How the smart grid clamps down on climate change

While reactions from last week's Rio+20 range from disappointment at the lack of national governmental consensus to optimism at the range and success of local governmental and corporate actions, none of this alters the fact that climate change is a slow-moving disaster that is going to change our economies and lifestyles.

Fortunately, smart grid technologies and policies can address both developed and developing world challenges in reducing greenhouse gas emission (GHG) while eliminating energy poverty with green energy sources.

Let's first examine the impacts of climate change in one state, California, which is the ninth largest developed economy in the world. The California Energy Commission (CEC) produces the annual Integrated Energy Policy Report to "develop energy policies that conserve resources, protect the environment, ensure energy reliability, enhance the state's economy, and protect public health and safety." Climate change is a threat to every one of those objectives.

For instance, California’s Sierra Mountain snowpack delivers almost 10% of the state’s electricity plus supplies the annual water needs for 65% of the residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural users. As the climate warms up, we might get the same amount of precipitation, but it will not be in the convenient water storage format called snow; it will be rain. California lacks the catchment assets to store this, having been accustomed over the past 150 years to nature taking care of this for us.

A reduction in snow melt means a reduction in a steady flow of water and therefore impacts the predictable ability to create hydro electricity as well as provide water for human use.  And of course, any changes in water supply for residential to agricultural consumption also require a significant investment in energy to pump, move, and treat water.  Currently, 19% of the state’s electricity is consumed in water supply or treatment applications. Re-configuring the system to move and treat water will probably require increased energy. California has to find alternative and green sources of electricity production, and produce more electricity to accommodate these changes wrought by a transforming climate.

Next page: Cumulative benefits of energy efficiency, integrating renewables