As temperatures rise and the summer power demand begins to take form, policy makers and industry leaders gathered in Columbia, South Carolina to discuss the state’s energy future. From economic competitiveness to new manufacturing, the need for new and resilient energy to meet current and future demand is essential.
The summit kicked off with a keynote address by Governor McMaster. His introductory anecdote recalled a previous event he hosted during which he and other state leaders looked around at the manufacturing boon in the state and new electric vehicle rise and thought out loud to one another ‘we will need a lot more power.’ While the story received a natural casual laugh from the audience, it underscores a deadly serious reality that the state of South Carolina and every other across the country must confront: without low-cost, highly resilient, robust power there is no growth.
Put shorter: The future is unlocked with energy – a lot of it.
As various states advance decarbonization goals, incentivize electric vehicles, promote renewable power, and various other priorities, these must be balanced with new power capacity and generation in a more resilient grid. While many hope to electrify the entire economy, few are articulating just how to replace existing power generation sources with low-carbon sources while matching existing demand and also enabling growth.
In South Carolina, leaders from trade associations to utility companies and elected officials all emphasized the same solution to match current and meet future demand: a diverse kilowatt hour portfolio. While the governor proudly pointed out that, “We are mainly nuclear powered,” the director of the states Office of Regulatory Staff pointed to the state’s seven nuclear units, 11 coal plants, 18 natural gas plants while praising the benefit of additional wind and solar to the mix. Between nuclear and natural gas, South Carolina has consistent base load power.
As the leaders cast a vision for the future, they repeatedly pointed out how much new power will be needed. To meet the occasion, they identified a few innovative measures among many other conventional priorities. Most notably are the expectation of a circular electric vehicle economy, a resilient smart grid, and the promise of numerous small modular nuclear reactors.
These three in approaches are a powerful trio because they address different aspects of the future energy challenges and work together to reduce impacts, streamline energy demand and distribution, and increase power generation to promote growth. A circular electric vehicle economy will help foster the automotive manufacturing sector that is increasingly advancing electric vehicles in both sourcing materials and managing its impacts. A smarter grid is essential for routing power most effectively, limiting efficiency losses, tying hydrocarbons and renewables together, and improving resilience in the face of natural disasters. Finally, added nuclear capacity will raise the base load energy to attract new manufacturing, serve a growing population, and reduce energy poverty for all communities. Included in this discussion was a somewhat novel conception of an “all of the above” strategy.
While most uses of “all of the above” tend to mean hydrocarbons plus renewables in a suite of power generation options, in South Carolina, the leaders are envisioning “all of the above” to mean this and grid improvements, resilience plans, and circular economy options to manage manufacturing needs, outputs, and waste.
Looking to the future is not all about adding new power. The state also outlined a blueprint for other states and policymakers to keep both eyes looking forward – with one focused on new growth but the other on replacing anticipated retirements.
In the context of that “we have historically been a nuclear state,” the state’s regulatory director again noted the losses of capacity already baked into the books for the next decade. Referencing a meeting about the national grid reliability, she mentioned that this region is slated for “9 gigawatt retirements in 10 years, which for context 1 gigawatt serves 750,000 homes.” These are primarily in the coal-fired power plant sector, but will include various other older units in the state and region. Continued embrace of nuclear and natural gas can bridge the decade ahead, however, there was concern raised that the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest proposed rule may penalize and restrict the potential for new natural gas plants to be developed in the years ahead.
If nuclear is a favored power source by policymakers, natural gas is the star of manufacturer’s story. Interestingly, many representing the manufacturing sector pointed out various goals and plans to meet renewable benchmarks and to incorporate “green” energy options, but natural gas is the immediate need, while renewables are viewed as a solution to meet longer term demand.
The state’s secretary of commerce pointed out that: “We are going to aggressively pursue” nuclear, especially the “promise of small modular nuclear reactors.” Speaking to renewables specifically, solar and hydropower were raised, but in a relatively small state, the greatest “bang for our buck” was highly emphasized. Efficient land use was put on par with power generation, meaning future demand will be met by sources that can provide the power in the best context and setting.
Kicking off the event, the governor said, “When good things happen, they happen here in South Carolina first, and they happen fast.” To close out the day, the governor unveils of an executive order to prioritize energy resiliency in the state of South Carolina.
Written by Benjamin Dierker, Executive Director
The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.