The Truth About 100% Renewable Energy

Swarnav S Pujari

Founder at TouchLight Innovations

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Hey Everybody! This is Swarnav S Pujari and Welcome to Episode One of Off-The-Grid where we talk about all things Energy & Sustainability.

Thank you so much for tuning in because we have an amazing line up of topics that we are discussing today that can arm you with the knowledge you need to make a real impact.

On today’s show we are going to going to be addressing three major topics that are impacting our world. Starting with why 100% Renewable Energy is not a good goal for governments and cities to aim for and how that is hurting our chances of building a truly clean & resilient grid that can support our changing needs.

And

Understanding Energy Resilience and what it means and how you no matter your age or financial situation can help contribute to building a more robust and powerful electric grid

And Finally discussing how California is in the dark and will see several growing pains over the next 10 years as the grid evolves and changes after being neglected for so many decades.

All today on Off-The-Grid.

So, we have all heard of this idea of 100% Renewable. From states like California committing to be powered entirely by 100% renewable to cities like Chicago making the pledge we have seen a growing movement catch steam over the past few years to truly drive the adoption of renewables as our primary source of power.

However, there is a dark side to this commitment that when you dig into it is not solving the main problems we have when it comes to our electric grid and its contribution to climate change.

For us to understand why this is a bad idea we need to dig into what part of the electric grid is causing us to be in a position where it has contributed to the issue of climate change and why we got here today.

To provide you with a simple analogy – let’s look at nutrition, which plays such a huge role in building a healthy and strong body. We all know when it comes to food that too much of one type of food in an unbalanced way causes us to gain weight and fall into the unhealthy category. Reaching for the cookies or eating more carbs than protein all ends up causing adverse effects that none of us really want to have, but, convenience & price can play a role in what we put into our daily diets. So, think about it – depending on where you are was it easier to make yourself food before that is healthy and balanced or was walking into McDonalds or another fast food chain far more affordable and simpler to fill your stomach. We all know it would be better to eat a balanced and healthy meal, but, didn’t want to inconvenience ourselves until we as individuals make the commitment for change because you realize the health benefits.

Much like food the electricity we produce from different sources provide different benefits and advantages. However – when you do too much of one thing you run into issues.

Which is the mistake we made over the past few decades to help support our rapidly growing energy needs. Today roughly 64% of our energy comes from fossil fuels and 30% specifically is directly from coal.

Coal or gas is like the cookie or fast food in our nutrition example – it is proven, easy and heavily subsidized making it the go to source of producing more power. People need more electricity? Build more coal and gas plants. Naturally the entire process of extracting the fuel and then burning does emit quite a bit of CO2 which is what helps contribute to climate change, but overall there is great value to source of power like coal & gas. That is 24/7 power.

As a proven source that can generate more power with more fuel which is not dependent on anything but our speed of producing these fuels it enables us to provide the full energy needs of an entire state with known results.

However, that doesn’t mean using coal and gas should be depended on the way we are today. Because we need a distributed ecosystem where we pull power from solar, wind, geothermal & hydro when able to cover our ever-growing energy demands while supporting the difference with coal or substituting it with Nuclear Power.

When the idea of 100% renewable is claimed these governments and businesses are betting on using just solar – which depends on your location and the sun coming out daily for long enough to cover your full day’s energy needs and wind – which also is geography centric and depends on windy days. Unfortunately energy storage is not the way to solve the issue of making sure the wind blows and sun shines as all it can do is help with energy management and making our grid more resilient and efficient as opposed to supplying power that we need power our homes and buildings.

Avoiding using a mix of Natural Gas – which is cleaner than coal and petroleum – and betting fully on Nuclear which also is a proven clean solution does not set us up for success.

Just eating veggies or just eating proteins doesn’t help you achieve a healthy diet. We all know starving ourselves to survive on just veggies of proteins also doesn’t enable a healthy diet so why would we want anything different of how our energy is delivered.

The core goal when it comes to making the energy sector clean, renewable and resilient isn’t 100% renewable, but, a distributed ecosystem where cities and states commit to a 100% Sustainable & Resilient Grid which balances a healthy mix of solar, wind, nuclear and to support base energy needs natural gas.

