Moniz touts rules, smart grid as boon to U.S. climate goals

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz pledged today that his department will spend the next 15 months doing everything it can to improve U.S. energy efficiency, both by promulgating rules and by modernizing the power grid.

“We are scheduled to roll out more than 20 additional efficiency rules in the remainder of this administration, kind of driving the system to the breaking point,” Moniz told a Washington, D.C., hotel ballroom full of smart grid experts. “But we think it’s really important to go there.”

DOE has already introduced numerous efficiency rules for consumer products from refrigerators to fluorescent lamps. Many have been unveiled since President Obama launched his second-term Climate Action Plan two years ago, and the administration’s social cost of carbon estimate figures in its cost-benefit analyses.

It is particularly important to cut energy consumption, Moniz noted, because the power sector emits more carbon dioxide than any other sector of the U.S. economy. That fact prompted U.S. EPA to issue its Clean Power Plan to cut utility emissions. But he told those attending the National Summit on Smart Grid and Climate Change that DOE rules and programs would work in tandem with the marquee EPA rule to cut demand for power and facilitate the deployment of low-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels, including distributed solar generation.

“To get our emissions reduction targets and avoid the worst effects of climate change — we can’t avoid all of them, we know — we certainly need to reduce power-sector emissions significantly,” he said. “In fact, most think that as we go to a very low-carbon future, electricity really has to be a leader in decarbonization.”

The United States has pledged in a submission to the United Nations that it will cut its greenhouse gas emissions between 26 and 28 percent compared with 2005 levels by 2025. The Clean Power Plan, which would reduce power-sector CO2 by 32 percent by 2030, is a major component of that pledge.

Besides regulation, Moniz also touted DOE’s investment in smart grid and grid modernization efforts as a means not only of cutting emissions but of making the grid more resilient. Most of those investments were made with resources from the 2009 economic stimulus package that closed out in fiscal 2015.

But DOE invested $4.5 billion under the act in grid modernization, leveraging an additional $5 billion in private capital for smart grid technologies.

“We believe these investments have already produced tangible benefits,” he said. Smart grid tools help improve reliability, allowing system operators to more nimbly manage the grid and facilitating the deployment of more intermittent renewable energy.

Distribution systems that use smart grid technology are 3 percent more efficient, using less fossil fuels and cutting emissions in the process, Moniz noted.

It is particularly important to improve the resiliency of the grid, he said, because severe weather events are the most common cause of outages and they are on the rise. But he noted that Congress controls whether DOE receives the funds it asks for each year to make those improvements.

The fiscal 2016 budget request includes funds for research and development to improve resilience of large-scale transformers, and $14.5 million to transition to an integrated system at the distribution level and to develop a platform for market-based control systems, among other things.

“We are very committed to the grid of the future, because we think this is absolutely central for our economy, for our environment, climate change as we head to Paris, and for energy security and resilience,” Moniz said.

But while prospects for moving funding and authorizing legislation through a GOP-controlled Congress remain uncertain, Moniz noted that DOE’s federal Quadrennial Energy Review — mandated under the Climate Action Plan — and the Quadrennial Technology Review have both been referenced in energy bills now making their way through the House and Senate.

“We’ve been very pleased about how the QER in particular, since it came out in April, I think it’s fair to say changed the nature of the discussion,” he said. “It has done exactly what it was meant to do.”

The QER seeks to provide a policy road map for future efforts to modernize the power grid and reduce its emissions (Greenwire, April 21).

Correction: An earlier version of this article quoted Ernest Moniz as saying there would be “more than 200 additional efficiency rules in the remainder of this administration;” there will be more than 20 additional efficiency rules. Also, the fiscal 2016 budget request was said to include $14.5 billion for several projects; the request was for $14.5 million.