On Friday, January 27, Concord Academy received a visit from Kevin Koch P’24. Koch is the Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Technicians For Sustainability, an employee-owned benefit corporation that promotes and installs solar PV panels in Tucson, Arizona. For over two decades, he has advocated for renewable energy and has investigated the engineering solutions necessary to achieve a renewable-based energy infrastructure in the United States.

For the average person, little thought goes into the act of flipping a light switch. Energy simply moves from point A, the power plant, to other buildings, point B. Some may believe that energy is stored in these buildings, ready to be used whenever. But according to Koch, the energy system and the grid are not as simple as we liken them to be. Demand for electricity changes throughout the day, and the grid cannot store energy, so electricity has to be generated as it is used. Koch referred to the idea of on-demand electricity generation as ‘load following’.

However, not all energy sources are the same. Nuclear energy and coal, for instance, are capable of generating electricity consistently at all times. Therefore, they are usually used as ‘base load’ energy sources and meet the minimum demand for electricity throughout the day. Renewable energies, however, are different as they depend on natural conditions such as wind and clear skies to generate electricity. Koch explained that on sunny days, Concord receives its energy from the local solar plant. He also stated that it is difficult to integrate solar or wind energy into a load following grid, as demand cannot always be met.

Koch also talked about where Concord receives its electricity. The Concord Municipal Light Plant (CMLP), he explained, is municipally owned rather than privately owned. This means that it considers environmental and social factors in addition to the cost of electricity. The CMLP has committed to using one hundred percent renewable energy by 2030, but Koch stated that it is on track to meet that goal this year.

While this projection seems like amazing news, Koch explained that the reality is a little more complicated. The CMLP purchases its renewable energy, and renewably generated electrons cannot magically traverse the country to arrive at Concord. Instead, the town receives its energy from the closest point of generation, which is usually a natural gas plant that is paid to offset the cost of sending its electricity. So purchasing renewable energy just supports the companies that produce it, which is still good news but not ideal. He emphasized that going one hundred percent renewable will require changes to the grid itself, as it is impossible to cut our dependence on fossil fuels by simply buying renewable energy.

Koch concluded his talk by inviting the audience to consider how their futures may play into the push for a renewable-based grid. An electrical engineer himself, his expertise can obviously benefit the effort, but he stressed that other professions and skills are required. In his words, anyone who “won’t take no for an answer” has a part to play in the journey towards sustainable energy.