Are We Ready for Electrification to Take Over?
More and more of our energy and technology are heading in the direction of electrification, and simply put, we’re not prepared.
Whether intended or not, the electrification of most everything is happening. If you were to lose power anytime soon, you would quickly realize just how many things you can’t do without electricity. In fact, there are a lot of things that we could once do without electricity that now require it. Consumers have opted for smartphones, computers, and the many other devices that plug into them, which all require electricity.
And while the idea of using fewer fossil fuels in exchange for energy out of an electric socket is a notable one, it comes with many complications we’re not prepared for. A study from Princeton University found that in order for us to electrify most of our transport and buildings, we would most likely double the amount of electricity used in the US by 2050. This means the amount of electricity used compared to the amount of total energy used would increase from 20% to around 50%.
Right now, the grid is too fragile to allow us to rely on much more electricity without breaking down. The American Society of Civil Engineers warned us about the state of the grid in their 2017 Infrastructure Report, saying, “much of the U.S. energy system predates the turn of the 20th century. Most electric transmission and distribution lines were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s with a 50-year life expectancy…the lower 48 states’ power grid is at full capacity, with many lines operating well beyond their design.”
The well-intentioned electrification of almost everything will dramatically increase the demand for electricity past the point of what our current grid can handle. All of this to say, we need to upgrade the grid as quickly as possible to be able to make this transition smoothly.
The Biden administration recently announced that it plans to finance 8 billion dollars for new high-voltage transmission lines as well as other grid upgrades. This is a good start to upgrading the power grid. However, we also need to strengthen our grid backup systems. This way, when demand for energy surges, as it did in Texas this winter, there will still be enough electricity available from the backup sources to prevent widespread power outages.
Environmentalists are focused on the benefits of electrification as well as it being the fastest route to decarbonizing the US energy system. And while some things can’t be electrified, for most things electricity works well and is healthier for the planet. Electricity should be accessible and reliable, but it’s up to us to make sure that’s the case when we need it the most.