On May 23, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) signed a Partial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will reduce the energy sector’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050. The MOU represents a historic shift from government inaction to government collaboration on climate change, and it builds on earlier MOUs that established the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of states, cities, and businesses committed to reducing GHG emissions and promoting energy efficiency.
The MOU builds on the states’ pioneering efforts to achieve deep reductions in GHG emissions through the development and deployment of distributed renewable energy systems (DERES), which are more efficient and sustainable than traditional centralized power plants. Under the MOU, the EPA and the DOE will provide technical assistance, financing options, and other benefits to support the expansion of DERES in the United States.
Why Are DERES Important?
Global temperatures are rising, with the most recent five years being the hottest on record. Cities and small towns across the country are experiencing severe floods, extreme wildfires, and drought. The weather patterns are changing, and many Americans are experiencing the effects firsthand. In addition, climate change threatens the economies of small island nations and puts their existence at risk.
President Obama has called for a “substantial reduction” in GHG emissions, and many experts agree that a key component of that reduction strategy should involve transforming the country’s energy infrastructure towards greater energy efficiency and a cleaner environment. The development and implementation of DERES represent a significant step towards reducing U.S. GHG emissions.
What Are DERES?
DERES are energy systems that generate power locally, reducing the need for increasingly inefficient and environmentally harmful centralized power plants. DERES provide power to a grid, allowing participants to sell excess renewable energy to utility companies, who then resell it to their customers.
Instead of generating electricity at a power plant and then distributing it to end users through a grid, DERES create electricity at individual locations where power is needed, reducing the number of power outages and increasing efficiency – significant benefits in a country that experiences frequent power outages.
How Can DERES Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
The amount of energy consumed in a centralized power plant to generate one unit of electricity is high. The plant may be as inefficient as 35% to 45%. By contrast, the amount of energy required to generate one unit of electricity at a DERES location is low, typically 11% to 19%. Since many DERES are built in remote areas where power is not needed, they can operate at much higher efficiency rates than traditional power plants.
In addition, many DERES are created with components that are capable of generating energy autonomously, reducing the amount of fossil fuels that would otherwise be burned to generate the same amount of electricity. For example, wind farms and solar power plants are self-sufficient, and they generate more energy than they consume. When combined with energy storage systems, such as batteries and flywheels, DERES allow for increased efficiency and reliability. Finally, many DERES reduce the amount of energy consumed by distributing energy use throughout the day instead of having large power plants that only operate at certain times, further increasing efficiency.
Who Is Funding The Research?
The federal government has provided funding for a large number of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects over the past 10 years, and many experts predict that the U.S. Climate Alliance can play a major role in distributing that funding and supporting more sustainable energy development.
The U.S. Climate Alliance will work with local governments, state agencies, environmental groups, and businesses to identify funding opportunities, develop new policy, and implement proven methods of cutting energy waste and emissions. To give just one example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides financial assistance to farmers and ranchers for energy-efficiency projects, such as weatherizing their homes and installing energy-saving appliances. NRCS has invested over $500 million in home energy improvements across the country since 2008, and many of those homes use alternative energy sources, such as solar power, which generates electricity for local use and reduces the homeowners’ electric bills.
What Will The U.S. Climate Alliance Do?
The U.S. Climate Alliance will work with local governments, state agencies, and businesses to develop and implement strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Local governments and state agencies have the jurisdiction to implement policies that support the development of DERES, and many have already taken action – such as creating renewable energy portfolios and sourcing 100% of their energy needs from renewable sources.
In addition, the power of the marketplace will determine which DERES reach scale, with cost-effective solutions being adopted first and then expanded to others. To give one example, California has a cap-and-trade program that requires power plants to purchase allowances based on the amount of energy they consume. This allows for continuous innovation and investment in new technologies, driving the development of clean energy solutions.
The bottom line is clear: in the decades to come, countries around the world will continue to confront climate change, and many experts predict that the U.S. Climate Alliance member states will lead the way in developing and deploying solutions for reducing energy consumption and increasing sustainability.