Discovering Clean-Energy Sources with Environmental Defense Fund’s Raya Salter

July 12, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have on with us today Raya Salter. She’s a regulatory attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund and she focuses on U.S. climate and energy programs. Welcome to Green is Good, Raya. RAYA SALTER: Good morning. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Good morning, and thanks for joining us today on another edition of Green is Good. Raya, talk a little bit about you’re a lawyer and you’re at the great Environmental Defense Fund, wonderful, wonderful group. Talk a little bit about your journey. How did you get over there and why are you doing this kind of work? RAYA SALTER: Well, I’m happy to. I’m somebody who has always cared about pollution and climate change and the devastating effects it can have on our planet and I think a lot of people feel the same way so I’m happy to share my story and encourage folks out there to be interested in this field and potentially join this field. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Aww, thank you. RAYA SALTER: You’re very welcome. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, for great young people like you to be doing this kind of important work, it further inspires me and that’s why we have this show, to platform all the great work the next generation is doing out there. RAYA SALTER: Well, thank you so much. It’s absolutely an opportunity to be able to make these contributions and I couldn’t do it without the support and attention and caring of your listeners. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk a little bit about the Environmental Defense Fund and for our listeners out there that don’t have a lot of exposure to it, please go to www.edf.org to see the work Raya and her colleagues are doing at the Environmental Defense Fund. Talk a little bit about your particular specialty, U.S. climate change and energy programs. In the State of the Union, President Obama referred to a self-healing power grid. What?! Please help me out here. Help our listeners out. RAYA SALTER: Sure. You can think of the smarter grid as a two way street between consumers and their utilities. Smarter grid also integrates clean, renewable sources of power so if we can have the smarter grid, we can get cleaner air, which leads to better health, more reliable electricity, and greater consumer control over electric power and electricity costs. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting. We’ve had guests on before years ago, Raya, that have talked a lot about creating new sources of energy but then recently, in the last year, we’ve had guests on that have spoken about wait a second, let’s not make new energy. We’re wasting so much energy in the world right now so we need to make smarter decisions and actually conserve energy. Is this sort of where you’re focused on, how to manage our energy better? RAYA SALTER: That’s exactly correct. Our current electricity infrastructure is aging and it’s dirty and it’s polluting and it wastes tremendous amounts of electricity. We need a modernized, interactive energy system that is resilient enough to meet our changing energy needs, one that captures efficiencies across the system and is open to innovation and is intelligent enough to integrate high percentages of clean energy, including electric vehicles. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, what’s the EDF doing? Explain the role of the Environmental Defense Fund with regards to building out and helping to reshift our paradigm to a smart, clean grid. RAYA SALTER: Absolutely. EDF is working to put policies in place that make it easier for people to take control of their own electricity use. Folks must be able to power their own homes and businesses with clean, on-site, renewable power. This means that if the grid goes down, you have the power to create your own supply. It also means that if you are able to create your own supply when the grid is not down, that you can sell it back to the grid and make extra money. In addition, EDF is working to enable time of use electricity pricing. Now, what this means is that consumers get the power to shift their use of electricity in ways that help the environment and bring down electricity costs. This way, people who choose to run their dishwasher at night can be rewarded with lower electricity rates. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Interesting. So, is this really gonna change the way we live compared to how we grew up? RAYA SALTER: I think that that is very, very true. For the first, the idea of the smarter grid is really kind of revolutionary. We’re used to electricity being this sort of mysterious force that is completely controlled by someone else and you flick on the switch and you’re able to use it. The truth is that it can be used in a much more flexible way. You can use your applications on your phone to control your home’s electricity use through a smarter meter and other technologies. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, and then what is gonna get it in the way of this? It sounds like something we should have all been doing yesterday, if not yesterday, now, today. I’ve also just in my own home bought one of those Nest thermostats and stuff and started to regulate how I manage my energy in my house so I totally see what you’re doing here and I encourage all of our listeners out there to follow this lead and what the EDF is doing here with Raya’s leadership. Talk a little bit about what’s gonna get in the way. Why wouldn’t people do this or what would create a stumbling block for the EDF on this? RAYA SALTER: You know, I think you really put your finger on something because one of the biggest things is just information for folks and behavioral barriers. More people like you need to be empowered and enabled to use their electricity in these new ways. Folks don’t know about Nest thermostats. Nest thermostats are incredible, as you may have told your listeners before. You can install a Nest thermostat. It can control the electricity use in your house and it learns how you use that energy so that you can minimize it in ways that save you money but don’t have negative impacts on just your regular way of life. Now, it’s not our fault, however, because electricity is something that is hard to understand. There are a lot of regulatory barriers that stop us from being able to understand our electricity use. For example, in California, just about everybody has a smart meter. They went ahead and spent billions of dollars to make sure folks get smart meters. However, political fights and rules that are old and outdated are preventing the power of those meters to be utilized. The meter can help you and help your Nest thermostat, save you money and help the environment but we need to fight to get those rules changes so that we can use the power that this technology is offering. