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Three-Legged Stool of Decarbonization: AESP Spring Training Presented by Jeff Ihnen and Jake Millette (Michaels Energy)

Key Takeaways

The three legs of decarbonization are clean, reliable, and inexpensive. Any two are easy, but the third takes a lot of balance. This is what Jeff and Jake explored, in detail, at the AESP Spring Training presentation on May 19th. From this training, we learned that energy efficiency and demand management are, by far, the least expensive, lowest risk, and cleanest resources in the decarb arsenal. How? Read on to see.

  • A fundamental issue is that it is difficult and expensive to connect areas where clean energy generation is plentiful (e.g., wind in the Midwest, solar in the Southwest) to the areas where it is needed. This is a challenge during most times but perilous during extreme weather events recently seen in California and Texas.

  • We have to acknowledge physics and reality. Not every day is average, and outlying weather can persist for days. This is not new, but replacing our conventional thermal-power-generating fleet with a mix of renewables, natural gas plants, and storage exposes electricity delivery to a lot of added risk.

  • Wind generation is an unknown capacity resource because there can be almost no wind for days. No electricity-storage technology will bridge that gap at less than an astronomical cost.

  • Solar generation is a superior resource as it aligns with peak cooling seasons and can be stored within 24-hour periods to more reliably power regional grids through hot weather. However, northern portions of the country will become winter-peaking as heating is converted to electric technologies.

  • We MUST have fuel security. Consider the Colonial pipeline hack. What if that happens to natural gas distribution in a polar vortex situation? Marginal capacity reserves are only good if there is fuel available. Who is responsible for fuel availability?

  • We will need redundancy and, in some cases, hybridization of many energy-consuming machines, depending on the use case. These include heating, transportation, and power generation, with enough stored fuel to get through occasional multi-day events. Hybridization will significantly balance the clean, affordable, and reliable grid, with minimal GHG emissions.

  • Finally, we must think beyond efficiency of individual pieces of equipment to a more comprehensive view of how all systems work together. Solutions like CHP and VRF allow for buildings to harness the same energy to do different things at the same time.

Want more on this topic, or simply want to pick the brains of these two energy gurus? Connect with Jeff at or Jake at today. 

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Michaels Energy, a veteran-owned energy efficiency consulting firm, has been helping businesses minimize waste and maximize value since 1984. We help businesses and organizations be more energy-efficient and solve problems like poor air quality, building integrity, and occupant comfort. For our utility clients, we offer a variety of energy efficiency programs as well as a comprehensive suite of research and evaluation services.


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