Deploying Sustainable Energy During Transitions: Implications of Recovery, Renewal, and Rebuilding
Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief
The widespread destruction in California, Houston, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands from extreme events, along with continued future transition planning exercises for building and rebuilding, have increased the focus on the potential role of sustainable energy deployment. To discuss the opportunities and challenges in deploying sustainable energy during transitions, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability convened a workshop in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018.1 Participants explored how cities, regions, and nations are building renewable energy into their longer term planning, in accordance with the context of the United Nations’ (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The workshop was structured to address the following questions:
- What are the engineering and social science barriers to the acceptance of large-scale sustainable energy deployment under different circumstances?
- How can an affected area optimize resources across a system instead of optimizing each sector independently?
- What additional research is needed to better understand the potential and limitations of deployment?
Roundtable co-chair David Dzombak, Carnegie Mellon University, welcomed in-person and webcast participants and explained the purpose of the Roundtable. Since 2002, the Roundtable has convened individuals with multiple perspectives and backgrounds on a variety of sustainability topics. Vaughan Turekian, senior director for Sustainability, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, underscored a key goal to investigate multiple facets of complex issues around the deployment of sustainable energy, both for short-term renewal and long-term planning.
Roundtable co-chair Suzette Kimball, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), provided context for the workshop. The severity of events in the United States and globally has meant rebuilding on a massive scale. Urban leaders and planners are increasingly recognizing the potential of renewable energy sources for their rebuilding efforts. However, social, economic, and engineering challenges have limited deployment, with social challenges often greater than technical challenges. Engagement by private citizens and industry plays a key role in managing transitions, both in the short and long term.
A FRAME FOR RECOVERY, RENEWAL, AND REBUILDING
Keynote speaker Gary Machlis, Clemson University, offered a framework for the day’s discussions related to the definitions of transition and sustainability, coupled human-natural systems, and policy. The world is going through a series of transitions, from low-level perturbations to major disruptions. In the former, such as a low-level fire, the disturbance leaves the ecosystem more or less intact. In contrast, a disruption like Hurricane Maria is so pervasive that it leads to an altered ecosystem or regime change. Responses depend on the kind of transition that occurred.
1 A recorded webcast can be viewed at https://livestream.com/NASEM/PGA-Sustainability. Speakers’ presentations are available at: http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/sustainability/PGA_183697.
Sustainability also has many definitions. Machlis suggested returning to the roots of the concept and a definition that stems from liberation theology in the 1960s. It made its way into Our Common Future, the 1987 report that is known as the Brundtland Report.2 The definition includes an overriding priority to meet the essential needs of the world’s poor. This part of the definition is paramount, especially when dealing with disturbances and response, yet often overlooked.
A complex relationship exists between people and the environment. Relations between human and natural systems have many indicators to consider (see Figure 1). It is important to look at the dark side of systems, timing cycles of different lengths, and social order. A coupled system not only looks at what is “above water,” but also what is below the surface, both literally (e.g., a container ship brings in phytoplankton and other species in its ballast water in addition to the goods transported) but also figuratively. After Hurricane Sandy hit the New York area, the Strategic Science Group was set up to consider the many interrelated, often unexpected issues that resulted from the hurricanes.
FIGURE 1 An example of coupled-human/natural systems models.
SOURCES: Gary Machlis, presentation, January 30, 2018, Washington, DC. The Structure of Human Ecosystems, v.05.2, Machlis et al. (2005).
Moving forward, Machlis suggested a third “frame” for the workshop: policies related to disruptions. He suggested reforming sustainability education. Engineering students, for example, are taught that to “repair” something means to replace it; often, this is not necessary. He suggested a refocus of technical expertise within universities to build interdisciplinary teams that can work together for a sustainable future. He also suggested a renegotiation of sustainability goals and metrics, contending that the UN’s SDGs ignore the needs of the poor and oppressed. Sustainability cannot be forced or done to people. Local leadership is needed to manage transitions. Machlis concluded by offering his definitions of transition and sustainability, the concept of a complex human ecosystem, and policy change as a frame for the rest of the workshop.
