The U.S. moves to save its grid

With the International Energy Agency proclaiming that solar electricity is the cheapest form of energy in history(1) and will only get cheaper, the real challenge to transitioning to a renewable energy economy is shifting that affordable energy to where and when it’s needed.

Making renewable energy available when needed is often framed as a technical challenge. That’s why we need energy storage like batteries, geothermal reservoirs and pumped hydro facilities.

But we’ve known how to move energy to where it’s needed for over a century. The utility poles that hang over our streets and the high voltage distribution lines that cut across our landscape have been working since the earliest days of the twentieth century. The problem with moving electricity isn’t technological, it’s bureaucratic and it’s financial.

But in a historic move, the Biden administration has unveiled a groundbreaking investment in the heart of America’s energy transformation–the national power grid. (2) The Department of Energy, on Wednesday, announced a substantial $3.5 billion in grants aimed at expanding wind and solar power capacity, fortifying power infrastructure against extreme weather, integrating battery and electric vehicle technologies and developing microgrids for uninterrupted power supply during outages.

This monumental announcement encompasses 58 projects across 44 states eligible for federal funding. When combined with contributions from state and local governments and utility and industry partners, the total investment is set to exceed $8 billion. During a press briefing in Locust Grove, Georgia–where some of the funding will be allocated–Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm referred to this as the “largest-ever investment in America’s grid.”

This substantial funding represents the initial major allocation from the DOE’s Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships Program. Established under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, the program has $10.5 billion earmarked for expanding transmission lines, enhancing grid resilience, and deploying smart-grid technologies.

The urgent need for grid investments has become increasingly apparent in the face of climate change-induced extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, winter storms, droughts and floods. These events have led to severe power outages. The announced projects are designed to address these challenges by expanding transmission grid capacity, making the grid more resilient against extreme weather and deploying advanced monitoring systems to detect and combat threats like wildfires.

Importantly, these investments also prioritize underserved and disadvantaged communities, aligning with the Biden administration’s Justice40 Initiative, which commits to directing 40% of federal climate-related funds to historically marginalized communities.

The projects cover a broad spectrum, from large-scale grid modernization and the deployment of batteries and microgrids in rural areas, to enhancing grid reliability and safety against wildfires. Some projects focus on integrating distributed energy resources, such as rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles. Others aim to connect entire regions, like the ambitious effort to link grids between the Midcontinent Independent System Operator and Southwest Power Pool.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s grid funding represents a monumental investment in modernizing the grid, setting the stage for integrating next-generation technologies on a much broader scale in the coming years. As the projects get underway, developing and executing them as a blueprint for a smarter, more robust grid supporting the energy transition becomes increasingly important.

Is it time to electrify your lawn care? 

For some people in suburbs throughout the United States, complaining about the noise of lawnmowers and leaf blowers is as much a summer ritual as baseball and barbecues. But noise is only a tiny complaint when stacked against the emissions problems attached to lawn care.

Gas-powered lawn equipment is notorious for emitting noxious fumes that pollute the environment. Unlike heavily regulated cars, these tools lack catalytic converters, which are vital to limiting emissions. In fact, a commercial lawn mower can emit as much smog-forming pollution in one hour as a car driving for four hours.

That may sound horrible, but a lawnmower is like a Toyota Prius when it comes time to clean the leaves off your lawn. A gas-powered leaf-blower produces as many emissions in 30 minutes as a Ford F-150 pickup truck over 3,800 miles. (2) And about a third of the gas and oil that goes into these smelly machines is belched out unburned as a hazardous haze.

And did we mention that they’re noisy? The noise from gas-powered leaf blowers has been pegged near 100 decibels. (3) That’s in the range of bulldozers and impact wrenches.

Of course, running an electric yard tool does not send emissions spewing into your yard, and they are quieter. But are they more expensive?

Surprisingly, the switch to electric doesn’t come at a premium. Prices for these tools are competitive with their gas counterparts. For example, a self-propelled electric mower from Toro costs $649 with the battery and charger included, only slightly higher than a comparable gas mower ($529). Electric tools are also more cost-effective to maintain and operate. 

And many local programs are incentivizing the transition to electric, offering rebates and tax credits to encourage more residents and even commercial landscapers to make the switch. Whether it’s a $150 voucher for Coloradans who trade in their gas mowers or a 30% tax credit for new commercial electric lawn mowers, financial support is available. 

Furthermore, professional reviews suggest that electric yard tools outperform their gas counterparts. Several “best-of” lists from sources like Wirecutter, The Spruce and USA Today have ranked electric models as superior.  

One potential concern with cordless equipment is battery life. The top-rated 56-volt Ego Power+ Select Cut Mower offers an hour of runtime on a single charge, covering roughly a third of an acre. As for storage, manufacturers provide guidance on prolonging battery life, including storing them at room temperature in a dry, dark place. 

Of course, you can store it where you used to keep that smelly, dangerous can of gasoline you used to need to keep the gas lawn mower running. 

The Weekly Sunsong

Did someone say lawncare? How about the Hissing of Summer Lawns?