The Threat of Climate Change
Given the recent images of suffering from the fire-ravaged landscapes in Australia, California and other parts of the globe, it can be easy to despair about the threats from climate change. It is an understatement that the imperative to reduce greenhouse gases has never been greater as evidence emerges daily that current multilateral and national governmental efforts are insufficient. The darker news about greenhouse gas emissions pushing global average temperatures beyond the 2.0 Celsius threshold, the rising levels of the oceans, droughts and more frequent and intense storm events fuels even further a sense of despair and powerlessness.
But while the global and national-level governmental programs struggle to respond adequately to the threats of climate change, inspiration is still to be found in the US by the work of local and regional governments. This is especially the case at the start of 2020 in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Northern Virginia region where local governments are the driving forces of innovation, leadership and outcome-oriented energy and climate planning. (Photo credit: LAist)
In September 2019, Virginia Governor Northam issued Executive Order 43 which orders that by the year 2050 100 percent of Virginia’s electricity will be produced from carbon-free sources such as wind, solar and nuclear. The Governor’s goal was not a baseless aspiration. It was grounded in the reality and confidence of the Commonwealth’s progression from energy laggard to energy leader.
This evolution started in 2007, and at a time when Virginia was ranked 43rd in the US for installed solar photovoltaic capacity, with fewer than 900kW. By 2020, Virginia had leap-frogged to 17th in the US with over 950 MW of installed capacity (Source: DMME). The forecast under conservative scenarios is that solar power potential in Virginia could be capable of providing 32.4% of electricity by 2030 (Source: NREL 2016). The effects of this progression can be seen state energy-related carbon dioxide emissions that dropped nearly 19%, between 2008 and 2016, from 128.9 to 104.2 million metric tons. (Source: EIA) (Photo Credit: VA-REA)
Electric Schools Buses and Electric Vehicle Charging
Sustainable energy planning in Virginia and the Northern Virginia region is impossible to imagine without modernizing the state’s energy infrastructure, especially its transportation infrastructure and grid. By 2025, it is estimated that approximately 20% of Northern Virginia’s vehicles will be electric cars. But there is insufficient “fast-charge” infrastructure to manage this rising demand. As part of the Volkswagen settlement with the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Commonwealth has contracted with EVgo to install fast charger equipment in the region and beyond as funded by the settlement.
To complement this effort, Dominion Energy is making available an initial 50 electric school buses for 16 school districts across the Commonwealth, including Arlington County, Alexandria, Fairfax County and Prince William County. Dominion supports efforts to make 100% of all new school bus purchases electric by 2030 and is helping cover costs for wiring and charging stations for the school districts. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor of VA)
Grid modernization for the Commonwealth will rely on the implementation of the Dominion Energy 2019 Grid Transformation Plan and especially the installation of smart meters to help inform customers about sustainable purchase and usage options. The work to build a resilient and self-healing grid must consider the important contributions of distributed energy systems, and specifically, the importance of ensuring resiliency of the system at the community level.
Local solar programs in Northern Virginia have been supported over the past decade by broader regional efforts, especially the NVRC-led “Solarize NOVA” program. Solarize NOVA, is a non-profit, community-based outreach initiative sponsored by the NVRC and the Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP) in which local governments support the expansion of solar PV. The core of Solarize NOVA is the facilitation of solar PV installation through bulk purchasing and free solar site assessments. Solarize NOVA also features the “NOVA Solar Map” that shows homeowners and business owners how much solar energy can be generated by the rooftop of their home and/or business. Concurrently, NVRC, in partnership with the National League of Cities worked to introduce more efficient means of administrating solar permits and approvals to overcome the often-cumbersome permitting processes that can account for as much as 64% of the total installed residential system price.
Since its inception in 2014, Solarize and the parallel efforts with SolSmart have contributed nearly 3MW of new solar PV power, 369 contracts worth over $8.7 million – as well as Northern Virginia’s recognition as one of the first SolSmart “Gold” regions in the entire United States.