2 World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our Common Future. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Marilu Hastings, Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, introduced the presenters of three case studies: Greensburg, Kansas; New York City; and Los Angeles County.
Greensburg, Kansas: Incorporating Sustainable Practices into Rebuilding Efforts
On May 4, 2007, an EF-5 tornado leveled 95 percent of the buildings and infrastructure of Greensburg in south central Kansas. As Mayor Bob Dixson explained, thanks to people heeding early warning systems, the damage was physical and not human.
Rebuilding began, literally, under a big tent set up by the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Residents began to discuss and envision what the next steps would be. The human factor, as people reconnected their “community fabric,” was critical. Everyone’s opinion was solicited about how to rebuild in the short and long term; those who did not feel comfortable speaking in public wrote down their views. In the midst of the process, the community had a choice, as Dixson termed it, “we could be humbly grateful, or grumbly hateful.”
Dixson admitted that he had reservations about “going green.” But he realized the link between the ideals of the pioneers and the multiple benefits of sustainability. The community defined sustainability as the capacity to endure and to continue in existence. It became a means of systems thinking—linking business, people, and the environment—to run the community system to provide a better place to work and live. Sustainability is very local, he stressed.
“In the midst of that planning process and decision-making process and vision process you have to have true clarity, and that comes from honest, open dialogue.” Mayor Bob Dixson
The city council, mayor, and city administrator believed the city needed a “scorecard” against which to measure progress and chose the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.3 Greensburg now has the highest number of LEED buildings per capita in the nation. Other changes include increased wind and solar energy capacity, reclamation of building materials from rubble, and more native planting. Health care and schools were consolidated and state-of-the-art telecommunications were installed. An incubator building was set up for office and retail using geothermal and solar power. Bikes are now available on the honor system. Private enterprise bought into the sustainability plans because a business case was made, such as the John Deere dealership with a LEED Platinum facility (see Figure 2). The “Greensburg prototype” is now recognized as a living laboratory, created with technical expertise. Despite the fact that disaster created the opening, Dixson concluded that Greensburg had a unique opportunity to create a strong community for future generations.
FIGURE 2 Bucklin Tractor & Implement Company-Greensburg John Deere dealership: LEED platinum certified.
SOURCE: Bob Dixson, Greensburg, Kansas, presentation, January 30, 2018, Washington, DC.
Rae Zimmerman, New York University, began with a broad view of extreme weather trends and then focused on New York City. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) database indicates increasing numbers of severe storms, with costs of damages increasing. Hurricanes account for fewer events (17 percent of the total between 1980 and 2017) but a large share (about 55 percent) of the losses. Thus, it is important to focus on hurricanes. As Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and others showed in 2017, weather extremes are occurring generally at the same time and place and, more importantly, drawing on the same resources. Looking at the New York area, she focused on Hurricanes Irene (2011) and Sandy (2012). Sandy caused more substantial storm surge and flooding, with more destructive impacts on the energy infrastructure.
Zimmerman described that the interaction of electric power with extreme weather will lead to a collision course without more sustainable solutions. The infrastructure of the electric power sector rates a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).4 Zimmerman and colleagues found that electric outages have been more frequent and lasted longer since the early 2000s. Location makes a difference—in 2014, the city’s Hazard Mitigation Plan pointed out that 100 percent of its power plants are located within Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) inundation zones, a type of flood zone. Interdependencies are critical, Zimmerman stated. Electric power both depends on and is depended on by water, transportation, other energy systems, and communication.
She added that a number of consequence-reduction measures can be considered. Short-term measures (though still involving long-term thinking and strategies) include building barricades; elevating or submerging facilities; changing materials and design; removing or relocating vulnerable populations and facilities; setting up mobile resource networks; and making regulatory changes to expedite recovery. Longer-term sustainable measures include reducing carbon dioxide emissions; using more renewable resources; providing alternative, distributed, and renewable resources; strengthening against water and physical damage through natural processes; expanding alternative travel routes and decentralized travel nodes; increasing interconnection among systems; and changing behaviors.
