Early in December 2021, ISO-New England, the region’s electric grid operator, issued a warning on the outlook for the coming winter, describing New England’s power system as being at “heightened risk heading into the winter season.”

For Melissa Birchard and Amy Boyd, both of the Acadia Center in Rockport, Maine, warnings like this have a straightforward solution: decrease reliance on natural gas and instead focus on renewable energy.

Birchard, director of clean energy and grid transition, and Boyd, vice president of climate and clean energy policy hosted a webinar aimed at avoiding the possibility of rolling blackouts during winter, which ISO-New England warned in 2018 could take place by the 2024-2025 winter heating season.

In the webinar, Birchard said each year New England uses at least 50% of natural gas toward electricity. On July 14, 2022, New England used 69% of natural gas for electricity.

One solution proposed by Birchard was for the state to start managing consumer demand. Although this can mean weatherization and insulation, it can also mean using large-scale commercial and industrial resources.

“It can include everything from using solar paired with batteries, to shifting the time that we do things like charge electric cars or even using electric cars and batteries to support the grid,” Birchard said. “It can also include delaying energy-intensive processes like rock-crushing processes in an industrial cement-making facility in order to help support the grid when the grid needs help.”

Birchard also suggested investing in renewable energy like off-shore energy solutions and energy storage which can reduce the need for fossil fuels in the winter.

“Pairing energy storage with offshore wind is really a sweet spot,” Birchard said. “We need a balanced portfolio of all of these things – demand management, renewable energy, energy storage – all of the clean solutions together, make a portfolio that is reliable overall and many of these solutions are already at hand or will be at hands soon.”

Solar-plus-storage is another method Birchard suggested that residential homes can use to lower their natural gas usage. Solar-plus-storage operates similarly to a power plant, Birchard said, in the sense, you can turn up or down the resource when needed.

“While solar isn’t that strong in the winter, as it is in the summer, it can still provide substantial electricity even in the winter when it’s cold. And we need to stop thinking of solar-plus-storage, but also other types of residential demand resources as only summer resources and start valuing reliability benefits,” she stated.

Lastly, Birchard suggested switching to the use of heat pumps and renewable energy resources in residential homes to lower fossil fuel usage.

This winter energy bills are expected to increase as the state’s largest energy suppliers Eversource and National Grid have increased their rates. Boyd suggests that consumers sign up for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. LIHEAP is, “a federally funded program administered by the states that can provide assistance to low-income households that are seeking help with their energy bills,” Boyd said.

Boyd also suggested homeowners work with their utility provider to help lower their energy bills.

“They often will offer payment plans to help residents who are struggling with their bills,” Boyd said. “But it’s important to note that that protection is temporary, will eventually go the full amount of the bill, unfortunately.”

Read the article at Mass Live here.