The Path to Drawdown: Grid Expansion
Solving climate change and remaining below 1.5ºC of global temperature increase requires a massive scaling of emissions-free energy sources. And thankfully, renewable sources like solar and wind are quickly expanding their capacity worldwide. But to reliably provide renewable energy to every household and organization in the world, we need a power grid that’s much bigger and more flexible.
The power grid is the dynamic network of electricity generation, transmission, storage, and consumption that 85% of the world relies on. But its initial design for constant, centralized power production is not conducive to the intermittency of solar and wind power. For the world’s electricity supply to become completely renewable, the power grid needs to become more adaptable than it is today. Many technologies -- constant renewables like geothermal and nuclear, utility-scale energy storage systems, batteries, and smart appliances -- contribute to grid flexibility.
The power grid also needs to expand to support a renewable transition. Where the grid spans larger geographies and more electricity sources, it can even out the total output and variability of renewables. Electricity generated in Texas during the summer can then be used to power houses in snowy Chicago during the winter. To achieve this scale, the IEA estimates that, between 2020 and 2030, around 16 million km of distribution and transmission lines need to be built, an increase of 80% compared with the past decade.
WESCO International, Inc. (stock ticker: WCC) provides electrical, industrial, communications, maintenance, repair and operating, and original equipment manufacturer products, as well as construction materials and supply chain management and logistic services. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, WESCO has approximately 800 branches, warehouses and sales offices in over 50 countries.
WCC's Role in Drawdown
WCC operates in a broad range of industries. In terms of its business segments, ~73% of revenue comes from providing equipment and services that help power grids operate, expand, and adapt to a clean energy system.
For example, WESCO’s Utility business provides utility companies with efficiency-enhancing equipment and services. Their Electric Solutions segment offers businesses and municipalities with smart metering systems that align their electricity usage with their needs, as well as bringing the demand of energy with supply when there is a surge or shortage in electricity generation. They also offer battery storage systems, inverters and transformers that help integrate solar panels to the grid system. This is one way in which the power grid can be made more flexible.
WESCO also partners with suppliers to provide rooftop and utility-scale solar panel systems through the entire product cycle -- from business development, preconstruction and logistics, construction and installation, to support, operation and maintenance. This helps expand renewable energy capacity that feeds into the grid.
WCC: What We Like
WESCO has a track record of setting and achieving sustainability goals. After achieving (p. 4) a number of targets in the past few years, they set a series of new goals (p. 22) to be achieved by 2022, compared to 2016 levels:
- Reduce landfill waste intensity by 10%
- Reduce GHG emissions intensity by 8%
- Reduce facility energy intensity by 10%
- Improve the fuel efficiency of their trucks by 3%
Beyond setting sustainability goals for itself, WESCO also evaluates their suppliers’ sustainability performance. To better understand the sustainability of their supply chain, they conduct a supplier sustainability survey (p. 16), with questions covering conflict minerals, environmental performance, human rights, and employee and supplier diversity.