Holy Cross Energy CEO sees improved efficiency, electrification of fuel as keys to sustainable future
December 11, 2017
AVON — Locals got a chance to meet Dr. Bryan Hannegan, the new CEO of Holy Cross Energy, on Monday, Dec. 11.
Hannegan was the guest of honor at the Climate Action Plan Collaborative of the Eagle County Community's meeting at Walking Mountain Science Center, where he spoke about the technical challenges associated with climate change.
Before joining Holy Cross Energy in the spring of 2017, Hannegan was a senior energy adviser for the White House and the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and he co-founded the U.S. Department of Energy's Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium, which seeks to create the grid of the future through modernization.
The grid of the future was the topic of much of Hannegan's speech, where he described how the generation of energy transforms into its end use — services we all enjoy — and the waste that occurs along the way.
"Nearly two-thirds of the energy that we use in this country — and by the way, it's the same in China, it's the same in Europe — two-thirds goes out as what we call rejected energy, meaning it's wasted," Hannegan said. "So right away … efficiency of use has to be at the top of our agenda."
Hannegan said in the future, a growing population will not be able to generate enough energy to meet the needs of the end-use sector. While the first step to a solution must occur through improvements in efficiency, several other "retooling" efforts must come into play, as well, Hannegan said.
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The Climate Action Plan Collaborative of the Eagle County Community is a group committed to reaching the goals of the local Climate Action Plan, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Eagle County by 25 percent over the next seven years. The plan also stipulates that by 2050, the Eagle County community will have achieved an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from its 2014 level.
The collaborative is seeking signed letters of intent from stakeholder groups, and Holy Cross Energy — the cooperative utility that provides energy to Eagle County — is currently among the 17 groups that have provided a signed letter of intent.
Hannegan said those goals are indeed attainable but will require "nothing short of retooling the entire way that we use and produce energy."
Hannegan said Holy Cross is already hard at work on rethinking the electric grid in order to improve efficiencies. The other parts of the solution are steps the collaborative can help with, Hannegan said, and include rethinking transportation and the fuels that sustain it.
With carbon dioxide being a major source of greenhouse gasses, looking at low carbon energy options is a key in reducing greenhouse gasses. And, as Hannegan said on Monday, "it's a lot easier to meet low carbon energy needs with electricity than it is with fuels."
For that reason, replacing traditional fuel with electricity will be paramount in reducing greenhouse gases, Hannegan said.
"It's easier to de-carbonize electricity with wind and solar coming into the market and becoming more cost effective," he said. "With fuels, really the only other option is biomass, and as we know, there's only a certain amount of growing stuff that's out there that we can harvest sustainably." Electric vehicles are one key in creating a shift from traditional fuel to electrification. However, some vehicles will always have a need for fuel, Hannegan said.
"Think aviation, think really dense industrial uses for which we can't compact electricity into a dense enough fuel," he said. "But if we can shrink those to make them amenable to biomass fuels on a long-term basis, then we've solved the final part of the problem."
Monday's meeting also doubled as a celebration of the formalization of the Climate Action Collaborative across the Eagle County Community.
"The group formed the Climate Action Plan last year, and to see the additional commitment from the entire community moving forward is an accomplishment," said Kim Langmaid, vice president and director of sustainability and stewardship programs for Walking Mountains Science Center.
Hannegan said that group would help him meet one of his personal goals, which is not having to finish out his career working on climate issues.
"I plan on living to 2050 at this point, and I'd like to think that we'll have the problem solved by then," Hannegan said.