from Scott Carlberg, Energy Consumers of the Carolinas

Our electric energy freedom is worth pondering this July 4th. In various measures, essentially 100% of Americans have access to electricity. Around the world there are 1.3 billion people without access to electricity. That lack of power cascades into issues of health, safety and economic vitality.

We are fortunate to have our electric service. It’s reliable electricity in our country, too. Look at the map at PowerOutage.us and it shows a well-operating grid. The map changes as severe weather hits, and rarely is power out for an extended period.

Given our energy situation this July 4, what energy freedoms are reasonable to ponder in our evolving, and already good, electric system? A few thoughts.

Freedom of Availability: Enough energy when it is needed or wanted. That is essentially fulfilled for the nation now. As the nation electrifies (shifts from oil), our supply can gain flexibility, since electrons are derived from various sources –nuclear, wind, coal, gas, solar, hydro – and delivered in new ways – from central generation, microgrids, and even at our home or business.

As with many freedoms, it’s a two-way street for us. Not just using electricity, but a focus on responsibility for electricity used:

  • Tapping new technology so we sip instead of guzzle energy.
  • Change human behavior; our resource stewardship to use only what we need.
  • Look outward to the community to ensure others have availability of power.

To be sure, saving energy in one place can make it available when others need it. Conservation is a behavior that plays a big part in our nation’s energy success.

Freedom from Concern: An esoteric idea, perhaps. In this bucket is a freedom from worry about pollution or health issues from the creation of electricity: Carbon emitted from a plant, waste materials from solar panels, methane leaks from pipes…

For instance, when pollution is mentioned an instant assumption can be all about coal generation. However, “The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2016 estimated there was about 250,000 metric tonnes of solar panel waste in the world at the end of that year. IRENA projected that this amount could reach 78 million metric tonnes by 2050.” This doesn’t disparage solar, a useful energy source, but notes all sources of energy have benefits and issues to address.

By the way, from 2007 to 2016 there were 531 coal units, with nameplate capacity of 55,674 megawatts, that have been retired. While some consider the benefits of retiring these units, others will ask how we will make up that generation capacity when it needed. (And there is debate whether some of the retired plants were actually running.)

Freedom of Simplicity: Multi-faceted concept here. Consider how technology has simplified our lives: A cell phone allows us to call from anywhere, streaming video allows us to pick what we want to watch and when. And, not sure about you, but my cars in the past 25 years have been way more reliable than my first car, a 1967 model (had bench seats, a choke, no AC, and I knew how to gap the plugs).

Using energy efficiently is becoming easier. HVAC systems and lighting are about the largest energy consumers in office and residences. Smart thermostats let us change our home HVAC from almost anywhere. HVAC systems are becoming more efficient. LED lights use roughly 75% less energy and last 25 times longer, than incandescent lighting. Simple concepts

Then there is rate simplicity – consumers deserve simple frameworks about price and simple billing. The energy business model is changing, and it is a challenge to build the right utility model for the future. Good minds are at work on this. The evolving business model ought to place a priority on making rates simple for all consumers. Simplicity includes effective oversight, no layering of watchers watching watchers in the bureaucracy.

Here’s a viewpoint to note: “That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” That was Steve Jobs. Worked for him.

Let’s be attentive to these freedoms. Adequate and diverse supply. Simple and easy to understand. Not worrisome. Carolina consumers benefit when regulators and business people have focus and simplicity as their mantra.