On Tuesday, March 28, 2017, the Trump administration signed an executive order indicating that it plans to actively work to undo a number of Obama-era initiatives intended to mitigate man-made climate change. This development is a major setback in addressing the urgent challenges that climate change presents. But I’m heartened that utilities are playing—and will continue to play—a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by promoting energy efficiency and setting the stage for increased renewable energy production by adding resilience to the grid through load shifting and demand response. Because it’s easy to forget just how important this work is in the day-to-day focus on the technicalities and nuances of demand-side management (DSM), I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what’s at stake.

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In the 2014 report What We Know: The Reality, Risks, and Response to Climate Change (PDF), the American Association for the Advancement of Science—one of the largest scientific bodies in the world and publisher of Science Magazine—suggested that the link between human activities and climate change was as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer. In the years since, the evidence for man-made climate change has continued to build and the effects are becoming more noticeable (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Monthly global temperature over the last 166 years

This data visualization, created by UK climate scientist Ed Hawkins, shows average global temperatures from 1850 to 2016. The inner red line represents a temperature change of 1.5° Celsius (C), which diplomats worldwide at the Paris climate conference agreed was the tolerable upper limit for global warming. The outer red line represents an increase of 2°C, beyond which climate scientists and policymakers agree the most dangerous effects of climate change will occur.
Animated gif showing the average global temperature from 1850 to 2016

Experts spanning multiple fields have concluded that the future effects of climate change are likely to be devastating if left unchecked. For instance, both the US Department of Defense (DOD) and the Pentagon have repeatedly stated that climate change represents a major national security threat; a 2015 DOD report National Security Implications of Climate-Related Risks and a Changing Climate (PDF) states that “climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water.” Even US Defense Secretary James Mattis says that “[c]limate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.” Beyond potential food and water shortages and rising sea levels, storms with increasing intensity may stress utility infrastructure in the US and Canada and put ever-larger strain on the grid.

Since the current administration seems content to ignore these threats, it’s more important than ever that corporations, states, and cities step up and take an active role to address climate change. The good news is that these parties are rising to the occasion. For examples, the Washington Post article As Trump Halts Federal Action on Climate Change, Cities and States Push On describes how governors and mayors (both Republicans and Democrats) are actively working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their states and at the local level. Additionally, the article How Forward-Thinking Utilities Are Addressing Corporate Demand for Renewables shows the extent to which large corporations are seeking to use more renewably generated power.

For myself, I feel fortunate to be able to work with utilities across North America to promote efficiency and renewable energy in a responsible and business-savvy way. Advocacy alone won’t solve the real challenges we face with respect to climate change, and I genuinely appreciate the difficult (and often unrecognized) work that our utility customers do on a number of fronts that’s making a real and positive difference in the world.

Contributing Authors

Senior Manager, Technology Assessment

Essie Snell researches, writes, and presents on a wide range of established and cutting-edge energy-efficiency technologies spanning multiple sectors...