Paul Wesslund, who writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), tells us that it’s time to think bigger when it comes to electricity. By looking at electricity in a new light, we can reveal surprising ways to make our lives better––from saving money to helping the environment.
NRECA Vice President of Consumer-Member Engagement Keith Dennis agrees with this assessment; he’s been part of a group promoting an approach to electricity that unites utilities and environmental advocates, redefines the meaning of energy efficiency and reduces costs. This big idea is called “beneficial electrification,” a tongue twister that refashions our notion that electricity is something we buy to run our refrigerators and charge our phones. Instead, it’s a concept that reveals new ways that energy can improve our quality of life from our everyday lives at home to the more effective operation of the nation’s electric grid.
Electricity and environmental goals
Historically, the principal way to reduce GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions from the electric sector was to reduce energy consumption through energy conservation and energy efficiency. Now there are additional opportunities to reduce emissions by using electricity to power devices that would, otherwise, burn fuels like gasoline, diesel fuel oil or propane.
“We’re not asking consumers to buy a $2,000 refrigerator,” says Erin Campbell, communications director for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives. “The electric grid is going to take us to a clean-energy economy as co-ops add more renewables to the grid. As the grid gets greener, you automatically become a greener household with greater electricity use. It’s a positive message to share.”
That renewable energy trend is part of what led to one of the nation’s leading environmental groups to become part of the beneficial electrification movement. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has worked with NRECA to form the Beneficial Electrification League.
In 2018, the NRDC published a report outlining a broad plan to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years. A key part of that plan calls for using electricity for a bigger share of our energy consumption—a lot more. The NRDC plan calls for increasing the electricity’s contribution to all end-use energy from about 20 percent today to 45 percent in 2050.
The NRDC sees four main ways beneficial electrification can help reduce greenhouse gases:
- Renewable fuels are generating a rapidly growing share of our nation’s electricity, which means using more electricity emits less greenhouse gases. More than 20 percent of our cooperative’s power supply comes from a renewable resource.
- Electric cars are more efficient at converting energy into motion. Plus, the increase of renewable energy to generate electricity means a rise in the share of electric cars would lead to a drop in greenhouse gas emissions. If you are considering the purchase of an electric vehicle, contact our office to learn more about how you can receive a rebate on the purchase and installation of a Level 2 electric vehicle charger.
- Heat pumps are far more efficient than natural gas or oil furnaces, and other electric technologies applied in industrial and new buildings can create more efficiencies. Our cooperative offers a wide variety of rebates and incentive programs for the installation of air source and geothermal heat pumps.
- The smart grid is a way of using digital technology to coordinate electricity use across the nation’s power lines. Our cooperative offers a load management program tied to certain rebates. If you’re interested in being a part of this program, please contact our office.
NRDC data shows that a more aggressive pursuit of energy efficiency, renewable energy, electrification of end uses and an enhanced power grid can indeed put the U.S. on the path to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
Electric co-ops, Dennis says, are especially well-suited to rethink the role of electricity. When electric co-ops were first formed in the 1930s, it wasn’t only to deliver electricity to areas without the service, but to improve the quality of life with the benefits electricity could bring.
“The idea of beneficial electrification is really in the DNA of electric co-ops,” says Dennis. “Just like 80 years ago when they saw the chance to improve people’s quality of life, today they’re continuing to find ways to help people. It’s second-nature to the co-ops.”
Our co-op offers several ways to save you money on your energy bill, consume electricity more efficiently and to realize the value that electricity brings to your family and the environment. Contact our office or visit our website for more information on our rebates and load management programs. We’re here to help you use energy wisely.