Without a balanced ecosystem we are setting ourselves up for failure and not living in a grid that not only is helping combat climate change, but also keep up with our rapidly growing energy needs.

So, let me ask you this…

How do we even accomplish this and what can you do about it?

Energy Resilience.

A rapidly growing theme and trend that we discuss in the energy industry today. Energy Resilience is a topic that encompasses the development of micro-grids and hybrid solar + storage systems. Not to mention the use of Electric Vehicles as transportable batteries for our homes and other interesting hybrid on-site generation and energy storage solutions. However, most of these things are quite complex and need hours of your time to really dive into the complexity of how micro-grids make our energy more resilient and sustainable or learning about the technical challenges associated with using an Electric Vehicle as a transportable battery.

Our goal here in this segment is to discuss what part of Energy Resilience can you help with and at what scale.

To start we need to understand the term a bit better. Many times, people will confuse Energy Resilience with solar or energy storage. While these are critical components in enabling energy resilience at homes and office buildings, they aren’t the definition of Energy Resilience.

The way to think about it is Solar is to Energy Resilience as is your special imported tiles from Italy are to your house. Solar is a component in building Energy Resilience as is installing tiles or flooring in general to make a house livable. A definition of Energy Resilience from a homeowner or property owner perspective is…

A property which can self-generate its own energy needs while working in tandem with the electric grid so that in the event of a power outage or high demand periods a property can self-sustain for at least 24 hours without grid support.

Still sound technical?

Well here is the simplest way to define energy resilience at your property – Since we are looking at ways you can contribute to building a cleaner and more power grid…

If your property has a proper mix of solar, energy storage, backup generators and software that automates the management of all the energy within your property you are likely Energy Resilient. Because with all that equipment designed and tied together properly you can be sure that you likely are not paying much of anything for energy and in the event of power outages or high energy demand you will be able to stay online powering critical appliances.

But if you don’t have a budget of 15 thousand to 40 thousand for a home or between 100 thousand to 500 thousand for a small commercial property doing an infrastructure build out like this is out of the question. However, doing an energy resilience build out at your property can improve the overall value of location depending on the state of the electric grid while also saving you some money. Just like when you consider renovating your flooring, paint color and other aspects of your property energy resilience should be an item to consider.

So, what can you do as a homeowner to just begin to get the taste for energy resilience without spending thousands of dollars?

Do a site energy audit. Most people don’t know what they use in energy and what they spend other than a ballpark figure. The goal of doing a site audit is understanding what you use in energy and figuring out where the biggest draw of energy is coming from and then making small changes to reduce your cost of electricity and reducing your energy usage. You can do this by reprogramming your thermostat to turn on at different times of the day to heat and cool your home when electricity is cheaper or do something as simple as making sure things that are not in use are turned off.

Oh, and as quick note your lighting can be a simple energy efficiency upgrade, but for the most part don’t rush to replace all your lights as for most people it isn’t the biggest drain on electricity. The biggest drain is usually your Heating & Cooling as well as the devices that are plugged into your wall outlets. Smart thermostats and smart plugs are great Wi-Fi connected products that can help you manually control these devices. Software that is slowly providing more intelligence is beginning to enter the market, so you won’t have to optimize these devices around your lifestyle manually.

Spending a few hours or a day to really understand what devices that draw energy are responsible for your energy bill and consumption is an extremely valuable process to explore if you want to contribute to building energy resilience. The best part you don’t need to buy anything new. You don’t need a smart thermostat and smart plug or any fancy software to start. Begin by programming/adjusting your thermostat to off-peak electric hours or making sure devices that can be turned off are in fact turned off and unplugged if possible.

Improving your energy efficiency saves you some money, but really what you are doing is preparing your property to support energy resilience when you do have the ability to invest into it. Energy efficiency helps make sure the energy demand you have on the grid is reduced which means there is less strain and motivation for the utility companies to push for development of plants that are polluting in nature and more importantly it will drastically reduce the cost of energy resilience for you – saving you thousands of dollars in the long run when you do decide to explore energy resilience.

However, when is the right time and what should I be looking for?

If you have been watching the news recently you would have heard about how Northern California’s grid has gotten so bad that PG&E the electric utility for the region has been scheduling rolling blackouts for extended periods of time to ensure the safety and avoidance of wildfires caused by the power lines.

