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Homes, Governments, Businesses Must Be Dance Partners to Fight Climate Change

Columns appearing on the service and this webpage represent the views of the authors, not of The University of Texas at Austin.

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Single-family homes represent about 70% of residential buildings and almost 20% of U.S. energy consumption, both in Texas and nationwide. Yet they remain an untapped resource in curbing emissions. Much of this energy heats and cools our homes, a demand primarily met by fossil fuel-based power plants that contribute to climate change. But our homes also hold immense potential to help mitigate these climate impacts if we harness this potential intelligently and differently than what we are currently doing.

In Texas, the Electric Reliability Council, or ERCOT, is adding renewable energy sources and grid-scale storage at a rapid pace, yet that is only part of the equation. New transmission lines need to be built to deliver the energy where it’s needed, when it’s needed. It is also about when we use it. The potential lies within our homes to adapt and shift their energy demand, just like the rhythmic motions of dancers responding to the changing tempo of music.

In this complex dance of climate action, each of us has a unique step to perform: homeowners, businesses and governments. Homeowners, for example, can move in harmony with the grid’s beat, making energy-saving adjustments during peak hours. Simple actions such as delaying the use of energy-heavy appliances until off-peak hours or adjusting the thermostat during peak demand times can be a great start.

Businesses have the opportunity to choreograph innovative technologies that maximize demand flexibility and response. Investing in the development and deployment of smart devices and energy management systems will allow homes to better sync with the grid’s rhythm, maximizing renewable energy usage and minimizing peak load demands.

Government has the important role of composing policies that facilitate and incentivize these actions. For instance, implementing time-of-use electricity pricing can incentivize homeowners to shift their usage to off-peak hours, thereby balancing grid load and reducing stress on our energy systems. Yet, Texas lawmakers appear out of step. The recent legislative session fell short of supporting essential energy reforms, neglecting the potential of renewables.

We have the opportunity to transition our homes. It’s about us actively choosing to participate in programs that balance the energy needs of our grid. This might even involve storing some of that energy for later use, like saving the grand finale for just the right moment.

Whatever we can each do, this dance toward aligning our energy consumption patterns with grid decarbonization through demand flexibility and response means a cleaner, more sustainable energy future. However, the choreography isn’t without its complexities. Consider the potential hiccup of all our smart thermostats, batteries or electric vehicles stepping forward in unison to grid conditions, risking a concentrated peak load and possible stumble of grid instability or blackouts. It’s clear our solution lies in large-scale load coordination — a master choreographer managing the energy consumption patterns across and within neighborhoods.

It also creates business opportunities for utilities or third-party aggregators to create products enabling efficient load coordination. Utilities or third-party aggregators, like talented dance instructors, can create solutions enabling efficient load coordination. Collaborating with homeowners and leveraging advanced technologies, these entities can masterfully choreograph the energy dance and generate savings. Indeed, a recent report posits that avoiding the construction of new power plants and unlocking demand flexibility instead could net savings of up to $35 billion nationwide.

We must ensure equitable progress. We need to embrace the spirit of individual action and consider how our homes and businesses can contribute to the grid rather than simply relying on it. If more of us do that, we can transform our energy dance into a harmonious blend of supply and demand, turning our homes into active partners in a sustainable, renewable energy future.

Zoltan Nagy is an assistant professor of civil engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.

A version of this op-ed appeared in the San Antonio Express News and the Austin American-Statesman.

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Texas Perspectives is a wire-style service produced by The University of Texas at Austin that is intended to provide media outlets with meaningful and thoughtful opinion columns (op-eds) on a variety of topics and current events. Authors are faculty members and staffers at UT Austin who work with University Communications to craft columns that adhere to journalistic best practices and Associated Press style guidelines. The University of Texas at Austin offers these opinion articles for publication at no charge. Columns appearing on the service and this webpage represent the views of the authors, not of The University of Texas at Austin.

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