A solution for Asheville: 100 Megawatts of Change

Originally published in the Asheville Citizen-Times on January 2, 2015

I believe 100 megawatts of various distributed energy resources (including solar) and demand management (i.e. Smart Grid, general energy efficiency) can replace Asheville’s two coal power units … and eventually both combustion turbine natural gas units. Starting when? Starting with the Asheville Community Energy Plan … and an organization that helps make energy innovation real.

The City of Asheville (COA) is developing a community energy plan. COA’s carbon reduction efforts have been focused on its own municipal assets. Modern energy strategy offers a great many choices and our use of terms like “distributed energy” and “Smart Grid” — versus just citing solar technology and efficiency as a total energy innovation solution — will help us deploy a practical, modern strategy.

Whether it’s the Department of Energy (DOE) Eastern Renewable Generation Integration Study (ERGIS) or EPA’s Clean Power Plan website, there is no credible energy innovation transformation research or strategy entirely based on solar and efficiency. Among other things, we’ll need gaseous fuel to efficiently move energy, versus mostly pumping it across inefficient transmission lines. For now, that’s going to be natural gas and what biogas that can be generated. But we can cut the amount of natural gas needed for our new energy system, and make mass fracking (hydraulic fracturing for natural gas) unnecessary.

It terms of gaseous fuels, hydrogen did not go away. It’s still part of the energy innovation solution.

The Asheville Community Energy Plan is about, or needs to be about, pulling in the whole community to add our solution to climate change and capture the benefits of energy innovation … because it’s not all about costs and no benefit. The city commitment to cut its asset carbon emissions 80 percent by 2030 is great. Asheville moving as one movement toward a smart, responsible CleanTech future faster won’t be easy, but there’s enough pioneers and subject matter expertise ready to take the next steps required.

There are solutions from within the United States, and from other parts of the world, as we form strategy for each challenge. When it comes to cutting natural gas use while decommissioning more large coal plants and preventing construction of nuclear plants, along with demand management Japan is installing micro-CHP (combined heat and power) fuel cells in 5.3 million homes. While it’s great to build green homes and install more solar power systems, civilization can’t be rebuilt entirely in the next few years and solar can’t solve every angle of sustainably. There are multitude elements.

We are set for change, despite the obstacles. The Energy Information Agency shows a 30 percent drop in coal electricity wattage hours delivered to North Carolina between 2010 and 2013. The chart shown reveals similar reductions at Asheville’s coal plant. But North Carolina still used 4.4 terawatt hours of coal-fired electricity in 2012.

Some extrapolation means a 30 percent cut in 2014 puts us at 3.1 terawatt hours. Are 30 percent cuts possible every year or two? If so, we’ll be off coal soon with some effort. Energy innovation needs to occur responsibly, yet there’s little reason to not accelerate the social, economic and environmental benefits. We are well into America’s sustainability revolution.

Duke Progress Energy has mentioned that natural gas pipelines to WNC are not adequate for additional natural gas-fired electrical power. The answer is using less by moving power systems closer to energy users with stationary fuel cells and other distributed energy resources, including more solar. Apple uses fuel cell power at its Maiden, NC datacenter. Comparing DOE’s Better Building program and other cutting-edge demand management strategies to Duke’s efficiency programs only helps.

It’s time to move beyond coal and generate 100 megawatts of change through energy innovation. We’ve only got one chance and limited time to get this done right.

The International Energy Agency believes a $44 trillion global investment will secure a clean energy future by 2050. The benefit is $115 trillion of energy savings. Obviously on economic development terms North Carolina benefits by taking the next energy innovation and sustainability revolution steps.

Grant Millin is an innovation strategist and was the North Carolina project manager for the historic Hydrogen Road Tour. He lives in Asheville, NC and attends St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.

Posted in Asheville, Climate Change Innovation, Innovation and Opportunity Ecosystem, NC Clean Power Plan, Open Strategic Innovation for Communities.