Pretty bad stuff – especially for a state that has a GDP large enough to be its own country.

However, this shines a light towards the discussion we were having about when is the right time to consider energy resilience as an actual value add to my property.

The simple answer is it depends, and it really isn’t for everyone to make the investment into. Just like you expect your home to have a roof and walls to keep the outside…outside…there will be a time when energy resilience and the ability for homes and properties to self-sustain as a top line requirement for new home buyers and property owners. It all comes down to value of having energy resilience vs. not. What is the cost of not being able to continue to operate when the grid inevitably goes down? That is a question you need to ask yourself.

To understand this let’s dive into the mess that is Northern California when it comes to the electric grid and the improper approach the state has taken when it comes to building or repairing their broken system.

In the last 3 months the bay area – which includes San Francisco – has been affected by two blackouts for an extended 2 to 3 days. Not everyone was affected, but millions were left in the dark with no perfect ETA as to when they would come back online.

The reasoning? Wildfire risk, which is far worse than losing electricity.

However, for some homeowners not having power meant their medical devices and refrigerators would work – making a power outage with short notice a high-risk situation. For businesses – and we know that the bay area is known for its ridiculously advanced tech companies – it meant losing thousands if not millions of dollars in opportunities. For example, there were medical tech companies that struggled to maintain or save samples of tests that they were working on due to the outages.

When we think about this, all these individuals were notified that these rolling blackouts could become a thing and most of them could have invested into buying a natural gas generator for backup power and none of this would have been an issue.

While this is a possible and a good route for those in urgent need of power it doesn’t address two key goals of energy resilience – reduce the amount of pollution and be able to keep costs as low as possible. Gas still costs money to operate. Both may still not be enough for someone in this situation to become a buyer as the real motive is KEEP MY POWER ONLINE at all costs.

That brings up a good point as California is pushing to phase out Natural Gas. Counties like San Jose are pushing for the ban of Natural Gas to continue to be built out and this trend seems to be holding true internationally as well, with places like London and the UK aiming to get rid of Natural Gas all together and be 100% renewable. We all know that 100% renewable isn’t the solution, but, what this does tell us is that the amount of natural gas or the cost of it is likely going to be artificially limited or price hiked to incentive the usage of cleaner sources when possible. Making the purchase of just a natural gas generator a short-term solution to a problem you will have to address before selling the property or finding a new tenant.

In a market like Northern California where people are now highly prioritizing the necessity for electricity in certain situations making the decision to improve your property before you sell or add another tenant you should consider evaluating what adding energy resilience would do to your rent or overall property value.

Will there be more buyers if this property doesn’t loose power?

Can I charge tenants more for the value of not losing power and not paying for electric?

Is the demographic of people in this region skew towards families with younger kids or older people with medical devices?

These are things to consider during a buyer or renting period for your property. As an energy resilience upgrade can then be paid for easily during the sale or from your new rental agreement.

One thing to learn from the highly publicized power outages California is dealing with is that each individual market and geography has something similar in nature going on and the energy resilience layout that worked in California may not be the same where you are. However, the thought process remains the same.

Especially since the grid is going to be changing rapidly, we will see an increased number of outages across the US – some facing more problems and other barely affected. However, evaluating and taking the time to know what it takes and costs to have energy resilience is important. Both from a lifestyle perspective of keeping the lights on but also from the standpoint of contributing to building a cleaner world.

Today we covered a whole lot and I can’t thank you enough for joining me on this episode. Me and the whole team putting this together are grateful for you listening in.

We hit on why 100% renewable energy is an improper goal to cities to focus on to help move us toward a more resilient and cleaner electricity grid. While also doing a deep dive into how you can work on energy resilience no matter your budget.

We closed it off with analyzing what we can learn from the California Outages and how that should help aid in your evaluation of whether energy resilience is for you and your properties.

On this show we aim to talk all things energy & sustainability and provide you with the information you need to make an impact and contribute to a cleaner and more resilient world. Off The Grid is for you the community and we would love to hear what topics and questions you have for future episodes and other’s perspectives you would like to hear.

With much love, this is Swarnav S Pujari signing off for this episode of Off The Grid brought to you by TouchLight.  

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Swarnav S Pujari

Founder at TouchLight Innovations

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