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Rethink Energy: Arlington’s Energy Future

This regularly-scheduled sponsored column is written by the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy team (AIRE). This county program helps you make smart energy decisions that save you money and leaves a lighter footprint on the environment. 

Two weeks ago the Rethink Energy program had the honor of partnering with Arlington’s Department of Technology services for a panel discussion on the Future of Energy in Arlington. This Digital Destiny series has taken Arlington on a conversational journey to look at the past, present and future of aging independently, mobility, learning and now energy.

Two questions immediately struck us at the event:

  1. How will we generate, store and use energy?
  2.  Can you predict the future of energy in Arlington?

How will we create, store and use energy?

Arlington’s electrical energy is generated far outside the Beltway, sent through transmission and distribution lines and arrives to power the device that you are presently using. More than half of the raw energy used to create electricity is lost during electrical generation.

Conversely, Arlington’s Discovery Elementary school generates as much solar power as it uses over the course of a year. This is a net zero energy school and it shows what is possible. APS is looking at how other schools may harness solar power and use it as a learning resource for students.

By mid-century, 2 of every 3 people on the planet will live in cities, or counties that resemble cities. Since cities are where people are and so much economic activity takes place, they are also the perfect place to generate and use energy. Renewable energy like solar power is an increasingly preferred power source. No fuel must be brought in, fewer additional long distance transmission lines will need to be built and the cost to install solar panels is dropping quickly.

In the past 24 months more than 120 Arlingtonians have participated in the solar co-op which has more than doubled the amount of solar on homes in Arlington. As electric vehicles increase in prevalence and are connected to homes with a solar array, opportunities exist to store solar power and even use a car to power your home.

We could go on and on about other emerging technologies, but folks, what you need to know is that things are changing quickly and the future of energy generation, storage and use is unfolding before our eyes.

Can you predict the future of energy in Arlington?

Not exactly, but here are a few things we see that may be in Arlington’s energy future.

  • Home values will increasingly be tied to energy efficiency and solar exposure
  • Electric vehicles (and eventually autonomous vehicles) will rule our streets
  • Time-of-use utility charges are likely coming, but will require the utility to expand the use of smart meters throughout the state. Energy is more expensive and dirty to produce when demand is highest, such as the middle of the day and especially during the dog days of summer.
  • Your home’s devices (e.g. dishwasher, washing machine, refrigerator, thermostat, air conditioner, lighting) will increasingly include microchips connected to the internet, turn things off when you leave, adjust their operation to run when energy is cheaper (as noted in tie-of-use item above), order things for you and notify you when they need service.
  • Smart grids or micro grids will become a critical piece of community infrastructure. Right now when your home’s energy goes out, you likely have no other choice for power unless you have a generator. Micro grids are small electrical grids that can be separate and isolated from the overall grid. This could afford Arlington more control to operate in the event of a power interruption (e.g. derecho, snowmageddon, the great earthquake of 8/23/11).

We had a great time discussing Arlington’s energy past, present and future! If you are interested in attending or watching future Digital Destiny events in 2018 on Place and Livelihood, stop by the Digital Destiny page as more information is firmed up.  Also, take a look at the archived event videos while you’re at it.

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