"As a country, we've put a lot of our eggs in the basket of electrification when it comes to clean energy. We're trying to change how we heat buildings and fuel vehicles to reduce carbon emissions. And so, because of that, electric utilities are this absolutely crucial ingredient in the clean energy landscape."
For our latest edition of Inside the Moments that Matter, we are joined by Jake Navarro, Director of Clean Transportation Products at National Grid, an electric and natural gas utility serving Massachusetts and New York. Jake began his career as an account supervisor at Greenough, where he fell in love with clean energy. He then moved to National Grid, first serving as a Senior Media Relations Representative, and then taking on new corporate strategy and management roles. With over 10 years of clean energy and communications experience, Jake has honed impressive storytelling and emerging cleantech expertise.
During our session, Jake took a deep dive into the evolving energy transition, sharing his take on the top trends and policies shaping the industry and the climate. Here's what he told us:
Q: An unprecedented amount of federal climate funding is pouring into cities across the United States, and the move to electrify heating, cooling, and transportation continues to intensify. But can we build enough transmission lines to reach renewable energy goals by 2030?
Yes, but the whole grid will need to be rebuilt AGAIN.
Utilities serve as the backbone for delivering clean energy solutions to consumers, and while they can sometimes be bureaucratic and slow-moving, they are indispensable for ensuring reliability and accessibility in the clean energy sector. In the 1970s, the grid underwent a complete overhaul to accommodate air conditioning, which was becoming affordable and expected for the first time. The grid was completely transformed to accommodate the new increase in electricity demand. It was a massive investment and necessary to avoid rolling blackouts and maintain reliability. The same thing must happen again and on an accelerated timeline to achieve net zero.
Q: What is your biggest concern as we head out of the extreme heat of this past summer and into the winter months?
This summer was the hottest on record, and the grid withstood the test; after all, it's built for peak air conditioning. But what will happen when all heat is electric, and the highest demand comes on the coldest day of the year?
National Grid recently filed its electric sector modernization plan through 2050, and the scale of the investment needed to ensure heat reliability is astounding. However, the current timelines to build powerlines, the talent needed to do it, and the amount of permitting and approvals required to get projects off the ground are posing severe challenges, especially in the Northeast. To overcome these barriers, I predict a reliance on the technological breakthroughs that will happen between now and 10 years from now to fill the gaps. This emerging cleantech will be crucial to reaching a reliable fossil fuel-free vision.
Q: What is the most significant policy challenge to the clean energy transition?
In 2023, National Grid launched one of the country's most extensive EV transportation programs to help Massachusetts reach its ambitious goal of having 900,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030. However, the program took 18 months to gain approval, showing just how long timelines can become under a traditional utility/regulator approach.
Updating the way utilities and state governments collaborate and streamlining processes is essential for rapid clean energy adoption. For example, there is a need to enable utilities to build necessary infrastructure ahead of customer demand, ensuring readiness for electrification. In Massachusetts, vehicle fleets must electrify by the 2030s. This includes medium- and heavy-duty vehicles like buses. That’s a good thing, because a big truck can emit 30 times more air pollution than a passenger vehicle, but a depot where many of those vehicles go to charge up might require a significant expansion of the local electric system to power it. Massive energy infrastructure projects can take seven to 10 years to build. We need to start building electric infrastructure ahead of customer demand to keep up with the expected pace, and the way we enable electric utilities to deliver those projects will need to shift to make that a reality.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you learned at Greenough that you still use in your job today?
Understanding how to tell a story is essential for convincing an executive to let you hire three more people and equally crucial for convincing a customer that they should advance a project you're championing. The skillset I learned in PR has served me well throughout my career.
Thank you, Jake, for joining our team so we can have a deeper understanding of the energy transition and the critical role utilities play in achieving net zero! Stay tuned for our next session of Inside the Moments that Matter! And, if you are interested in speaking, please reach out: email@example.com.