Tuesday’s State of the Union (SOTU) speech included much that was music to environmentalists’ ears. The headline, of course, is the commitment to take serious action to address the most significant challenge our generation faces – climate change. And, with it, the extreme weather and public health burdens that are already making life harder for vulnerable regions and people nationwide, and that stand to become so much worse as the root cause remains unaddressed.
But some of the most exciting aspects of the SOTU message are the nuts and bolts that underlie the top-line goal. Specifically, the President’s speech recognizes that Americans have an opportunity to achieve many of the carbon reductions we need through actions that create new business opportunities, increase national security and drive economic growth. In fact, we already are. As the President noted, the past four years have seen the beginnings of a revolution in American energy production and use – technological innovations have put us on track to energy independence and renewable resources constitute a growing share of electric generation capacity.
The President’s vision, as outlined in the SOTU, encompasses a next-generation energy system – one where the system that was revolutionary in Thomas Edison’s time is finally supplanted by a system that meets the needs of our time. Technological change can bring full-scale transformation, and government can play a role by accelerating technological development. A future where cars and trucks no longer depend on oil can finally be imagined – and government efforts can help bring that future into the present more quickly.
Carbon-free wind and solar energy represent a growing share of our resource mix, and they can grow to serve a larger and larger share of load. And energy waste in buildings can be cut substantially – but doing so requires innovations in energy retrofits, building operations and finance, which government can also help to foster.
Finally, President Obama referred to fostering a ‘self-healing power grid,’ which is extremely important. Modernizing our outdated, aging electric grid and how it is operated (as well as customer-side technology and practices) will help minimize problems that arise from extreme weather events and other disruptions, while also allowing for greater shares of electric demand to be served by resources whose output depends (literally) on something as fickle as the weather.