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting so one of the things we always talk about on this show is giving people resources and windows of opportunity to step through to help become agents of change themselves so what resources can you share besides going to EDF.org, which again, great website, great organization. I urge all my listeners to go learn more about Environmental Defense Fund and all of Raya’s great work with her colleagues. What other resources can you share with our listeners so that they can start getting their home into this whole smart power, smart resources, smart home mode? RAYA SALTER: Absolutely. That’s a great idea and there’s a lot of stuff that folks can do. Interestingly, one of the first things that I would say is folks, go ahead and look on to your own utilities website in your own jurisdiction. Check ’em out. They will have programs or they should that can help you take advantage of some of these technologies. Now here’s the thing. Go to your utilities website. Now, here’s the thing. If they’re doing a smart grid program, odds are there will be a smart grid tab for you to get involved. If they do not, write them a letter and ask them to because they should be and they should be doing more and all utilities should be doing more so your own utilities is a place to start. There are plenty of websites that offer a lot of info and news, SmartGrid.com, SmartGrid.gov, PoweroverEnergy.org, so even just following some great blogs, listening to shows like yours, keeping your finger on the button of information I think is a great way to stay informed and to be able to empower yourself. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk a little bit about reliability. Reliability is something people want with their energy in their home and in their business. By creating smart grids now, is that gonna also create more reliability in our homes and our communities and our businesses? RAYA SALTER: Yes, absolutely. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Explain why. RAYA SALTER: We must be prepared for a world with more storms, flooding and other weird weather. We may not be able to say that one particular storm is an exact result of climate change, but we know that climate change is real and we know that climate change is going to bring more storms like Superstorm Sandy and they’re going to be happening more often and with more severity and this is a tremendous threat to our lives, to our property, to our infrastructure so we need to build a smarter grid and encourage on site renewable energy, which will mean fewer outages and faster recovery so one thing is distributed generation. If you’ve got your own power source and the grid goes down, you can have power and also help the grid and other people, perhaps in your neighborhood, get restarted but in addition, a smart grid on the utility side can have the intelligence it needs between the meters and the submeters to pinpoint outages, isolate damages, and reroute power so it’s from the customer’s side, having our own power. It’s from the utilities side in order to be able to get more power and outage fixed faster. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, and one last thing. You talked about California leading the way on this, but also then having some trouble. Talk about what is your leading right now town, country, community, that’s doing this. You talked about Germany doing this right. Who else is doing this potentially right right now? RAYA SALTER: Well, there are a lot of projects out there that are trying to demonstrate and prove how powerful smart technology can be. EDF works very closely with a neighborhood that is a smart grid living laboratory. It’s called the Pecan Street Project and it’s in Austin, Texas. I was actually just there visiting it last week. Austin is a great town. It’s a fun place and Pecan Street is a great project so what it is is that many homes in this neighborhood in Austin have installed wireless energy and monitoring devices that enable the data crunchers and the tech guys to see how much electricity they’re using at any given time so they’ve got 200 homes that are participating. They’ve got solar. Sixty of those homes have electric vehicles so they’re using and living smart grid and they’re crunching that data to figure out how this can be done in other places. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Well, any other last thoughts you have as we wind up here, Raya? Because we want our listeners to really follow your lead here and do what you’re saying and get involved and green their homes and get on the smart grid. Any last thoughts? RAYA SALTER: That’s exactly right. Technology is taking us to new places. Our phones are getting smarter. Our cars are getting smarter. Our appliances are getting smarter. Our homes are getting smarter. We need the electricity grid to smarten up too. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Perfect. Well Raya Salter, you’re always welcome back. Go to her website. See what she’s doing at EDF.org. You are a great green evangelist for smart grids and clean energy and truly living proof that green is good.