By Scott Coenen
Like many Americans, I’ve been struggling to adjust to the dramatic changes that have taken place over the last few months. It may sound cliché at this point, but it rings true nonetheless: COVID-19 and the worldwide effort to combat it have scrambled everything around us. Indeed, even energy markets have not been immune to sudden, dramatic and unprecedented changes.
Over this period, I’ve struggled with a central question: “Who cares about energy when tens of thousands of Americans are dying and millions are losing their livelihoods?”
It’s a hard question to answer. Amid a public health crisis and the potential for economic damage never seen before in history, who cares about solar panels and natural gas plants? Energy might not be making headlines right now, but only because the electricity we rely on to power our homes, hospitals, and essential services has not failed us. With that in mind, there are a few things I think we should consider as we prepare for a COVID-19 reality now and moving ahead.
Energy is as critical as it has ever been. The reliability and resiliency of our current power systems have been tested in our fight against COVID-19. Utilities, cooperatives, and independent power producers have been able to respond to changing market conditions relatively smoothly. The ability to keep the lights on through sudden and dramatic changes has been a critical asset to our state and country.
However, given the vital importance of the grid, we know that resiliency and reliability are issues that need more focus. For years, experts warned that our infrastructure was not prepared for the possibility of a pandemic. Without significant investments, implementation of new technologies, and reform-minded leadership. we would be unprepared for a worst-case scenario.
Sound familiar? It should. For years now, experts have been giving the same warnings about our aging energy infrastructure.
Without investment, deployment of new technology, and pragmatic leadership we fall behind and become increasingly less prepared. Decentralized energy generation and storage, electric vehicles, microgrids, and a diversification of our energy sources are just a few things that can make us more resilient in the face of an uncertain future. Now, more than ever, that mission is imperative.
Moving forward we must also plan for a recovery and ask ourselves which industries can be relied upon for new jobs, development and growth. The renewable energy industry has been hit hard by the economic shutdown. However, the underlying market dynamics have not changed and remain important. Customer demand, increased efficiencies, declining costs, economies of scale – all the factors making clean energy technologies growth industries before the pandemic – remain poised to lead the way in a recovery.
As an organization, the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum has always emphasized the power of American innovation, the ingenuity of individuals creating solutions to problems, and the importance of pragmatic leadership to address challenges. As we move forward, these principles will continue to guide us, and I trust Wisconsin will emerge on the other side of this pandemic stronger than before.
Coenen is executive director of the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum and has spoken at meetings of the Tech Council Innovation Network. Learn more about its work at https://www.wiscef.org/