Electrification is sweeping through America and claims many benefits. But, just what are those benefits and why should city and county leaders care?
Electrification helps communities develop economically, provide better transportation options and innovative technologies across a broad spectrum of community infrastructure and services.
A strong and well-run local electric utility brings human and financial resources to community or regional economic development teams. For example, Salt River Project (SRP), a large public power water and electric utility in Phoenix, Ariz., is well known for its high system reliability and stable, low electric rates. Over the years, the SRP economic development team joined with Chandler, Tempe, and Gilbert to attract several large chip manufacturers like Honeywell, HP, Microchip and Intel to make the east valley of Phoenix the Silicon Desert.
Another example is ElectriCities, a not-for-profit membership organization that serves 70 municipally-owned electric utilities operating in North and South Carolina and Virginia. ElectriCities provides an in-house economic development team that assists potential businesses with site selection, marketing studies, demographic information and more. Small town local leaders can partner with the local electric company to create in a win-win relationship. In 2018, ElectriCities helped the North Carolina communities of Clayton and HighPoint win multi-million-dollar business investments in physical plant and hundreds of new jobs.
Investor-owned utility (IOU), Ameren, based in St. Louis, has an economic development team to support local communities in its Missouri and Illinois state-regulated service territories. Specializing in agribusiness, manufacturing and logistics/transportation, Ameren’s development team works with businesses looking to expand or relocate into communities they serve.
Strong electric utilities will seek to expand their market share over fossil fuels by electrifying energy-intensive equipment and devices in industrial processes, commercial cooking equipment, hydroponic farming and transportation in the form of electric vehicles (EVs). Most major auto manufacturers have introduced electric vehicles and some pledge to change their entire fleets of new offerings to hybrid or all-electric by the mid-2020s. Electric automobiles will be as clean as the source of its electricity. Charge the EV battery with roof-top or utility-scale solar or wind and have a zero-carbon footprint for the energy used.
As emerging technologies for wireless charging are proven at scale and embraced by customers, questions about the development of charging infrastructure, charging time and range anxiety will be replaced by “How fast can the long-range transportation and parking plan be modified for 21st-century innovations?”
Electrification also breeds innovation. Electric utilities provide the expertise on applications of emerging technologies, smart buildings and, eventually, smart cities. Emerging technologies like gunshot detection and video cameras require electricity. Green solutions for water, wastewater and storm water require electricity for new in-pipe monitoring systems to measure and control flow. Smart Pavements from Integrated Roadways require electricity to convert real-time, constant traffic data into usable information for law enforcement and community planners and profitable action by small businesses.
All the emerging technologies are best tested in an “innovation neighborhood” – incubators for new ideas set in a culturally and demographically diverse area of approximately one square mile. Access to mass transit and proximity to higher education or local employers is also important. The city or community can partner with local utilities to run technology pilots, test the concepts for application at scale, verify the return on investment and monitor the customer/citizen acceptance of the new technologies. One of the best examples of an innovation neighborhood is Urbanova in Spokane, Wash., where the city partners with the local IOU, Avista Utilities.
Smart buildings in an innovation neighborhood make the foundation for a “smart city” supported and partially funded by your local electric utility. To control their carbon footprint, some communities are passing ordinances for all-electric or net-zero buildings. Net-zero means that the energy (and water) used at the site is generated at the site, typically over a calendar year. San Jose recently announced that all residential buildings will be net-zero by 2020 and commercial buildings by 2030. San Jose will implement this ambitious plan with its local electric utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). Progressive private architects and-engineers can design state-of-the-art net-zero buildings, but operating these complex new buildings over their lifespan can be challenging. PG&E will provide ongoing needed expertise to support net-zero customers and meet the sustainability goals of the local community.
Tough challenges lie ahead for local government leaders. The benefits of electrification bring a strong economic development team, emerging technologies proven in innovation neighborhoods, support on “smart” net-zero building, and, ultimately, the growth into a smart city. Benefit with a utility partner by your side and… all before the next election.