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Clean, resilient communities must be our starting point – not the end

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Extreme weather conditions create a need for more reliable, resilient communities.

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This article is sponsored by Bloom Energy.

The need to ensure local communities are resilient and ready to meet the environmental challenges of the future has never been greater. It will take a collaborative effort between all levels of government, utilities and the private sector to produce long-term solutions that make our grid and energy sector stronger.

That is why Bloom Energy recently convened leaders from the business sector, national and local governments for another installment of the Bloom Energy’s ASPIRE Summit Series in early June. Bloom started the ASPIRE Summit Series six years ago to bring esteemed professionals together for dynamic conversations exploring the global energy landscape in today’s fast-growing digital economy. ASPIRE also generates discussion on how organizations are addressing social and environmental challenges the world faces today.

June’s ASPIRE Series, moderated by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, established critical thought leadership on the topic of Building Resilient Communities. It was an honor to participate in this critical conversation alongside a diverse group of outstanding leaders that included:

  • Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Secretary of Energy
  • Chris Coons (D-Delaware), U.S. Senate
  • Jimmy Panetta (D-California), U.S. House of Representatives
  • Lynn Good, Chair, President and CEO, Duke Energy
  • Luke Bronin, Mayor, Hartford, Connecticut
  • Cindy Chavez, Supervisor, Santa Clara County, California
  • Adrian Garcia, Commissioner, Harris County (Houston), Texas

As the program proceeded through a keynote address, two panels and a fireside chat, I learned many valuable insights. First, progress, including the passage of essential legislation, will be made only through cooperative efforts with a shared goal. Elected officials across the U.S. should consider a vested interest in exploring solutions that promote carbon efficiency, including pathways to improve carbon capture utilization and storage, and the continued implementation of microgrids as sustainable energy sources. Initiatives agreed upon in the negotiations for the federal infrastructure bill will have a transformational impact on the U.S. energy landscape.  

Federal direction 

Granholm highlighted the need to exercise the muscles of solar- and wind-powered energy, installing clean technologies that will reduce carbon emissions and addressing the need to clean up natural gas production in the United States. 

She also spoke about the need for grid resilience to prevent future blackouts on the scale of the Texas crisis and to secure the grid against cyberattacks. The Department of Energy is making key strides to protect American communities and families from future power deficiencies and promoting initiatives that create a clean, green-powered future.

The Congressional view

Looking at resiliency through a broader lens, Coons recognized America’s energy and infrastructure needs as vital to our national security and global competitiveness, which is why he believes the administration has been so bullish on strategic investments. The intersection of grid modernization and stabilization will play a key role in getting the country to net zero by 2050. 

Panetta calls this moment an inflection point — that now is the time we must do all we can to invest in the technology and the resources that will affect people’s lives. He discussed his view of microgrids, as well as his proposal for a 30 percent tax credit for microgrids. The congressman sees them as a solution not just for towns and communities, but as a resource that will protect hospitals and individual homes during extreme power outages. He truly believes that we can find a way to be both sufficient and resilient.  

Industry’s commitment

There is a rising, global demand for clean energy, and industry is reacting. Good outlined Duke Energy's bold carbon emissions goals and importance of reliable energy sources, furthering the company’s position as a model leader in the clean energy transition. 

Duke Energy already has reduced emissions by 40 percent and aims to be net zero by 2050. This coincides with a $60 billion investment over the next five years to double its renewable energy capacity and oversee the largest retirement of coal in the industry. This achievement will be possible through intentional and project-specific innovation, research and development. 

Good shared that as Duke approaches 70-80 percent carbon reduction, it will look to new technologies such as hydrogen, carbon capture, advanced nuclear, long-duration storage and geothermal. Additionally, reliable energy sources including back-up power are imperative. The practicality of hospitals, schools, community facilities, retail and residential areas to continue to run undisrupted will strongly hinge on the dependability of the power sources.   

Community stewardship

Across the nation, community leaders are looking at the ways they can use their offices to drive local resiliency and increase the health of their citizens. I was struck by a comment made by Chavez. She reminded the audience that local governments have large purchasing power, and they can use the power of the purse to turn to clean energy alternatives. It doesn’t replace working with the state and federal government, but it is yet another mechanism available to local leaders.

Bronin highlighted the need to act in small ways to yield major results. Hartford installed a microgrid to directly serve a library, a senior center, a neighborhood school and a community center. That microgrid, however, also has the capacity to support a nearby gas station and a grocery store in the event that the grid goes down. The microgrid provides environmental improvement, greater reliability and, in a time of crisis, it provides a significant amount of resiliency to the greater community.

Moving forward

"If we focus on the economy, I think we can create bipartisanship to focus on the things that are necessary to protect us and keep us resilient," remarked Garcia.

The dialogue created throughout the event amplified the growing need to address the climate crisis and its effect on local and global communities. Bloom Energy is honored and humbled to be able to bring such esteemed participants together to drive national focus in the U.S. on one of the most pressing issues of this generation and generate a vision for ensuring that local communities are resilient and ready to meet any future challenge.

But talk is not enough. We must turn discussion into action — and there is not a minute to spare.

In 2020, an estimated 8,200 wildfires equaling over 4 million acres of land scorched across California, doubling the previous record. It is no secret that our planet is experiencing dramatic and rapid changes in weather patterns. In the past decade, record heat, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and cyberattacks on the global grid infrastructure have been recorded, in both scale and frequency. 

Communities around the globe have suffered through the consequences of these crises, including the loss of power and clean water. The climate is changing, and its impact on our way of life is one of the most complex and important issues of our time. 

Our actions now will affect generations to come.

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