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UVA Economist Predicts Increased Demand for Power

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A year ago, as the pandemic took hold, demand for electricity dropped, but now it’s coming back and will rise dramatically in the decade to come according to a new report from the University of Virginia. 

For years now,  demand for electricity has been falling or flat in Virginia.  Professor of Public Policy Bill Shobe says energy-intensive industry has been leaving the state and commercial requirements are also down.

“Businesses are putting in more efficient lighting, more efficient air conditioning and heating, and that’s happening faster than the growth in commercial demand for electricity.”

But two other trends suggest the need for power will rise.  One is the continuing growth of data centers – vast banks of computers -- in northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.  

“They all have computer chips, which require electricity, and all give off a fair amount of heat, and so have to be air conditioned.”

And with the legislature requiring the sale of more and more electric cars, more drivers will be plugging in.

“By 2024, 8% of vehicles sold in Virginia will have to be zero emission vehicles, and then the fraction goes up until it reaches around 35 or 36% in 2035," Shobe explains.  "The work ahead of us is to put in place the specific plans for making sure we get the right mix of energy to meet the demand we see coming.”

With Richmond also demanding a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, Shobe says the pressure is on utilities to generate more electricity using the sun and wind.   

“Solar energy is generated all across the state.  Wind power will be generated off the coast and in the mountains, and so energy is not going to be generated in huge power plants in one place with just one set of wires going to the city.”  :15

So even as they work to increase production of clean energy, utilities and the state will have to plan for ways to improve the grid. 

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.