This piece was originally published in the January 2018 issue of electroindustry.
Arshad Mansoor, PhD, Executive Vice President, Research and Development, Electric Power Research Institute
Dr. Mansoor is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and Vice President of the U.S. National Committee of CIGRE, the International Council on Large Electric Systems.
The electric power sector is changing. From solar panels on neighborhood rooftops to electric vehicles sharing our roads, the evolution toward a more efficient, flexible, interconnected, and customer-centric electricity system is happening.
For more than 40 years, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an independent, not-for-profit research organization, has examined the long-term technical and reliability needs of the electric power system for the benefit of society. Technological advancements in sensing, computing, and data analytics coupled with the increasing share of renewable and distributed energy resources have led our utility systems to become much more interdependent.
EPRI is examining opportunities to replace higher-emitting and less efficient end-use energy sources with more efficient technologies. This efficient electrification harnesses the benefits of a cleaner electricity generation mix with advanced technology, creating more efficient applications in the home and workplace.
This year, we launched the Efficient Electrification Initiative that will analyze the economic and societal benefits of electrification. The initiative will include national and state-level assessments to better understand where the opportunities are in efficient electric technologies, ongoing R&D and demonstrations of existing and new technologies, and centers of excellence for collaboration on new concepts and ideas.
Assessing Potential for Electrification
Today, end-use energy consumption from electricity accounts for about one-fifth of the nation’s total end-use energy consumption. The EPRI assessments will evaluate the major drivers and feasibility of transforming the U.S. energy sector from 2020 and 2050. The results will show energy demand in key sectors and energy production with an emphasis on the electric power sector for a number of scenarios.
EPRI has defined a set of key drivers and scenarios for increasing efficient electrification by midcentury. The drivers are:
- Energy markets (price of natural gas)
- Technological change (nuclear power costs, renewable power costs, renewables, hydrogen production)
- Consumer preferences (consumer electronics, electric vehicles, indoor agriculture, advanced manufacturing)
- Policies (technology standards, air quality, greenhouse gas regulations)
The scenarios are:
- Technology-driven cases to examine different penetration rates of electric technologies over time (electric vehicles, cooling and heating systems, industrial applications)
- Air emission reduction cases to examine a range of mitigation targets with medium- and long-term reductions
- High renewables, high distributed generation scenarios
- Cost-minimizing cases to explore how different sectors could deploy electric technologies in different regions over time
The Efficient Electrification Initiative expands EPRI’s research and development portfolio to explore existing and new innovative technologies. Among them are indoor agriculture, electric transportation, and space conditioning.
A source of sustainable food regardless of climate or population density, indoor agriculture optimizes plant growth using electric lighting, thermal, and sensing controls. The technology offers year-round production that improves utility grid utilization. It also enables matching hydroponic plants with aquaculture fish farming. Another benefit is that it reduces water consumption for plant growth by up to 90 percent. It will also reduce average food miles—the distance produce must travel to a destination.
The personal transportation sector is at an inflection point as consumers increasingly seek cleaner vehicles that are cheaper to power and maintain. In 2017, Volvo announced that starting in 2019, all of its cars will use either hybrid, plug-in, or pure battery-electric drivetrains. India, Norway, France, and Britain have pledged to go all-electric as early as 2040. This transition has been facilitated by advancements in energy storage and composites.
The demand for electric forklifts is increasing as a replacement for traditional forklifts that use propane, diesel, or gasoline. Advances in electric forklift motor drive, battery, and charger technology have dramatically improved equipment performance. Approximately 64 percent of the total North American forklift market and more than 70 percent of the European Union forklift market are now electric. Electric forklifts offer equal or superior performance and significant cost savings, and their use reduces on-site emissions, such as carbon monoxide and noise.
Next-generation heat pumps and commercial variable-capacity rooftop heat pumps (VCRTUs) are highly efficient heating and cooling systems that are suitable for many residential and commercial building applications. They deliver comfort similar to that provided by fossil fuel forced-air systems at an even greater efficiency than traditional heat pumps.
A rooftop unit typically has the indoor and outdoor components of a heat pump packaged together in a single unit located outdoors. Unlike standard-efficiency heat pumps, which operate at a fixed output, VCRTUs use inverter compressors to provide continuously variable output to more closely match a building’s heating and cooling demands. Systems can provide heat output at ambient temperatures as low as 0˚F. VCRTUs are well-suited for low-rise buildings (up to three stories) with ductwork, including strip malls and stand-alone retail centers, grocery stores, restaurants, and office buildings.
Electrification and Manufacturers
Electrification has the potential to reduce air and water pollution; improve energy efficiency; offer customers the opportunity for gains in productivity and product quality; and improve environment, health, and safety for workers. Identifying a specific electric technology with the potential for emissions reductions involves technology screening and assessment of the realistic potential for customer adoption.
National and state-level assessments coupled with R&D of enabling technologies are key to understanding the opportunities and the potential of expanding market adoption of electric technologies. The success of increased adoption of efficient electrification technologies depends on many factors, such as state and federal regulations, the availability and price points of new and innovative electric technologies, and the culmination of R&D in the commercialization of electric technologies that have high potential for reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Manufacturers are crucial to the acceleration of electrification. The successful penetration of electrification hinges on manufacturers’ ability to sustain and deliver new and innovative electric technologies to consumers. There are examples that show how collaboration between manufacturers and utilities, research entities, and stakeholders has aided in increased customer awareness and outreach, improving the adoption of electric technologies.
One example is Georgia Power’s Customer Resource Center, which actively demonstrates several technologies for its customers. Several manufacturers have loaned equipment to this center so that customers can experience the technology first-hand and understand how it can benefit their processes as well as improve their economic and environmental positions.
EPRI is hosting the inaugural Electrification 2018 conference August 20-23, 2018, in Long Beach, California, to bring together commercial and industrial markets, R&D and academic communities, state and federal policymakers, and other stakeholders to discuss the impact and benefits of a more electrified economy. Manufacturers are invited to participate. Learn more at www.electrification2018.com.
 Based on U.S. EIA 2016 data, the total primary energy used for end-use energy consumption in the U.S. was ~97.4 quads whereas the total consumption of end-use energy used was ~70.2 quads. The total energy consumption of electricity at end-use in U.S. is ~3,852,769 million kWh (= ~13.13 quads). Monthly Energy Review, U.S. Energy Information Administration, https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly.
 Alanna Petroff, “These countries want to ditch gas and diesel cars,” CNNMoney, July 26, 2017, http://money.cnn.com/2017/07/26/autos/countries-that-are-banning-gas-cars-for-electric/index.html.