Powering everything through clean, carbon-free energy to mitigate climate change requires not just decarbonizing electricity, but actually making several things like cars, furnaces, and factories electric. But with the positives of electrification comes some questions. How do you store and transmit clean energy? How do you meet the skyrocketing demand for electricity? How do you avoid blackouts? Today, we’ll dive into some of the challenges of electrification and consider how they can be addressed. With special guest Dr. Peter Fox-Penner: Founder and Director of the Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy and Professor of Practice at the Questrom School of Business.
This episode is part of a four-episode series made possible by the Sustainability Innovation Seed Grant from BU Sustainability and Innovate@BU.
For a long time, I found energy to be boring and confusing, and for those reasons I did not enjoy learning about it. I always knew that renewable energy is a key component to our battle against climate change, but it never seemed interesting. This all changed once I began working in energy and learning about the human and environmental justice components of energy, and now clean, renewable energy is one of my greatest passions!
I believe that the way we teach and talk about energy is often uninteresting and that we could find much better ways to do it. That was my goal in writing the monologue for this episode on electrification. Electrification is an important component of our energy transition, but it is especially confusing because the distinction between electricity and energy is not always clear. I hope that this episode can clear up some confusion on electric energy, demonstrate its importance, and generate a little more interest in this important subject area!
The transition to clean energy seems to be one of the most discussed environmental topics, both on this podcast and in general. So I was excited for this episode because I think we sometimes lose sight of how complicated that is. If you plug every truck in the world into an outlet, there’s going to be a problem. Dr. Fox-Penner’s research really helped me understand how a decarbonized grid is a lot more than just building a bunch of solar panels and wind farms, but actually taking a hard look at our electricity system. That’s not to say there’s not good stuff, but there’s also some concerns with storage and transmission capacity, with energy efficiency, and with resiliency that might make decarbonization a lot more difficult.
The Sweaty Penguin episode titles tend to oscillate between environmental “goods” (e.g. Carbon Neutrality), environmental “bads” (e.g. Traffic), and environmental “mixeds” (e.g. Megacities), so it’s been an interesting few weeks to have so many episodes in a row on the good side. In these episodes with environmental “goods,” the focus tends to be on how to make the good thing better, and with that comes a lot of nuance. It’s really easy to just say “electric cars good, gasoline cars bad” and go about our day, but it’s really worth thinking through our solutions as carefully as we think through our problems. Though it might be more mental effort, it allows solutions to (1) happen, and (2) happen in the best way possible. I hope that this episode starts that conversation for electrification.
Thanks for listening!