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World Forum’s Carbon-Free Future

September 11, 2023

Girl playing with windmills

How do energy grids need to change in order to reach a carbon-free society? The World Economic Forum (WEF) provides resources to answer that question.

Domestic grids are not ready to integrate necessary renewable energy sources, the WEF reports. The U.S. grid, for example, operates at about 40% efficiency. The future focus should be on optimizing how consumers and their technologies interact with the grid. The effects of climate change dictate taking steps that don’t introduce more pollution and unsustainable demand on resources.

“Significant demand levels may only occur once every few years when extreme heat arrives, but we don’t typically limit consumption through brownouts or other limitations. Instead, we build more infrastructure that is underutilized the remainder of the year,” per a statement from the WEF. 

Electricity prices have two main drivers

The first driver is fuel costs required to generate electricity, and the second is capital-intensive generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure that generates and delivers electricity. These costs have increased recently, primarily because our demand curve has become “peakier.” We use greater quantities of power over relatively short durations, driven largely by increasing cooling demand. The repeated curtailment calls during certain hours in Texas over the past month is an example.

  • Servicing the top 1% of demand can result in up to 9% of total infrastructure costs, while the top 10% of demand accounts for about 25% of total costs.

Flattening the curve by reducing peak demand, increasing consumption during other times of the year, or both can spread more energy over the same fixed costs, increase capacity utilization and cut infrastructure costs per delivered kilowatt-hour.

Flattening the curve through Distributed Energy Resources (DERs)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) describes DERs as: assets that include electric storage, intermittent generation, distributed generation, demand response, energy efficiency, thermal storage, or electric vehicles and charge stations.

DERs are the inheritors to traditional Demand Response (DR) resources – on-premise devices that change behavior in response to signals from utilities or power market operators. DR resources have greatly cut peak demand, but they cannot send energy from the customer back to the grid.

For more:

For a clean energy future, our relationship to the grid must change | World Economic Forum (