy economy.
This in-depth analysis was the beginning of Griffith’s insightful and highly-readable book, “Electrify – An Optimist’s Playbook For Our Clean Energy Future.” The way to decarbonize quickly; electrify everything we can, specifically, the 75% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions generated by our current energy system.
Fossil fueled machines emit a predictable amount of greenhouse gases over the course of their life cycles. When we calculate the “committed emissions” of all the vehicles, power plants, furnaces, etc. currently in use, the world overshoots the 1.5° C of warming threshold set by the Paris Agreement. We will have to make perfect climate decisions for every purchase from this point forward to have a chance of staying under 1.5° C. This is sobering.
Rapidly replacing all of our fossil-fuels machines with electric alternatives and modernizing our energy grid accordingly presents an enormous challenge. Where do we begin?
Electrify presents a clear, actionable roadmap for individuals and policymakers on all levels. Saul Griffith may not have a magic fix for our broken political and communications systems, but he has a plan to execute on this transition.
Electrify was written for policymakers but is equally valuable to individuals and activists. Each chapter begins with bullet points highlighting key ideas. Electrify begins by laying out our current predicament and describing the knowledge base the subsequent ideas are based on.
Here are selected subsequent chapter titles with a few key points:
- This energy problem is very different from what we faced in the 1970s. It can’t be fixed with efficiency. We need to transform our entire energy system and how we think about energy.
Where Will We Get All That Electricity?
- Solar, wind, and hydroelectricity will provide most of our energy along with biofuels and some role (at least in the short term) for nuclear energy.
- Our land-use patterns will be key to success.
- Everything that can store energy should store energy. Storage will help even out the intermittent nature of renewable energy.
- End use will be time-shifted to when the wind is blowing, and the sun is shining.
- Electrifying sectors that have not previously been electrified will make it easier to balance the grid.
- We will need to expand long distance transmission capabilities. There are huge cost benefits to overbuilding capacity.
- We need a twenty-first-century infrastructure, what Griffith calls “grid neutrality” for our new distributed network.
- Focusing on small “green” consumer purchase will not save the planet. Instead, focus on a small number of big purchases that define our personal infrastructure.
- Our personal energy infrastructure will be critical to building the new shared infrastructure.
- Rethinking infrastructure will spur the development of new financial instruments for financing these transitional purchases.
Too Cheap To Meter
- Renewable energy is currently significantly cheaper than fossil fuels. An energy transformation on this scale will further reduce the cost of renewables by half.
- We need to consider the total cost of energy, including transmission and distribution.
- The cheapest energy system will blend household, and local community energy generation with industrial energy systems.
Rewrite The Rules
- Building and electrical codes and local regulations need to be rewritten to support clean-energy technology. Most of the expense of solar installation for example, is in the “soft costs”, regulations and building codes. Griffith has many ideas for modernizing these processes and uses Australia as an example.
Electrify touches every aspect of the energy transition including activism and individual action in considerable detail for such a broad overview.
I highly recommend this book. Electrify is filled with data-driven ideas that will bring real change and can be implemented by each one of us.
I found this deeply researched book empowering and encouraging. The task we face is daunting. Saul Griffith has provided a roadmap we can all follow, and that gives me hope.