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Look at Electricity in a New Light

  • Posted: 06.23.2020
Photo of an electric lawn mower
An electric mower is quieter, less intrusive on neighbors and family in the house or on the porch. It is also "greener" when it is powered by a battery that is charged by electricity, rather than running on fossil fuels. Credit: Fred Barr.

When it comes to electricity, the time has come for us to think bigger. By looking at electricity in a new light, we can reveal surprising ways to make our lives better—from saving money to helping the environment.

This new approach to electricity is uniting utilities and environmental advocates and is redefining the meaning of energy efficiency while reducing costs.

This big idea is called “beneficial electrification,” a tongue twister that refashions our notion that electricity is something we buy to run our refrigerators and charge our phones. Instead, it’s a concept that reveals new ways that energy can improve our quality of life from our everyday lives at home to the more effective operation of the nation’s electric grid.

Electricity and environmental goals
Historically, the principal way to reduce GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions from the electric sector was to reduce energy consumption through energy conservation and energy efficiency. Now there are additional opportunities to reduce emissions by using electricity to power devices that would, otherwise, burn fuels like gasoline, diesel fuel oil, or propane.

“We’re not asking consumers to buy a $2,000 refrigerator,” says Erin Campbell, Communications Director for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives. “The electric grid is going to take us to a clean-energy economy as co-ops add more renewables to the grid. As the grid gets greener, you automatically become a greener household with greater electricity use. It’s a positive message to share.”

That renewable energy trend is part of what led to one of the nation’s leading environmental groups to become part of the beneficial electrification movement. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has worked with NRECA to form the Beneficial Electrification League.

In 2018, the NRDC published a report outlining a broad plan to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years. A key part of that plan calls for using electricity for a bigger share of our energy consumption—a lot more. The NRDC plan calls for increasing the electricity’s contribution to all end-use energy from about 20% today to 45% in 2050.

The NRDC sees four main ways beneficial electrification can help reduce greenhouse gases:

  1. Renewable fuels are generating a rapidly growing share of our nation’s electricity, which means using more electricity emits less greenhouse gases. Approximately 25% of our cooperative’s power supply comes from a renewable resource. In addition, if you are interested in investing in the development of renewable energy, our cooperative offers The Prairie Winds Program which allows individual customers to voluntarily contribute to the development of alternate energy production facilities, which may include wind energy, biomass, solar and other nontraditional generation technologies. Through this program, customers will not be directly purchasing alternate energy, but will be participating in the development of these resources.
  2. Electric cars are more efficient at converting energy into motion. Plus, the increase of renewable energy to generate electricity means a rise in the share of electric cars would lead to a drop in greenhouse gas emissions. If you are considering the purchase of an electric vehicle, contact our office to learn more about how you can receive a rebate on the purchase and installation of a Level 2 electric vehicle charger.
  3. Heat pumps are far more efficient than natural gas or oil furnaces, and other electric technologies applied in industrial and new buildings can create more efficiencies. Our cooperative offers a wide variety of rebates and incentive programs for the installation of air source and geothermal heat pumps.
  4. The smart grid is a way of using digital technology to coordinate electricity use across the nation’s power lines. Our cooperative’s Switch Makes Cents program saves program participants money on their electric bills by allowing qualifying equipment (such as water heaters and heating and air-conditioning units) to be cycled on and off to control electric demand and help level peak periods of use.

NRDC data shows that a more aggressive pursuit of energy efficiency, renewable energy, electrification of end uses and an enhanced power grid can indeed put the U.S. on the path to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

Our co-op offers several ways to save you money on your energy bill, consume electricity more efficiently, and to realize the value that electricity brings to your family and the environment. Contact our office or visit our website for more information on our rebates and load management programs. We’re here to help you use energy wisely.