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Reducing GHGs can’t be maximized by simply building solar arrays or windmills. While we upgrade our existing power grid, we must embrace and scale other clean-energy technologies — including renewable natural gas.
President Biden has set an ambitious goal of 100 percent clean electricity
It is the challenge of our generation and one of the most exciting business
opportunities ever presented to the United States. But is that achievable?
The answer is both yes and no.
Yes — if there is political will and bipartisan government action to create
policies that would incentivize new infrastructure investments through private
and public partnerships, enact legislation to help permitting, and most
importantly modernizing our nation’s antiquated power grid infrastructure.
And no — if we don’t have bipartisan participation at both the federal and state
levels, can’t work through public and private partnerships to transform how our
nation’s electric grid infrastructure is upgraded, and if we cannot invest the
capital (both human and financial) to make those changes a reality, we will miss
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The other question is, how do we heat and power our nation while we wait for
In short, a lot.
A report from McKinsey &
states, “The successful integration and deployment of clean-energy investment
will depend heavily on the availability of traditional, large-scale grid
infrastructure — including transmission and distribution network, switching
stations and transformers — as well as enabling infrastructure such as offshore
wind ports. Those behemoths are not easily constructed.” In the US,
estimates that the electricity transmission system will need to expand by 60
percent by 2030: “Achieving this objective would require a mind-boggling
acceleration of the typical ten-year capital project timeline. It is, arguably,
a century of work to do in less than a decade.”
The US doesn’t have just “the grid” — we have three disparate grids that power
the whole of our nation: in the West, the East, and Texas. According to an
interactive article in The New York Times,
these three grids “… only connect at a few points and share little power between
them.” As a serial entrepreneur and someone who spent a large part of my career
in solar energy, I am uniquely aware of how difficult it can be to get
“connected” once a solar array is built and ready to add to the grid to deliver
clean electricity. In a recent article from
it noted that in
conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that: “The total
capacity of energy projects in the US Interconnection queues grew 40 percent
year-over-year in 2022,” and that “queue wait times are increasing as the number
of projects getting in line has grown." In 2022, the wait time was an average of
five years after completion to get interconnected. We simply don’t have the time
With these wait times for interconnection, and the sheer magnitude of changes
needed for electrification — the task is overwhelming, but it must be done. I’m
just not sure we can get there by 2035.
Yet, if we want to create real innovation in clean energy, all we need to do is
look back in history. Vice President Richard Nixon was one of a small
group of advisors to President Eisenhower that saw space exploration as a
peaceful pursuit rather than a military pursuit; and thus, NASA was created
and launched decades of discovery. President Kennedy had the moon
and although he did not live to see a man on the moon, the mission was achieved
on July 16, 1969. The innovation and economic success created by NASA is well
documented and amazing.
Yet, one of the most important innovations of the 20th century occurred under
the leadership of President Reagan with the formation of
SEMATECH —in 1987, Reagan authorized a
consortium of US-based semiconductor manufacturers, in partnership with the US
government, to come together to fix manufacturing problems and regain dominance
over other countries competing in the semiconductor space. This partnership
created jobs and saved a US industry; and 35 years later, SEMATECH is still
leading the way.
Imagine if we created a consortium of clean energy companies to tackle the
climate crisis from every angle, with centralized support from the federal
and with the greatest minds in the United States? We would be unmatched in our
success. It’s mind-boggling that we haven’t gotten there yet. The opportunities
that could be created for new technologies and new jobs would be well worth the
Great challenges need bold solutions; and this is a moment we can’t let pass.
We must invest in other clean-energy technologies along with the investments
required to upgrade our existing electric supply sources. Reducing greenhouse
gas emissions (GHGs) can’t be maximized by simply building solar arrays or
windmills. We must embrace an “all of the above” approach and use every tool in
our toolbox — including renewable natural gas (RNG).
According to the US Energy Information
Administration, more than 60
percent of electricity is derived from fossil fuels — with the two largest being
natural gas at nearly 40 percent, and coal coming in at just over 19 percent.
According to the
burning natural gas produces about 45 percent fewer GHGs than burning
Given the remarkable delays in interconnections for new renewable power, we will
need natural-gas-fired power plants well past 2040. We simply need to switch to
carbon-neutral or carbon-negative natural gas.
RNG produced by anaerobic digestion of organic
is a carbon-negative, drop-in replacement fuel displacing the natural gas in the
pipeline. In addition to a lower carbon footprint, RNG is created by taking
organic waste and recycling it into clean fuel via anaerobic digestion — while
also helping to reduce farm methane
empowering regenerative agriculture, improving water quality, and creating jobs.
This is what we do every day at Vanguard
According to a recent article by the Associated Press,
there are 149 countries and 929 publicly traded corporations with “net zero”
targets around the globe. One way a company can work towards those ambitious
targets is to decarbonize its thermal load by offsetting even a portion of its
natural gas needs by converting to RNG.
If we want to reach these bold targets, it will take bold action by the business
community. One company leading the way is
AstraZeneca (AZ) — a global leader in the
pharmaceutical industry that has made achieving net zero a major priority.
Global CEO Pascal Soriot believes
that “the climate emergency is the biggest health crisis of our time.” I
couldn’t agree more.
That’s why I’m proud to share that Vanguard Renewables and AstraZeneca have
formed a first-of-its-kind
to deliver RNG to all of AZ’s US sites by 2026 — replacing 100 percent of its
fossil natural gas usage. Regarding this collaboration, Soriot told
that “Doing the right thing costs a little bit more, but it is not punitive.”
It’s partnerships like this that make me believe that we can mitigate the
climate crisis; there is no singular solution, and we need to take a renewable
layer-cake approach to decarbonizing our world. As much as I believe in the
electrification of our nation, I know that it won’t be 100 percent possible just
yet, and we need to act now.
According to another recent article in The New York Times,
the Energy Department announced a $1.3 billion investment in our nation’s
power grid; but it’s not nearly enough — as outlined in a
report that the
department shared the same day. That’s why decarbonizing the thermal needs of
companies with RNG is the beginning of a new, clean era. And we at Vanguard
Renewables are proud to be leading the way.
More partnerships across all sectors — working together with like-minded
companies, cities, and states to address the climate crisis and the
decarbonization that needs to take place to reach our climate goals is
We need to work together as consumers, business leaders and community advocates
to urge our elected leaders to help catalyze new, clean industries and to help
businesses of all sizes decarbonize. We must provide pathways not just for those
companies at the top of their industries but for the smaller companies along the
value chain to have the resources to reach net zero. This is where the
government can help incentivize with tax credits and a myriad of other programs
to help smaller companies achieve big results.
There is too much at stake, and we can’t leave anyone behind.
Published Nov 6, 2023 1pm EST / 10am PST / 6pm GMT / 7pm CET
John Hanselman is Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Vanguard Renewables — the U.S. leader in farm-based organics to renewable energy. John launched Vanguard Renewables in 2014 to connect farm-based anaerobic digestion to agricultural resilience and produce renewable energy. His work includes finding a decarbonization pathway for the food and beverage industry by enabling the repurposing of unavoidable manufacturing and supply chain waste into renewable natural gas. John’s strength is bringing together partners in the decarbonization journey and Vanguard has strategic partnerships with Dairy Farmers of America and Dominion Energy, among others. (Read more ...)
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.