March/April 2021 | Vol. 26 No.2
The weather-induced power outages in Texas and elsewhere in the U.S. serve as a reminder of how central electricity is to our very way of life. Instead of relying on the grid, in a commendably American way, people relied on each other—they organized quickly to distribute food, water, and other types of aid. The take-away, however, is that the time to invest in making the grid as resilient as the people who use it is now.
There are many ideas on how to do this. The approach I support can be summed up in three words: digitalize, decarbonize, and decentralize. The “3D” vision is designed to solve short- and longer-term challenges—grid outages today and global temperature-affecting emission reduction for tomorrow.
As the grid digitalizes, it can better predict asset failures and automate fixes, thus gaining the ability to self-heal. As the grid decarbonizes, it can help to lessen emissions and their follow-on effects, especially those that pose a risk to power availability. And as the grid decentralizes, it can offer communities back-up options during outages. Taken together, the three “Ds” make the grid more intelligent, sustainable, and resilient.
Today’s grid is already on the 3D path, but the transition can and should happen faster. Texas alone saw $18 billion in damages from this one event—and the incalculable loss of over 40 lives. Collectively, the U.S. may end up paying more for doing nothing than it would by embarking on a major infrastructure upgrade. The status quo is a choice, but change is the better option.
As momentum builds for that change, there are still actions our industry can support now. We can pursue the 3D vision on the demand side of the meter. I am talking about energy savings initiatives driven by new technology. Digital tools can drive decarbonization by identifying and preventing energy waste—the average building wastes 30 percent of the energy it consumes.1 Digitalization can also drive decentralization by optimizing on-site generation and storage systems in homes, buildings, and industrial sites alike.
In this issue, we will explore just one piece of the energy savings puzzle: lighting. In commercial buildings, lighting consumes the highest share of electricity across major end uses.2 And for streetlights, simply transitioning away from sodium phosphate to LEDs can save cities millions. A case study on page 10 shows how Knoxville expects to save $3 million in annual energy costs by switching to LEDs. Chicago expects to save even more—$10 million per year, as Dr. Morgan Pattison notes (page 7, “Rewriting the Rulebooks for Outdoor Lighting”). LEDs can also be digitally controlled to minimize unwanted light and maximize public safety. Researchers are still searching for the optimal balance, and Pattison’s article explores recent findings.
Following a winter that has seen much darkness, I think it is wonderful this issue focuses on light. I mean this in two senses of the word. Yes, we are talking about lighting—LEDs, CCT (correlated color temperature), the whole alphabet soup.
But we are talking about the metaphor of light, too. As spring returns, so too does the light of hope: vaccinations ramping up, economic activity increasing, and momentum building toward a more sustainable, resilient future. ei
Chair, NEMA Board of Governors