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Credit: Sarah Bryce
Credit: Sarah Bryce
Credit: Sarah Bryce
Credit: Sarah Bryce

Electricity is the Power of the Future

The first international electrification conference showed how new electric technology can lead the way in fighting climate change.
By Sarah Bryce

Electric vehicles are just the beginning of what can be a cleaner, technology-driven future as electricity transforms everything from space heating to indoor agriculture.

This important juncture in the history of electricity was showcased at Electrification 2018, the Electric Power Research Institute’s (EPRI) first international electrification conference this week in Long Beach.

“We stand at the precipice of major change in the way we generate and use energy in our society. With nearly 2,000 innovators, thought leaders and experts in attendance, this event served as a launching point to explore the big ideas about how we will shape the future of electricity, together,” said EPRI President Mike Howard.

While electrification means different things to different people, companies are aligning around the ultimate goal of technology innovations, green jobs, energy efficiency, cost benefits and reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  

“This is the right time for us to come together and figure out how to respond to the transformative trends that are now converging and will shape our industry and society, including climate change and air quality, a transportation revolution and the accelerating progress of digitization and automation,” said Pedro Pizarro, president and CEO of Edison International, parent company of Southern California Edison.

EPRI Conference
EPRI's Electrification 2018 conference included an exhibit of electric vehicles and charging stations. Credit: Sarah Bryce

 

This is the right time for us to come together and figure out how to respond to the transformative trends that are now converging and will shape our industry and society, including climate change and air quality, a transportation revolution and the accelerating progress of digitization and automation.

Pedro Pizarro


California has taken the lead in this transformation with binding targets to reduce GHG emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, and by 80 percent by 2050.

The electric power sector in California, however, accounts for less than 20 percent of the state’s GHG emissions. Transportation, including fuel refining, and fossil fuels used in space and water heating produce three times as many GHG emissions as the electric sector and more than 80 percent of the air pollution in California. So to really tackle climate change, electrification of these sectors is the answer.

SCE has outlined a way to do this in its white paper, The Clean Power and Electrification Pathway, which calls for 80 percent carbon-free energy, 7 million EVs and electricity powering one-third of space and water heaters, by 2030.

EPRI also developed a National Electrification Assessment to show what technology and policies are needed to achieve economywide electrification. The institute is bringing together utilities, manufacturers and policymakers to map the best path toward electrification.

Electrification is already taking hold in some sectors. For instance, EVs, both those driven traditionally and those that operate autonomously, are dramatically increasing in popularity. In California, there are more than 400,000 EVs on the road and 6 percent of new vehicle sales are plug-in electric.

Other uses of new electric technology also were on display at the conference. An indoor agriculture exhibit showed how electrification can transform an entire industry. Taking farming indoors is an emerging way to bring food production close to markets, reduce impacts on land and water resources and reduce transportation energy use and costs.

Improvements in space heating and hot water systems in buildings are other potential areas for electrification. It used to be that electricity for heating was less efficient than natural gas or other fuels, so programs to promote switching to electric technologies didn’t benefit utility customers or the environment.

But dramatic increases in the efficiency of many electric technologies, as well as cleaner ways to generate the electricity, have significantly changed the landscape.

“Since the dawn of electricity 133 years ago, our society has changed fundamentally,” said Howard. “Now efficient electrification is driving a revolution of the same magnitude.”

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