Earth Day and Managing the Clean Energy Transition
Because it falls on a spring day, it’s easy to mark Earth Day as a time of sunny, optimistic renewal. It’s become traditional to plant trees, clean up parks, recycle, and reduce energy.
But for the 50 percent of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, including many of our own customers in New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, it’s just another day of trying to make ends meet.
The past three winters have been difficult – a polar vortex, record snowfall, and a tough economy – and New Englanders paid about $7 billion more on heat and electricity than they should have.
The cost, source, use, and reliability of energy has a big impact on their lives, yet existing market practices and energy policies often fail to benefit them, resulting in missed opportunities for economic progress.
So this Earth Day, we have a great challenge: How do we transition to a clean energy economy and maintain affordability and reliability?
National Grid has an opportunity to reassess the way we connect with our customers and, in turn, shape energy policies and market practices that will better meet their needs and reflect their distinct economic, regional and demographic differences.
What can we do differently to better serve our customers? They clearly want more value, more simplicity and more choice. What actions can be taken to achieve these goals? Some that come to mind are:
- Greater affordability of electricity: How can National Grid reduce the cost of power?
- Access to natural gas that is cleaner and cheaper: How can National Grid get that to them?
- Greater customer control over the management of their bills, including more payment and pricing options: How can National Grid, by itself or in partnership with financial services companies or others, provide that?
- Green energy sources: How can National Grid better provide that, and how much of a premium are customers willing to pay for it?
I am encouraged by the major industry players I see raising their hands to find solutions. More and more are coming to understand that there are good economics around going green, beyond it being the right thing to do. Our opportunity in energy is to be true customer advocates, and I see that happening through lower bills, cleaner energy, and job creation. How does that macro vision translate to micro stories in the communities we serve? There is actually a lot of economic benefit that comes with having a large utility in your backyard.
For one, National Grid brings billions to bear in local investment – $15 billion over the next five years, in fact. And that’s just in infrastructure upgrades. This number does not take into account the state and local taxes we pay, the jobs we provide, and the capital we will invest to move our systems into the 21st century – with the proper regulatory support, of course.
Remember, we’re not selling widgets. We’re transporting energy – a volatile commodity whose needs must be met with 24/7 oversight. I can only speak for National Grid, but as a multinational energy delivery company with a hyperlocal customer focus, there are a number of examples of clean energy leadership I’m proud to lean on.
Our new approach to large-scale solar in Massachusetts is one of them. By strategically targeting installations – more than 20 megawatts of solar panels in projects across the state, with 15 more megawatts on the way – National Grid is looking to provide additional energy to communities that need it when they need it, vastly improving the value of solar projects to customers.
And the local economic benefit? In addition to the powerful impact these installations will have on the energy grid, projects like these create jobs in our communities and, in some locations, help to transform marginal existing space into something far more beneficial. Further, solar projects will provide information to help us determine if infrastructure can be retired and removed in certain locations. That’s a triple win—lower bills, cleaner energy, and more jobs.
Our industry’s challenge is to make sure no customer or community is left behind as we transition to a clean energy future. When we look for solutions to move our company to that future-state, affordability is the prerequisite. From the wealthiest communities, to places like Buffalo, New York—the third poorest city in the nation—we must serve ALL people, despite their economic status. That is why our solutions to a clean energy future must be the right ones, the first time.
Climate change threatens nearly every aspect of our society. From health, food supply, businesses, the environment—all the way up to national economies and security. Our industry, and the U.S. as a whole, must continue to advance renewable energy sources while also lowering demand through energy efficiency. I believe we must do this while still focusing on providing affordable, safe, reliable energy for our customers.
With that mindset, it’s time for all utility companies— and our policy and tech partners—to bring the full weight of our power to bear, killing our 20th century infrastructure paradigm in order to have one that works for the 21st century, and beyond. Progress is incumbent on a true democratization of energy that creates energy choices, supply, and security that is accessible and affordable to all.
Starting a clean energy transition together is a reason to be optimistic this Earth Day.
Learn more about the projects National Grid has underway at www.ngrid.com/ebook.
About the Author
Dean Seavers joined National Grid in December 2014 as President of National Grid in the U.S. Dean’s long career has included leadership roles at GE, United Technologies, and Tyco. He led GE Security, a $2 billion product and technology group, and he also led a $4 billion global services portfolio for United Technologies. At Red Hawk Fire & Security, Dean’s most recent venture, he was a founder and served as President and CEO. Red Hawk quickly became the second largest independent fire and security platform in the U.S., providing integrated security solutions to large and mid-sized commercial customers. Dean has a strong background in financial strategy, performance improvement, and operational leadership. At National Grid, his focus is on continuing the performance progress that underpins the company’s U.S. business while driving its Connect21 agenda of building the advanced natural gas and electricity networks that are the foundation of our 21st century digital economy. A native of Sandusky, Ohio, Dean graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business from Kent State University and earned an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Dean and his family have a home in Boston.