Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Video: Meeting surging US power demand with clean energy alternatives

U.S. utilities don’t have to build more fossil-fueled power plants to serve the data centers and factories connecting to their grids. These experts explain why.
By Jeff St. John

  • Link copied to clipboard

Last week, Canary Media invited a panel of experts to talk through the ways that utilities and regulators can handle a boom in power demand from data centers and factories that’s putting pressure on U.S. power grids.

Right now, major utilities in the Southeast — Duke Energy, Southern Company, and the Tennessee Valley Authority — are proposing gigawatts worth of new fossil-gas power plants to meet that demand.

But those new gas plants don’t just threaten the country’s decarbonization goals, said Maggie Shober, research director at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. They also risk burdening the region’s utility customers with massive bill increases to cover the cost of building them.

What’s more, gas plants may not provide the grid reliability that the region needs, she said, given the poor performance of gas power plants during recent winter storms.

Fortunately, said Simon Mahan, executive director of the Southern Renewable Energy Association, prices for solar and wind and batteries have come down really significantly over the past 10 years,” making them an eminently available alternative to meet near-term demand growth.

The big companies planning the data centers and factories driving this demand are eager to invest in those clean alternatives, added Priya Barua, senior director of market and policy innovation at the Clean Energy Buyers Association.

The challenge is in getting utilities to consider those clean alternatives on an equal footing with the fossil-fueled resources they’re most used to relying on — and from which they earn a guaranteed rate of profit.

Watch our hour-long discussion with Shober, Mahan, and Barua to learn more.

Jeff St. John is director of news and special projects at Canary Media. He covers innovative grid technologies, rooftop solar and batteries, clean hydrogen, EV charging and more.