Growing populations, consumption, and natural hazards are factors that influence directions for sustainable energy. She concluded that new innovations in energy, infrastructure, transportation, and institutional arrangements can provide solutions and new directions. The need is to start before the problem arises.
Research and Development Needs and Policy Considerations
Minh Le, General Manager of Energy and Environmental Services in the Los Angeles (LA) County Internal Services Department, introduced the theme of his presentation as “the law of unintended consequences: why there is a need for research and development (R&D) at the intersection of sustainability and extreme events.” LA County is the most populous county in the country, with about 10 million residents and 88 incorporated cities within it. The vision for LA County is to be the leader in adopting innovative solutions that provide cost savings, environmental/health benefits, and job growth, and amplify the impact toward more sustainable practices through partnerships.
Renewable energy, energy efficiency, and clean transportation have advanced and have many intersections with water. In California alone, about 19 percent of the state’s energy is used to treat, process, and distribute water. At the same time, droughts are the new norm.
Le challenged participants to consider four questions in transition planning:
- How do sustainable practices contribute (positively or negatively) to the probability of extreme events?
- How do public institutions include increased probability of extreme events into infrastructure, sustainability, and building code planning?
- How do sustainability practices impact the outcome and response to extreme events?
- How can we rebuild communities to be more sustainable after extreme events?
Regional approaches are required because extreme events are regional in nature, he emphasized. Different infrastructures must also be factored in. Drawing on a definition from the National Academies, resilience is the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb and recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.5 Examples include a solar-powered school that became a Hurricane Sandy shelter and light-emitting diode (LED) street and traffic lights that operate during power failures.
However, the upward trajectory in the adoption of wind energy, solar energy, building energy efficiency, and electrified and low carbon emission vehicles create unintended consequences to consider. For example, California Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order to increase the number of zero-emission vehicles by 2030. But in an evacuation, how can they refuel? Will the grid be available? These questions have not been factored into most emergency planning, although some initiatives have begun.
Similarly, as cities expand, land that was previously in a natural state is developed, putting more life and properties in harm’s way. Rebuilding provides an opportunity to improve building efficiency, but rebuilt houses are on average 25 percent larger than the buildings they replace. Appliances have become more energy efficient but the “gadgetification” of buildings and homes is increasing, in which people own more devices such as computers, televisions, and the like. Electronics plugged in all the time are causing “vampire loads.”
Clean energy, clean transportation, and building efficiency are moving in the right direction and at a fast rate. Le concluded by saying that the accelerated adoption of these technologies is going to be disruptive and needs to be planned for to avoid unintended consequences.
THE ROLE OF SUSTAINABLE ENERGY SOURCES FOR TRANSITION PLANNING: AN ANTICIPATORY APPROACH
Lynn Scarlett, The Nature Conservancy, framed the discussion for the next session. A lot of focus during transition periods is on technical dimensions and costs, yet transitions unfold in social, policy, and economic contexts. They have profound implications for the workforce, consumer choices, essential needs of the poor, and other issues in both rural and urban locations. The challenge is to anticipate and not just react to these transitions.
California Energy Transition in the Context of Extreme Weather Events
Nidhi Thakar, California Public Utilities Commission, introduced planning as an anticipatory approach. Climate change is intensifying weather events and the “new normal” produces catastrophic weather events with more severity and frequency than in the past. California’s wildfire “season” is now yearlong. Eight of the state’s most destructive fires have occurred in the past 5 years.
Thakar described a number of the state’s innovative approaches to deal with this “new normal.” Integrated resources planning (IRP) is an umbrella process to look at all electric procurement policies and needs over a 10-year horizon. It ensures a diversity of resources and redundancy so that, for example, if one of the state’s critical substations goes down, others can take up the slack. Under the resource adequacy program, the commission requires load-serving entities (independently owned utilities and electric service providers) to show they have purchased capacity commitments of no less than 115 percent of their peak loads, thus building some reserves into the system. California has also set greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets and has a cap-in-trade program in place to provide revenue for climate-based efforts.
