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Ulteig Energy & Infrastructure Podcast: Renewable Energy in an Age of Change

September 19, 2020

Xcel Energy’s Michael Lamb shares insights about renewable energy and the power it has to transform our world and our lives.

Imagine that you’ve been working in the same industry for 20 years – and you’re more excited today about the potential your industry has to change the world than when you started in the industry two decades ago.

As our world faces an omni-crisis consisting of multiple challenges, including the COVID-19 virus, confronting systemic racism, climate change, and technological changes, there’s one person who sees his work and the company for which he works as a means to making the world a better place for all.

In episode 4 of the Ulteig Energy & Infrastructure Podcast series, Aaron Lauinger, Market Director–Transportation and Water for Ulteig, is joined by Michael Lamb, Senior Vice President, Transmission Systems for Xcel Energy, who shares his passion for clean, reliable, affordable energy and the transformational power it can have in improving our lives. Lauinger and Lamb are joined by Doug Jaeger, President and CEO of Ulteig, who provides an additional perspective on how renewable energy is converging with other Lifeline sectors, such as transportation and water, in creating change.

If there’s one takeaway from this episode that you’ll remember it’s that power companies such as Xcel Energy, engineering firms such as Ulteig, and the construction firms that build and maintain our energy infrastructure, are on the front lines of immense change. In embracing a cleaner energy future, where we seek out a mix of renewables and clean energy sources, as well as better systems to transmit and distribute that energy, we are all having a powerful impact on the daily lives of people and businesses, as well as our world’s environment.

“We’re not a boring old utility,” said Lamb, who believes that his company is making a difference in solving climate change, while providing reliable, secure, affordable and environmentally clean energy. In addition to its focus on renewables, Xcel Energy, which has a large company footprint in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has made strong commitments to diversity and inclusiveness within its workplace.

Xcel Energy, like most companies, has not been immune to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. But if there’s a silver lining behind this crisis, it’s that Xcel Energy and its people have learned to be even more agile and flexible, both in how the company serves customers and manages its workforce. It’s that kind of agility that will be needed in the years to come as the power industry embraces new ways of thinking, and new technology to achieve more affordable, reliable, secure, and cleaner energy.

“Like other companies, we’ve learned to be agile through this crisis,” said Lamb. “More than 50% of our workforce are working from their homes, and we’ve taken a number of steps to keep our field staff safe while they perform their work.”

As noted by Jaeger, Xcel also has made a commitment to step up its support for communities in the areas it serves to bolster economic opportunities and help create jobs in light of the damaging effects that COVID-19 has had on the nation’s economy.

As Lamb explained during the podcast conversation, “We all want the same thing: reliable, secure, affordable, competitively priced and environmentally clean energy.” With incredible advances in new technology, everyone involved in the power industry has the potential to make a difference and have a real impact on our nation’s energy system.

In fact, Xcel Energy is the first major U.S. power provider to announce a goal of reducing carbon emissions 80% (from 2005 levels) by 2030, with a vision of providing 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. And the company is well on its way, having reduced carbon emissions 44% in 2019, a record ten percent drop over 2018.

However, as noted by Lamb, achieving that ideal state isn’t going to be easy. Why? It comes down to mindset.

“Change is hard,” Lamb said. “Our nation’s electrical grid was labeled one of the most important technological marvels of the 20th century by the National Institute of Science. However, it’s 75-year-old technology.”

Jaeger added that the U.S. electrical grid was built for the transmission of electricity over short distances. The grid wasn’t designed for today’s modern day clean energy – where wind and solar is produced primarily in the Midwest and the West and sent over multiple state lines to the coasts where it is most needed.

Looking ahead, Lamb said the U.S. power industry needs to continue to innovate, in order to produce the clean, reliable energy we all want, while keeping customer bills low. He sees the following changes necessary to achieve more affordable, reliable and cleaner energy:

  • Modernize electrical grids throughout the U.S. by upgrading the distribution system to increase 2-way power flows and increasing the ability for generation to be connected to it.
  • Invest in micro-grids that allow portions of the main grid to be isolated for security purposes.
  • Invest in scalable battery storage to make renewable energy more reliable.
  • Invest in infrastructure to support the growth of electric vehicles (EVs), which eventually will be the predominant mode of transportation in the years to come.  EVs, noted Lamb, have the ability to both take energy from the grid, and to return energy back. Xcel Energy strongly supports EVs as one of many solutions to eliminating carbon from our environment.
  • Explore new fuel sources, such as hydrogen, which could be moved through existing pipeline structures, and advanced nuclear.

For many of these changes to happen, public policy at the state and federal levels will need to be reshaped, which includes more state and federal funding for renewable energy and grid modernization, and mandates that endorse clean, renewable energy.

In the meantime, Xcel Energy is forging ahead. Its program, Steel for Fuel, the nation’s largest multi-state wind expansion, for instance, is an important step towards achieving its carbon reduction goals.

“Our vision of delivering 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 is both an ambitious and an aspirational goal,” said Lamb. “We need new technology to develop and we are confident that it will.”

Launched in March 2020, the Ulteig Energy & Infrastructure Podcast spans Ulteig’s Lifeline Sectors® of Power, Renewables, Transportation and Water. It offers thought-provoking and engaging conversations with key industry stakeholders on technology, innovation, policy and funding. Click here to listen to the current podcast or download it through AppleGoogle Play, or Spotify.

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