National Grid on Energy Awareness Month: The Transition Blueprint

Designing the Future of Energy in New England
Oct 12, 2016 9:15 AM ET

The following article is taken from the “The Transition Blueprint” chapter of Dean Seavers’ Democratization of Energy eBook

October is National Energy Awareness Month, “a national effort to underscore how central energy is to our national prosperity, security, and environmental well-being,” according to the White House. Though we are glad there is a month dedicated to raising energy awareness, not a day goes by at National Grid that we are not intrinsically aware of how important safe, reliable, and affordable energy is.

The challenge is moving the grid into a clean energy future seamlessly, while still delivering what our customers expect of us: safe, reliable, and above all—affordable—energy. It is for these reasons that we embrace the center path during this great time of transition. Whether you call it a “balanced approach,” an “all-of-the-above strategy” or, as Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker put it, an energy “combo platter,” the bottom line is that New England needs every energy solution. We need renewable energy, demand reduction, increased natural gas supplies, and green transmission to help drive our local communities and economies.

National Grid’s service territory is already a national leader in this space. This year, all three of the states we serve ranked in the top five for energy efficiency nationwide, with Massachusetts ranking number one for the sixth year in a row.  However, New England is simultaneously facing issues with access to natural gas and some of the highest electricity prices in the country. Why? We’ve seen an increased reliance on natural gas due to a shift away from coal- red electricity generation over the last 25 years. That’s coupled with a surging demand in gas as a heating fuel and little change in the region’s gas transmission infrastructure.  

These natural gas shortages aren’t the result of nationwide scarcity. Rather, they are caused by capacity constraints on the pipelines that tap into cheap gas sources just a few hundred miles away. These shortages put New Englanders – including our customers – at risk of electricity price hikes, service disruptions, and even brownouts or rolling blackouts.

Some say the answer is to support only sources of renewable power despite their intermittent nature. Others believe liquefied natural gas will solve all of our problems. The way I see it, a balanced approach is in order.

We must advance renewable energy sources while also lowering demand through energy efficiency. We must invest in natural gas pipelines today to stabilize electricity prices and prepare for the electrification of transportation tomorrow.

And we must continue to build the resilient electricity transmission networks that underpin and enable the economic prosperity of our region.

So what’s included in a balanced approach for New England? In Rhode Island, we’re building undersea cables that connect customers to the nation’s first offshore wind installation—Deepwater Wind’s Block Island Wind Farm. We’re also innovating to increase the value of renewable energy to all New Englanders. Initiatives include the Green Line Infrastructure Alliance, which backstops wind generation from Maine and New York with Canadian hydro power (ramping up hydro when the wind dies down and vice versa), and our large-scale solar program in Massachusetts, which strategically places photovoltaic farms near centers of demand.

These investments are a key part of our solution, but let’s be clear: alone they are not enough to provide New Englanders with the clean, affordable, reliable energy they need. No conceivable increases in renewable energy and efficiency programs could replace the lost generating capacity that would result from failing to ease constraints on gas transmission, especially now that other generating plants across the region, such as the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, are retiring.

We see natural gas as the bridge that will get us to a world of more renewables, greater energy efficiency & productivity, energy storage, and more. Yes, natural gas is a fossil fuel. But it’s the cleanest, most abundant and affordable option we have that can supply reliable energy over the next several decades in the way our customers have come to expect. No other resource can deliver on that promise. No customer or community can be left behind, so the solutions must be the right ones the first time.

We’re also accelerating the rate at which we replace older pipes in our distribution system, to ensure all of the gas we transport gets to our customers. National Grid will replace every one of the thousands of miles of cast iron and unprotected steel mains in our system within the next 20 years.

In many ways, the various parts of our balanced approach are interconnected. The expansion of natural gas, for instance, enables the increased use of wind and solar by providing a safety net of generation on calm or cloudy days. At the same time, natural gas is a fossil fuel that must be burned to create power, whereas renewables are emissions-free. And the cheapest, cleanest unit of energy you can find is the one you never use in the first place, thanks to energy efficiency.

Now is the time to increase energy innovation, not erase possibilities from the list. To protect New England’s future, we need it all.


About the Author

Dean Seavers joined National Grid in December 2014 as President of National Grid in the U.S.

Dean’s long career has included leadership roles at GE, United Technologies, and Tyco. He led GE Security, a $2 billion product and technology group, and he also led a $4 billion global services portfolio for United Technologies.

At Red Hawk Fire & Security, Dean’s most recent venture, he was a founder and served as President and CEO. Red Hawk quickly became the second largest independent fire and security platform in the U.S., providing integrated security solutions to large and mid-sized commercial customers.

Dean has a strong background in financial strategy, performance improvement, and operational leadership. At National Grid, his focus is on continuing the performance progress that underpins the company’s U.S. business while driving its Connect21 agenda of building the advanced natural gas and electricity networks that are the foundation of our 21st century digital economy.

A native of Sandusky, Ohio, Dean graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business from Kent State University and earned an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

Dean and his family have a home in Boston.

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