Thakar explained that the commission is taking other steps to deploy sustainable energy systems. It is now conducting its first Pole and Conduit Census to develop a data repository of location and conditions. When needed, wooden poles are replaced with more durable metal or the wires are buried. The commission supports a western regional grid and participates in the Governor’s Resiliency Task Force, a newly formed entity headed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Research gaps and critical barriers include forecasting future loads with more electric vehicles coming online; building the pole database; and creating flexible, quick capacity that does not create more GHGs. The past is no longer the predictor of the future, making risk-based planning and investment more uncertain. Thakar stressed that in California and elsewhere efforts cannot remain stagnant. Innovation and adaption are part of dealing with the new normal.
Integrating Energy’s Human Dimensions into Planning Transition
Integrating social and technical dimensions in transition planning is simple to say, but difficult to put into practice, said Clark Miller, Arizona State University. If questions are framed in the right way, it becomes easier; if not, it is difficult to create productive dialogue.
Rather than thinking about energy transition as a problem of “plug and play” (e.g., going from gas to hybrid cars), Miller urged the development of a community-centric approach. Interdependencies are not just physical, such as between energy and water, but also social. Around the world, shifts, regime changes, and disruptions occur in social as well as technical arguments, and public voices want to be at the table. Changes in energy systems are reciprocally linked to changes in human systems.
The social sciences are responding to these changes. New research is generating a high level of enthusiasm and interest. Research cuts across fields to include economics, geography, psychology, sociology, human rights, communication, and more. A key insight for energy innovation is that the social, economic, and political design of energy projects has significant implications for many facets of energy transitions.
Miller stated that four pivotal questions related to transition planning must be considered:
- Who is vulnerable to energy transitions? The unintended social consequences must be considered.
- How can the societal return on investment of energy transitions be maximized?
- How can the human complexities of energy transitions be managed effectively?
- What kinds of future cities and societies will be enabled and created though energy innovation?
Gaps exist in understanding these questions, especially in the synthesis of what we know and do not know. To date, no federal agency, philanthropy, energy company, or other entity has invested to ask questions about the human dimensions of energy transitions, he noted. This lack puts the country at risk.
Workforce Implications in Transitioning to Clean Energy
Jessica Eckdish, BlueGreen Alliance, focused on the workforce implications to transitioning to clean energy. Clean energy has created jobs in the United States. About 2.5 million Americans now work in the sector. But the shift to new types of energy generation also has negative impacts on workers and communities in the traditional energy sector.
She stated that job location, intensity, and quality must be considered. New solar and wind jobs do not line up with where the job loss from coal and other traditional energy sources occurs. It takes five times as many coal mining and power plant workers to generate a megawatt hour of electricity as compared to wind farm operators. The median income of clean energy jobs is also lower, with less union density.
Thus, a roadmap to create quality jobs in the clean economy is needed, she said. The first thing to consider is that jobs in the “clean economy” go beyond wind and solar to include jobs related to energy efficiency. For example, these jobs could be in the auto industry, making more efficient cars, or in infrastructure improvements.
It is critical to ensure that labor and procurement standards are maintained. An example is the Block Island wind farm, which employs trained workers in 300 mostly union jobs. Eckdish noted that states must hold the renewable industries to high standards. Over the next 10 years, gaps exist to fill many clean economy jobs (see Figure 3). Training and apprenticeships are needed to prepare workers to fill these 21st-century jobs. She concluded that federal planning and assistance, such as the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization initiative, are needed.
FIGURE 3 Energy efficiency jobs.
SOURCES: Jessica Eckdish, presentation, January 30, 2018, Washington, DC. Data based on the Department of Energy’s U.S. Energy and Employment Report, 2017. Credit given to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Significant disruption creates opportunities to invest for strategic impact. Patrick Doherty, Long Haul Capital Group, reminded the group of the devastation in the Caribbean caused by the 2017 hurricanes. He described two ad hoc efforts in which he is involved: the Marshall Plan for the Caribbean/Caribbean Climate Smart Plan and the Build Better Project.
