By Vernon Church
It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the climate crisis. With powerful political forces and traditional energy businesses pushing hard to deny the problem, delay progress, or greenwash their own activities, it can sometimes feel like progress is unattainable.
Add the size of the problem to the mix, and it can feel downright hopeless. But as author and CEO of Energy Innovation Hal Harvey told The Years Project recently, solutions at scale to carbon emissions are proven, reliable, and ready to be implemented. Three areas in particular offer low-hanging fruit: buildings, transportation, and the electrical grid.
The next time you spend a cold, winter’s day in a NYC walk-up or a long, summer weekend in an uninsulated, Florida beach bungalow, think about what goes into keeping your environment comfortable. The hissing of radiators and humming of air conditioners belie the real problem: old buildings use up to 80 percent more energy than newer, better insulated, energy efficient ones. But even if your castle is not of this century, there are plenty of solutions to bring it up to code, assuming the code itself is up to date.
Even the most energy efficient buildings still need power. That power comes from a variety of sources — some carbon friendly like wind, solar, nuclear and hydro-electric — and others that are literally the source of the problem, like coal and natural gas fired systems. But traditional, carbon-spewing power sources have one big advantage — they all deliver uninterrupted power via an interconnected electrical grid. If we are to decarbonize effectively, zero-carbon energy sources have to be connected to an intelligent zero-carbon grid that delivers the power where and when it’s needed.
Take a look at any street in any city during rush hour and you’ll more than likely see the single largest source of CO2 emissions moving, albeit slowly, along: transportation. And while electric cars charged via a smart, zero-carbon grid are the holy grail, there’s a very long road to travel before we replace millions of fossil-fuel burning cars and trucks with the Teslas of the world. But on the way to that carbon-free utopia, continuous improvement has the potential to significantly reduce the problem at little or no cost and with few inconveniences.