Energy policy matters, are you considering it enough?
If you had never thought about energy policy before, you’ve likely thought about it lately. Intertwined with the major environmental, social, and economic issues of the day, the production and distribution of energy has been thrust into the spotlight. To state the obvious, energy makes the world go round, which has always been true, but somehow gets truer as we work to achieve ambitious global goals to alleviate poverty and hunger, improve health, enable quality education, and provide clean water and sanitation services, among other things. Each of those things is enabled by energy and is built using energy. From internet, to grocery pick up and delivery, there is hardly a facet of our lives that is not impacted by energy.
In Utah, we’re lucky to have a wealth of diverse energy resources that enable our modern lives, including both traditional sources of energy (Utah ranks in the top 15 states for oil, natural gas, and coal production) and emerging or renewable sources like solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower. Because of this, Utah has some of the largest solar potential in the country according to the NREL.
That mix of resources, how and where it’s produced, how and where it’s distributed and used, and who it benefits (or harms) are big questions energy policy is grappling with today. Some of the implications to consider as we structure that policy are affordability and reliability, equity and access, economic opportunity and mobility, environmental and energy justice, as well as sustainability and climate change.
Questions this big require thoughtful, creative, cross-functional approaches that are informed by diverse perspectives and impacted communities. They also require both big picture vision and great attention to detail, recognizing that sweeping answers risk missing the mark for issues with great variation and specific local needs. Personally, I’m a great believer in having a solid research foundation; quality quantitative and qualitative analysis should give direction to our programmatic and policy decisions and ensure that we’re being wise with our resources—putting them places where they can actually make an impact.
Whatever our policy objectives, they must align with meeting the energy demand we talked about earlier. Interestingly, under the International Energy Agency (IEA) Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), which outlines a major transformation of the global energy system and is fully aligned with the Paris Agreement objectives, oil and natural gas are projected to provide 46 percent of the world’s energy by 2040. Innovation is central to achieving the emissions reductions outlined in this scenario.
According to IEA, “almost 35 percent of the cumulative CO2 emissions reductions by 2070 compared with the current trajectory come from technologies that are currently at the prototype or demonstration phase and that will not become available at scale without further R&D (including commercial demonstrators) and technical improvements. A further 40 percent of the cumulative emissions reductions rely on technologies that have not yet been commercially deployed in mass‑market applications.”
This need for innovation is good news for Utah, which recently ranked in the top ten most innovative states based on human capital and innovation environment factors. Combining Utah’s diverse energy portfolio with its pioneering spirit, this state has the potential to propose solutions and contribute in meaningful ways to these complex energy issues. In the meantime, we all will continue to think about energy policy broadly and our personal energy needs and footprint a little more than we have in the past, knowing that a lot hangs in the balance.