In 2016, Doherty co-authored a book that calls for a grand strategy to chart a path in the 21st century.6 Insights from that work contributed to ideas to rebuild in the Caribbean. The Marshall Plan proposes to integrate rebuilding across sectors and to leapfrog to future systems now, such as distributed water and energy systems, new transportation patterns, and housing materials that can better withstand future disasters. In December 2017 in Paris, heads of state of the Caribbean Community nations presented this climate-smart coalition document, which calls for investment in a new pattern of economic development.
Long Haul initiated the Build Better Project and Doherty now serves as president of Long Haul Homes. The purpose is to protect the most vulnerable, rapidly restore residences, minimize future damage, reduce carbon emissions, and generate local employment. It is based on a model of participatory community planning and a homeowner-driven design process (see Figure 4). Hurricane-strength, greener materials are used and they are shipped for on-site construction of a home within 7 days. Doherty sees a hopeful story that can come out of the Caribbean, resulting in stronger communities and economies in addition to structures. It is a transition that will have to take place in the United States as well.
FIGURE 4 Build Better Project: Smarter.
SOURCE: Patrick Doherty, presentation, January 30, 2018, Washington, DC.
CONNECTING KNOWLEDGE TO ACTION: DEPLOYING SUSTAINABLE ENERGY SYSTEMS IN TRANSITION
Roundtable co-chair David Dzombak moderated the final panel. In 2016, the Roundtable took stock of advancements in sustainability since issuance of Our Common Journey.7 One finding was how sustainability concepts and practices have diffused into many realms of practice, adopted, and adapted as needed. The final panel illustrated this point with a focus on sustainable energy systems.
6 Mykleby, M., P. Doherty, and J. Makower. 2016. The New Grand Strategy: Restoring America’s Prosperity, Security, and Sustainability in the 21st Century. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
William Colglazier, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), was appointed by the UN Secretary General to promote the role of science, technology, and innovation within the SDGs. The overriding goal of the 17 SDGs is to make the global system a better place to work and live, similar to how localities like Greensburg, Kansas, consider this question on a community level.
The SDGs provide a political definition of sustainable development. Advantages include their longevity (to the year 2030) and the connections of each goal with the others. They are aspirational and also provide an opportunity for the science and technology community around the world.
Energy has its own goal (Goal 7) and also connects with other goals related to poverty, jobs, cities, and other concerns. Colglazier explained that a number of UN activities related to SDG 7 are planned for 2018, including a multistakeholder forum on science, technology, and innovation (STI) in June. This forum will emphasize the cross-cutting nature of the SDGs, the need for STI capacity building, action plans and road maps, and public-private partnerships. Noteworthy scientific efforts include the World in 2050, Future Earth, and the Global Sustainable Development (GSD) Report 2019.8
A number of SDG targets relate to resilience to plan for and respond to the kinds of transitions discussed throughout the workshop. He noted that STI can advise on the challenges; provide indicators to monitor progress; advise on policies and actions; search for new, innovative solutions; and build a robust science-policy interface.
The Role of Sustainable Energy Sources During Transition and Political Leadership
Former mayor of Houston Annise Parker noted transition means a shift from one state to another. Transitions can be natural or human-made, social, and technical. All transitions cause disruptions of the normal order and provide opportunities and challenges.
She said her focus as a politician was on the care and management of her city, from which she drew lessons about the role of cities worldwide in looking for sustainable solutions. Cities are thriving and metastasizing. In 1990, 10 megacities had a population of 10 million or more. Today, there are 37. Overall, 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas where they leverage and concentrate resources.
Cities are 24/7 service organizations. They must provide fresh water, sewer treatment, and trash removal. They present mass opportunities to do things better in terms of energy use. They can be considered labs to solve problems. However, in areas such as immigration/migration, climate change adaption, health care, and other services, many are failing. One-third of urban dwellers live in slums today. This concentration presents problems and opportunities.
