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The electric grid has been called the most important engineering achievement of the 20th Century. What if the grid can also transition us to a clean energy economy in the 21st Century? 

This concept was at the center of discussions at the Electrify Iowa! summit, held on Sept. 5 in West Des Moines and hosted by the Iowa Rural Power Education Foundation and the Iowa Environmental Council. Special thanks to the Beneficial Electrification League, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Iowa Association for Energy Efficiency, the Iowa Geothermal Association and others for their involvement and support of the summit.

What is beneficial electrification?

Sessions at the summit centered on environmentally beneficial electrification, which means that electrical appliances and devices like water heaters, ovens, clothes dryers and vehicles have the potential to become greener over time without any additional action from the consumer. 

“As electric generation becomes more renewable and environmentally responsible, the devices that use electricity automatically become greener compared to those that use fossil fuels, such as gasoline, propane and natural gas,” says Chuck Soderberg, executive vice president and general manager for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.

Through proactive beneficial electrification (also referred to as efficient electrification or strategic electrification), policies and practices are put into place that encourage the transition of fossil fuel applications to electric power. The electric vehicle (EV) movement is just one example of beneficial electrification. And as more and more vehicles transition from gasoline to electricity, they will use fewer fossil fuels as more renewable generation is added to the electric grid. 

Iowa has momentum  

Beneficial electrification isn’t a new concept; electric water heating was really the first technology that introduced the concept back in the 1980s, along with the introduction of geothermal heating and cooling technology. But the movement is picking up steam in recent years as renewable electric generation and electric transportation gain momentum.

In fact, Iowa is already surpassing expectations and estimates regarding EVs. According to data provided by the Iowa Legislature, there are 3,241 EVs registered in the state as of August 2019, representing a 170% increase since 2016. 

With beneficial electrification, every person, every family, every farm and every business can participate in our transition to an abundant clean energy future. “By using sustainable electricity to meet our water heating, climate control and transportation needs, we are collectively reducing our environmental impact,” Soderberg says.

For consumers looking for environmentally responsible energy options, choosing electric appliances and devices over those powered by fossil fuels is a great way to participate. Consider electric rechargeable power tools, electric water heaters, electric appliances like ovens and clothes dryers and electric vehicles as ways to reduce greenhouse gases. In the years ahead, there will be even more opportunities to transition to electric vehicles and electric lawn and farm equipment with the added benefits of reducing noise, emissions and maintenance costs.  

Electric cooperative involvement

Iowa’s electric cooperatives are actively engaged in the beneficial electrification movement. We work with our statewide and national associations and partners to promote this sustainable concept with policymakers and thought leaders. In 2018, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to form the Beneficial Electrification League, whose purpose is to meet our nation’s and the world’s economic and environmental goals through electrification of products and services. 

“We believe that beneficial electrification is the single most effective and inclusive carbon reduction strategy available moving forward,” says Steve Koep, advisory board member of the Beneficial Electrification League and presenter at the Electrify Iowa! summit. 

Your local electric cooperative also remains committed to helping you use energy wisely through energy efficiency efforts. After all, the greenest kilowatt-hour is the one you never use in the first place. Check with your local electric co-op for details on programs, incentives and rebates for electric vehicles, electric water heaters, geothermal heating and cooling and LED lighting. 

“We want to help our co-op member-owners keep electric use and costs as low as possible which makes it even more attractive to transition to electric devices and appliances,” Soderberg says.

Find more resources and information at

Erin Campbell is the director of communications for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.


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