Key pillars for a
sustainable energy future
Game-changing advances in our efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change are possible when we break down silos, raise collective awareness of our energy systems, emissions sources and decarbonization strategies and equip the broader public with the tools to advocate effectively in the halls of local and state governments.
Key pillars explained
While our energy systems and strategies are layered and complex, a truly effective and enduring approach to a more sustainable energy future will be grounded in and constantly evaluated against a core set of guiding principles.
Making progress towards the decarbonization of our massive and complex energy systems will require a whole-systems approach that builds trust among citizens and stakeholders, accommodates competing interests, takes advantage of advances in renewable technologies and increases broad public support for climate change policies while providing affordable, reliable, and resilient energy services for all.
Too often in statehouses and legislative chambers across the country today, energy and climate policies are crafted in political silos, resulting in short-sighted, polarizing or costly solutions that fail to bring more than incremental change, at best. Only through meaningful engagement and collaboration among all state and local stakeholders; exhaustive expert analysis of existing energy systems and the corresponding demographic, geographic, infrastructure, and regulatory factors; and thorough consideration of all existing and emerging technologies, data and science available can we move towards real and lasting solutions.
Diverse energy resources are vital to decreasing the chances of energy system failure, preserving system reliability in the face of increasingly extreme weather events and increasing public support for aggressive climate action. Over-reliance on any single energy source, technology or delivery system often leads to unintended consequences in the future and diminishes public support for meaningful climate action.
Finding the right mix of energy solutions for a city, state or utility system requires consideration of a full range of strategies and energy combinations that address every sector. Pre-selecting ‘winning’ technologies or deciding to shut down energy sources that families and businesses currently rely on will reduce the role that innovation can play in supporting emissions reductions, making it more difficult and expensive to achieve our climate goals.
Today’s ambitious climate plans will take decades to fully implement. Our ability to create more immediate outcomes will depend on our willingness to make realistic assessments of timing and geography that minimize risks to energy reliability, resilience and affordability; an unbiased, multi-sector approach to planning built on rigorous expert analysis of all options without presupposing what may work or serve one set of interests and robust testing; and review of innovative approaches to more complex solutions via pilot programs and phased initiatives.
Aspirational or “path of least resistance” policies that mandate unrealistic emissions reduction timelines with significant cost barriers for state and energy consumers alike fail to address our already-overburdened energy grids and are nearly impossible to deliver logistically or politically. Instead of bringing emissions reductions, this approach has proven time and time again to drive protracted policy debates, systems failure, increased energy costs for families and businesses and decreased public distrust.
We can accomplish economic and environmental resilience while ensuring energy equity for all. From rural communities to city centers, we must ensure climate and energy policies promote fairness and justice – that the strategies deployed to mitigate the effects of climate change are accessible and affordable for every family and business. There is much to learn from never-ending policy battles across the country where legislative “solutions” ignore the significant cost burdens for those who can least afford them. When our climate policies threaten skilled labor jobs, cause significant increases in consumer energy costs or place undue burdens on small business owners, we perpetuate inequality and diminish public support for meaningful climate action.
One size doesn’t fit all. States and cities differ widely in how much energy they use and when, in the types of industries and buildings that use energy resources, in transportation options and needs, economic trends and access to clean energy resources like offshore wind, solar or biogas from anaerobic digestion. Other factors like changes in population and the frequency of destabilizing weather events must also be considered when shaping and implementing decarbonization strategies. For any meaningful impact, our policies and strategies must be as diverse as our systems and geographies.
Game-changing advances in our ability to mitigate the impacts of climate change are possible when we break down silos, raise collective awareness of our energy systems, emissions sources and decarbonization strategies and equip the broader public with the tools to advocate effectively in the halls of local and state governments.
This Sustainable Energy Playbook is designed to provide citizens with an understanding of (all) the complex considerations, sources, technologies and mechanisms for – and the barriers to – driving real progress on climate change mitigation. No rhetoric, just the facts.
Energy and climate planning considerations
Finding the right mix of energy solutions for a city, state, or utility system will require us to consider a broad range of strategies that address every sector and deploy all emissions reduction options available. Comprehensive and realistic planning for carbon mitigation strategies, models and goals that meets the unique needs of any state or municipality should include consideration of the following:
Energy sources and systems
Climate planning today is too often driven by political rhetoric, rather than facts and data about the current and future impacts and opportunities inherent to all our systems and emissions sources. While the (not so) simple answers fall somewhere in between, one fact is without question: overreliance on any single energy source, technology or delivery system sets us up for failure. Pre-selecting ‘winning’ strategies without consideration of each state or city’s unique attributes reduces the role that innovation can play in supporting emissions reductions and make it more difficult and expensive to achieve our climate goals
GHG emissions by sector
What’s the difference between electricity and electric power? How does geography impact the ability of any sector to make progress toward GHG reductions? Are there sectors with an outsized negative impact on our climate that have been largely ignored in climate policy? Can the actions of citizens in their homes have a meaningful impact on climate change? In this section, we provide an overview of the activities and actions taken by citizens, businesses, industries and government that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, along with corresponding challenges to and opportunities for decarbonization in each.
Decarbonization strategies and opportunities
There is no single or immediate solution to reducing our carbon footprint. Instead, a whole-system approach is required – one that includes a balanced, cross-sector mix of decarbonization strategies, each tailored to meet the existing realities and needs specific to any state or community. Opportunities for significant GHG reductions exist in every sector, some that are more rapidly deployed than others, with varying costs, requirements and co-benefits inherent to each.
Existing and emerging decarbonization technologies
From the rapidly growing landscape of renewable technologies to the large potential for low-carbon gas resources and falling costs of renewable power and battery storage, to advanced fuel cells and refrigerants, next-generation heat pumps, microgrids and electric cars, emerging technologies continue to evolve and become more readily available and cost-effective. When our policies fail to comprehensively explore and invest in the emerging opportunities capable of making measurable changes today, we will continue to fall short of meaningful progress
Stakeholders and collaboration
Too often today, climate policy is developed in silos without coordination or input from the broad range of stakeholders including the government agencies, climate and grid experts and industry and business leaders that play a role in our complex energy and climate systems. As a result, entire sectors and industries, some at the forefront of decarbonization technology and research, have been left out of the process. When this happens, policies are designed without the full spectrum of mitigation options, political battles continue and public support for climate action is diminished. Real solutions will require us to connect, engage and compromise across industry and ideology – to practice pragmatism over utopianism for the greater good.
Myths and misinformation
Misinformation on climate and energy, when consumed and trusted without question or context, serves to perpetuate our lack of meaningful progress in the fight against climate change. As we continue to work towards zero emissions and debate the merits of decarbonization strategies, it is critically important that we understand how different sources of energy are produced and how this impacts GHG emissions in the atmosphere.