“Global cities are not just spending strategically. We are also beginning more and more to operate strategically as well. We are not just concentrations of humanity. We are increasingly global players in our right, engaging in subnational or paradiplomacy.” Honorable Annise Parker, former Mayor of Houston
Cities are bypassing the federal government on issues like climate policy, and many have made a commitment to reduce GHG emissions. Broad executive powers rest in the hands of pragmatic leaders. Local governments control budgets and can react nimbly. They are beginning to operate strategically and to engage in subnational or paradiplomacy.
Cities have opportunities to make things happen by mandating, directing, managing, and incentivizing. Cities are hungry for information and insights about sustainable energy, not just in transitions but in day-to-day operations. In order to really focus on sustainable energy, it is necessary to be able to prioritize risk, Parker emphasized. Humans are notably poor at objective analysis of risk, but mayors and city managers are in that business every day.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the question is how to rebuild the Gulf Coast to optimize a relationship with sustainable energy. The unfortunate destruction can be used to change policies, practices, and procedures. But rather than wait for disaster, it is important to move forward. She noted that voters in America will support costs for critical capital projects if they see the benefits. Any plan to move forward must engage the people on the ground who will implement it and live with the decisions.
8 For more information, see the World in 2050 (http://www.iiasa.ac.at/web/home/research/twi/TWI2050.html); Future Earth (futurearth.org), and the GSD Report 2019 (sustainabledevelopment.un.org).
To conclude the workshop, Dzombak asked about creative approaches to move forward. Suggestions included
- Start big. Bring the market economy on the side of the transition, rather than “fight into the headwinds.”
- Identify stages and components within the problems to solve, then bring in people and institutions to get the ball rolling.
- Invest in early planning resources. Most problems do not rest on a generic question but a lot of specific questions.
- Invest in R&D so universities can partner with cities or other entities. Students in engineering want to engage in creative applied research but the funding is not there.
- Engage land grant institutions in the effort. Rural mayors and state legislatures can press universities to fulfill that part of their mission.
DISCLAIMER: The Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief was prepared by Paula Whitacre as a factual proceedings of what occurred at the workshop. The statements made are those of the rapporteur or individual meeting participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all meeting participants, the planning committee, or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
REVIEWERS: To ensure that it meets institutional standards for quality and objectivity, this Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief was reviewed by Ines Azevedo, Carnegie Mellon University, and Clark Miller, Arizona State University. Marilyn Baker, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, served as the review coordinator.
PLANNING COMMITTEE: David Dzombak (NAE), Carnegie Mellon University (Chair); William Colglazier, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); Suzette Kimball, U.S. Geological Survey; and Lynn Scarlett, The Nature Conservancy. Staff: Vaughan Turekian, executive director, Policy and Global Affairs, and acting senior director, Science and Technology for Sustainability (STS) Program; Emi Kameyama, associate program officer, STS Program; Nicole Lehmer, senior program assistant, STS Program; and Cato Sandford, Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellow (through April 2018).
PRESENTERS: William Colglazier, AAAS; Mayor Bob Dixson, Greensburg, Kansas; Patrick Doherty, Long Haul Capital Group; Jessica Eckdish, BlueGreen Alliance; Minh Le, Los Angeles County; Marilu Hastings, Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation; Gary Machlis, Clemson University; Clark Miller, Arizona State University; Honorable Annise Parker, Former Mayor of Houston; Nidhi Thakar, California Public Utilities Commission; Rae Zimmerman, New York University.
SPONSORS: This workshop was supported by the National Academies’ George and Cynthia Mitchell Endowment for Sustainability Science.
For additional information regarding the meeting, visit www.nas.edu/sustainability.
Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Deploying Sustainable Energy During Transitions: Implications of Recovery, Renewal, and Rebuilding: Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: https://doi.org/10.17226/25175.
Policy and Global Affairs
Copyright 2018 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.