Day #036: Invest in conservation in addition to alternatives

We make significant (but still inadequate) investments in clean renewable alternatives, but we rarely talk about effective conservation.

Inspired by Michael Bierut’s 100 Day Project, 100 Days to a Better RVA strives to introduce and investigate unique ideas to improving the city of Richmond. View the entire project here and the intro here.

  • Idea: Focus on conservation to help overcome our region’s poor access to renewable alternative energies. 
  • Difficulty: 2 — Encouraging Tesla to come to Richmond would be easy. Getting Dominion Power, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and public utilities on the same page for a small trial would be very difficult. 

The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in southeast California is the world’s largest solar-thermal power facility and generates 1,000 GW-h per year at a cost midway between coal and nuclear. The Geysers in central California is the world’s largest geothermal power plant satisfying “60 percent of the average electricity demand in the North Coast region from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border.” The Alta Wind Energy Center in Kern County, California is the world’s largest wind farm and will reduce emissions in California by the equivalent of 446,000 cars.

California is leading the environmental and renewable charge in energy production. Virginia isn’t gifted with deserts full of limitless sun and space, abundant geothermal energy, or boundless winds, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do more.

There are two ways to protect the future of our environment, promote national security, and secure energy independence: the development of cleaner renewables and lessening demand. We put a lot, but not enough, energy into the development of clean renewable alternatives but we rarely focus on conservation—the type of conservation that would allow the majority of our population to maintain our lifestyles while changing the world.

Smart Grid

In “Hot, Flat, and Crowded”, Thomas L. Friedman delivers a clear vision for a smart grid that could shake up the way America receives its electrons. The natural monopolies that run our utilities have a simple mandate from public utilities commissions: deliver cheap, reliable, and ubiquitous electricity. This means having a capacity equal to the energy required on that 101º degree day in late July.

A “smart-grid” where every device is connected to the internet could help solve some of these problems. In Richmond, this could be as simple as a trial program in 100 households using one appliance. Dishwashers would have simple computers attached to the internet. kWh prices would fluctuate in realtime based on demand and input prices. A price threshold could be manipulated by users. When prices fluctuate down in the middle of the night during off-peak hours, the dishwasher could automatically turn on.

As electric vehicles become more prevalent, this would be incredibly important for avoiding increasing peak-load electricity. If our gasoline prices change at a rate that feels like by-the-minute, then why shouldn’t our electricity costs?


According to Friedman, an idling car produces 20x the emissions of a car going 30 mph. Electric cars don’t idle, they can be charged by clean renewable alternatives, and they have the potential to be cleaner than internal combustion engines.

Like Uber and Lyft, Tesla had to fight an unbelievable regulatory battle to open one dealership in Virginia. Automakers have repurposed the anti-trust laws that were once used to create a divide between manufacturing, maintenance, and distribution to stymie the introduction of the biggest advancement in automobiles in decades. It’s the same rent-seeking that plagued Uber and Lyft until a few weeks ago.

With the $35,000 Model III expected to be released in 2017, Virginia should not only stop the regulatory battle but encourage a dealership in Richmond. Electric Vehicles are the future.1 The fact that the best electric vehicle in the world doesn’t come from an established auto company with established dealerships shouldn’t rob Virginians of the opportunity to realize that future.


CO2 emissions from deforestation are greater than the world’s entire transportation industry. This is because forests, and the soil below them, store large amounts of carbon and trees help remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area isn’t exactly flush with active deforestation–we’ve already cut down most of the trees. Richmond has some great green spaces like the entire James River Park System, but more can be done. Day #029 already dealt with adding green in unexpected places.

Day #015 suggested low impact, short-term development. This would allow spaces to be redeveloped without further sprawl or deforestation. Still, redeveloping acres of surface parking and tons of concrete has to be encouraged ahead of tearing down a forest to build the next Short Pump or Independence Golf Club.

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So much goes in to developing alternative energies, but we don’t discuss realizable ways of widespread conservation and lessening demand. In Virginia, that leaves us several steps behind states like California in creating a better energy future.

Love this idea? Think it’s terrible? Have one that’s ten times better? Head over to the 100 Days to a Better RVA Facebook page and join in the conversation.

Photo by: oskay

  1. I had the good fortune to ride in a Model S 95+ a few weeks ago. It made Doc Brown and his Delirean with a flux capacitor look like Henry Ford parading around with a Model T.  
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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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