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Editor’s note: The following post is a conversation between Politico energy reporter James Bikales and Aamir Paul, president, North America Operations for Schneider Electric. Aamir discusses the clean energy transition and what investments in electrification and digitization mean for the U.S. energy infrastructure. This interview was originally published in the Politico Pro Morning Energy newsletter on June 5, 2023, and is reprinted with permission. You can subscribe to Morning Energy here.
Aamir Paul, president of Schneider Electric North America, is no stranger to industry transition. A veteran of Dell during the rise of the internet, Paul is now at the center of the nearly two-century-old French company’s response to the clean energy transition.
In the American market, that innovation has been buoyed by recent climate laws. Paul said Schneider has invested nearly $300 million in the U.S. as a direct result of the bipartisan infrastructure law, Inflation Reduction Act and CHIPS Act. ME sat down with Paul during a recent visit to Washington — the following has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Q. Schneider has a unique view on the clean energy transition, sitting between electricity generators, utilities and consumers. How has what you do changed?
A. What we’re most excited about is actually the electrification of everything. Think about cloud computing. Computing was very centralized, then it became very distributed with PCs, then became centralized again in the cloud.
Energy also goes through the same cycles. People used to build factories next to waterways because water mills were a source of energy — it was distributed. Then we centralized — we built the current system, almost a century ago. That system is now approaching a pivot point, and we think we will move to much more decentralized energy sources, working in conjunction in a bi-directional way with our current infrastructure. We’re working to decarbonize it, to make it more resilient, to make it more sustainable, and digital.
Q. That decentralized grid will require widespread adoption of technologies that aren’t even on the radar of most people, like electric vehicles with two-way charging and smart homes. How do you overcome that?
A. We think education is super important to help people understand what is possible because this is a space, sadly, unlike consumer tech, where what is possible is outpacing people’s understanding.
Getting people comfortable with the use cases matters. Generally, if you’re in a weather event and you lose power, do you really want your car, which is your one vehicle to leave that situation, to also be the place where you’re draining your power? Probably not, but that’s an outlier use case.
But can your car, in most of your use cases, act as a secondary storage source? With the right charging protocol, so it doesn’t deplete the battery life of your car? Can it be part of the energy system in your home, almost invisible to your day-to-day operation? Absolutely.
Q. With the recent climate laws in place, what brings you to Washington?
One of the things we’re going to talk about with policymakers is some of the Made in America sourcing requirements. I think they’re reasonable, ambitious goals in the long term, but coming out of the Covid related supply chain crises of the last few years, the ability to overcome all of them and to do it in a way that is cost-effective for the ultimate user, I think is slowing down the deployment of technology.
I’ll give you one example — take microgrids. A microgrid requires an interconnect with the utility. The lead times to get interconnects in place are two years. So that’s a practical thing we can overcome. Electric steel is a commodity that has an incredible shortage — so how we source it, and how we scale while we wait for that supply base to catch up is critically important.