The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is occupying an alternate universe where soaring electricity demand from electrification and big data isn’t a concern. In EPA’s world – or the one they present in justifying their blitz of rules targeting fossil fuel generation – rapid electrification of transportation, heating and heavy industry, and surging electricity demand growth from data centers and AI, all but doesn’t exist. Of course, just the opposite is true: electricity demand is poised to explode.
In the tortured ways EPA has worked to justify its suite of rulemakings – including the unworkable Clean Power Plan 2.0 – it has created a remarkably dangerous fantasy about the nation’s energy future, ignoring supply chain bottlenecks for renewable power, immense hurdles to siting and connecting new generation and infrastructure, countless warnings over grid reliability from the nation’s reliability regulators and market operators, and now abundant evidence the nation is going to need to supersize the grid and our generating capacity nearly overnight.
The experts are clear about the surging demand just over the horizon. The U.S. government’s own National Renewable Energy Laboratory projected a few years back that an electrified future will require a doubling of generation capacity in all regions of the country by 2050. And remarkably, that estimate may prove to be far too conservative.
At an energy conference this month, Elon Musk, who has certainly been ahead of the curve when it comes to understanding our electric vehicle market, ballparked that electricity demand will triple by 2045. As he told attendees, “The future is not like the past. The future is a massive increase in electricity demand, and it’s going to take everything that we’ve got to just keep up with it.”
What Musk identified is that there is no precedent for the forces converging to reshape the energy landscape. The past is irrelevant as are any demand models based on our past electricity consumption.
It may be tempting to dismiss Musk’s projection as some kind of worst-case outlier, but the nation’s grid operators are beginning to say the same things. New York’s grid operator, NYISO, recently reported that electricity demand in the state will more than double by 2050 and that New York will need to more than triple installed generating capacity by 2040. NYISO warned that fossil fuel generation is retiring faster than renewable resources are entering service, “leading to declining reliability margins across the state.” PJM, the operator of the nation’s largest grid, warned that rising electricity demand converging with policy-driven capacity retirements will leave the grid facing a resource adequacy shortfall in 2030, if not sooner. Testifying in front of the U.S. Senate recently, Manu Asthana, President & CEO of PJM said, “we will need to slow down the retirement or restriction of existing generation until replacement capacity is deployed… frankly, we see this as the single largest risk in the energy transition.”
Meeting rising demand from electrification of transportation, home heating and big data is a colossal challenge unto itself but experts are only beginning to comprehend the enormity of electrifying heavy industry, like chemical production. One estimate sees that switch increasing demand by 6,000 to 10,000 terrawatt-hours. That’s far more than our total national demand (4,300 TWh) and more than switching all cars to electric vehicles (2,000 TWhs).
The demand projections for electrification, while likely to be hamstrung by what’s feasible, are nonetheless mind boggling. And they prompt a simple but critically important question: How do we do this without breaking the grid and leaving ourselves short of generating capacity? A good place to begin is not tearing down the critically important capacity we have today and making an extraordinarily difficult challenge that much harder.
EPA’s agenda, so detached from reality, is sowing the seeds for a colossal self-made energy crisis. When the nation should be scrambling to add new electricity generating capacity on the shoulders of the grid we have and working to solve market failures to ensure existing resources are properly valued for the reliability attributes, EPA is instead determined to take them apart.
- On June 21, 2023