By Kevin J. Cosgriff, NEMA President and CEO
In his closing remarks on December 1 at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) in Paris, President Obama announced that 73 U.S. companies have pledged to go green in support of proposed climate change actions. These corporations aim to cut emissions by up to 50%, cut water usage by 80%, and rely 100% on renewable energy.
President Obama was not alone. French President Hollande pledged $2.1 billion to African nations to invest in renewable energy generation. Britain, Germany, and Norway promised to contribute $5 billion to create an incentive pool for emerging market countries to pursue emissions-reduction goals set by the United Nations. Meanwhile, Bill Gates unveiled a plan to work with 19 governments and 28 private investors from 10 countries to establish a multibillion-dollar clean- and renewable-energy research fund.
Some have noted that similar pledges made at previous climate conferences have yet to be fulfilled. Others argue that COP21 resolutions will not measurably attain what they seek. But pushing aside these observations, even skeptics would have to concede that at least some of the goals set forth at COP21 are desirable and, in fact, attainable. This is so in part because electrical manufacturers have already responded to the proliferation of global private- and public-sector energy and environmental policies—and market forces—with an armamentarium of energy-efficient, clean- and renewable-energy products, systems, and services.
Electrical manufacturers see demand for energy efficiency and renewable energy generation, as well as power quality and security technologies, as key market drivers today and in the future. They have developed and deployed power control and energy storage systems and energy-efficient transmission cables that together make it possible to tap renewable energy resources in remote locations, integrate this energy into the power grid, and efficiently redistribute clean power to distant high-load urban markets. In addition, they have developed building systems controls and energy-efficient lighting and electric motors that can drastically cut energy consumption in residences and commercial facilities.
The availability of these and other technologies is a primary reason why some corporations can make significant progress in support of their pledges to cut emissions by up to 50% and aim for 100% reliance on renewable energy. It’s also why governments can commit to renewable generation investments in emerging markets with an expectation of making a difference in supplanting fossil fuel generation and, more importantly, providing reliable electrical power to hundreds of millions of people who lack it today.
One side effect of the energy technology revolution is that these advances have raised government regulators’ expectations for more breakthroughs and faster timetables to deliver enhanced technology to the market. Often these timetables require adoption of new products much sooner than the costs of existing technology development can be fully repaid and manufacturing processes retooled. Moreover, regulators tend to focus on discrete components rather than integrated systems when promulgating energy efficiency standards. At the same time, the industry often struggles to develop performance standards fast enough to deliver products and systems to the market before the next wave of technology arrives.
Consequently, in order to improve the long-term prospects for stronger government and private sector partnerships in advancing energy efficiency and clean-energy technology, regulatory policy will have to be willing to accept equal status with business realities. Governments and the private sector will both have to want to achieve environmental and business goals apace. The electroindustry is ready for this arrangement.