In summary:

  • A successful energy transition must also be fair and just, bringing along vulnerable communities and preventing job displacements 
  • More upskilling and reskilling opportunities are needed to solve the issue of an aging workforce 
  • A highly-distributed electrified grid could involve collaboration between customer and supplier whilst also repurposing grid connections previously used for gas

Opening remarks from Jennifer Obertino, senior vice president and global energy practice leader of AECOM, who was chairing the session, reminded the conference room that a successful transition towards decarbonized power must also be just and fair. Governments should ensure that vulnerable communities are included and provided for, while minimizing job displacements through reskilling opportunities to the workforce.

After asking the panel on drivers for renewable energy demand and how investment will be focused, Moshe Bonder, director of business development of low carbon solutions at National Grid Ventures discussed how individual state needs dictate renewable energy use. Those with deregulated markets will decide how much energy will be consumed, how to meet those needs, and where to source the fuel from. 

Increasingly, new sectors are turning towards renewables, driven by higher tax incentives linked to the Inflation Reduction Act. Data centers that are turning towards renewables to power their 24/7 energy intensive processes is one area of growing demand.

One state has come out as a leader in renewables: Texas has more wind, solar and cheaper batteries than anywhere else in the US.

"We serve about 8 million customers globally and, in many ways, Texas is leading the energy transition, not because of the government, but because it makes the most sense financially. We are going to double Texas electricity in the next five years and unlock a new potential approach to using the power grid. We are exploring how to start with the end-use first, instead of the big power plants" commented Michael Lee, CEO of Octopus Energy. 

Make customers participants

He explained that Octopus Energy is exploring new ways to reward customers and make them participants in the energy transition. "The goal is to make a highly-distributed grid, bring down the costs to customers by involving them in the supply, and make the transition attractive and affordable."

This could also lead to better community acceptance for large energy infrastructure projects, that could in turn unblock barriers within the planning system. 

The industry has faced many problems in recent years, with projects suffering major delays and developers spending millions of dollars, over many years, to try to upload new electricity capacity to the grid. 

Repurposing the grid

Grid constraints are the biggest problem currently facing the energy transition. Tej Gidda, vice-president and future energy, at GHD argued that there needs to be solutions to repurpose grid connections that can’t be electrified, rather than wasting this resource.

"We have 3,000 miles of pipelines in North America. What are we going to do with that infrastructure? Will we write off those assets and go to a fully-electrified grid – I doubt it. We need to repurpose some of the grids we have in the meantime to make it affordable."

A major challenge identified is the ageing workforce and lack of skilled electrical workers. Consultants agreed that there needs to be more efforts to reset the narrative surrounding careers in trade, with a focus on increasing the popularity of trade schools. 

To achieve the energy transition and the US’s 2030 goals, James Hasselbeck, COO of Revision Energy, estimates there needs to be one million electricians, compared to the 40,000 currently in the US right now.