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UC San Diego’s Advanced Energy Initiative Public Lecture Series

Our Energy FutureYou are invited to come hear UC San Diego experts give informative TED-style general audience talks on the essential topics relating to the future of energy in this country and the world.  The Lecture Series will be held on Thursday evenings from 5:30-8:30pm on October 3, 10, 17, and 24 at Atkinson Hall, Qualcomm Institute at UC San Diego. This series will launch the campus-wide Advanced Energy Initiative by Food and Fuel for the 21st Century and the Center for Energy Research.

10.03.13 Energy Production and Options for a Sustainable Future
10.10.13 The Impact of Energy on Climate Change
10.17.13 Social and Economic Issues of Energy
10.24.13 Energy, Water, and Food Security

Each evening will feature three speakers followed by a catered reception for attendees to connect with the students, faculty, and investigators who are conducting advanced energy research at UC San Diego. Visit the Our Energy Future page to see the topics and speakers. The first night will be October 3 and cover Production and Utilization of Energy.


Energy Future Public Lecture Series Phone: 858-534-6383


The Energy-Water Nexus

Tom Murphy is an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego.  His blog, Do the Math, takes an astrophysicist’s-eye view of societal issues relating to energy production, climate change, and economic growth.

The principal challenge of this century, in my view, will be adapting to a life without abundant, cheap fossil fuels.  It has been the lifeblood of our society, and turns out to have some really fantastic qualities.  The jury is still out as to whether we will develop suitable/affordable replacements.  But additional challenges loom in parallel.  Water is very likely to be one of them, which is especially pertinent in my region.  For true believers in the universality of substitution, let me suggest two things.  First, come to terms with the finite compactness of the periodic table. S econd, try substituting delicious H2O with H2O2. It has an extra oxygen atom, and we all know that oxygen is a vital requisite for life, so our new product will be super-easy to market.  Never-mind the hydrogen peroxide taste, and the death that will surely visit anyone foolish enough to adopt this substitution.  Sometimes we’re just stuck without substitutes.

Substitution silliness aside, water and energy are intimately related in what has been termed the Energy-Water Nexus (see for example the article by Michael Webber from this conference compilation; sorry about the paywall). We’ll explore aspects of this connection here, touching on pumping water, use of water for the production and extraction of energy, and desalination. As glaciers and snowpack melt and drought becomes more common in the face of climate change, our water practices will need to be modified, hitting energy right in the nexus.

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Brookings Institute releases Beyond Boom and Bust: Putting Clean Tech On a Path To Subsidy Independence.

Last Wednesday the Brookings Institute released Beyond Boom and Bust: Putting Clean Tech On a Path To Subsidy Independence. The 65 page report exams the current state of the highly politicized clean energy technology sector.  Their premise is, “In the absence of significant and timely energy policy reform, the recent boom in US clean tech sectors could falter.” 

Part 1 of the report analyzes the past and future of Federal clean tech funding followed by a section which breaks out the market impacts (solar, wind, nuclear, biofuels, EVs and storage).  In Part 3 the authors present their recommended focus on “policy reform to both sustain market opportunities for advanced energy technologies and implement smart new policies that more effectively shepherd public resources and support innovative entrepreneurs and firms.”  They clearly state the wisdom of supporting innovation over massaging the market.  “Simple deployment subsidies or policies to create demand, for example, still allow foreign competitors to undercut domestic manufacturers and seize larger and larger market shares, as Chinese solar PV companies have proven in the last three years.  Only steady innovation can keep US firms at the leading edge of clean tech sectors, and a supportive policy regime will be essential.”

Although San Diego is not mentioned by name, on page 11 the report gives a strong shout out for innovation clusters.  “Likewise, the nation needs to develop more potent, catalytic ways to leverage and enhance regional clean tech industry clusters. Such industry clustering has been shown to accelerate growth by promoting innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation.  Policy makers should increase investment in competitive grants to support smart regional cluster initiatives, designed not in Washington but on the ground close to the “bottom up” innovation that has broken out in numerous states and metropolitan areas.”

Long considered an innovation cluster Mecca, San Diego’s response is the San Diego iHub, which will build upon the region’s existing innovation infrastructure and strong culture of collaboration to create four convergence clusters: mobile health, biofuels, biomimicry, solar energy and energy storage.  Click here for the regional cleantech cluster database tracked by CleanTECH San Diego.

On April 25th one of the authors of the report, Mark Muro, will participate in a live web chat with moderator Vivyan Tran of POLITICO.  Click here to join in.

My only fault with the report is their narrow use of clean tech to mean clean energy technology.  In most common usage clean tech is more broadly defined to also include several non-energy technologies.  For example a non-energy technology which reduces the emission of Green House Gases (GHG) is clean tech for most of us as is the lengthy tech menu associated with clean air and water, recycling and a whole host of sustainable processes.

Click here to access Beyond Boom and Bust: Putting Clean Tech On a Path To Subsidy Independence.


PRESENTATION: 2012 California Greenhouse Gas Emissions Cap-and-Trade

On March 29 the Environmental Breakfast Club will present: 2012 California Greenhouse Gas Emissions Cap-and-Trade Implementation.

The program will provide a summary of AB32 Cap-and-Trade Requirements – the legal challenges and policy proceedings, an update on ARB Cap-and-Trade implementation options, the recent registration process for covered entities, and the schedule for additional compliance requirements for 2012 and beyond. You’ll also hear from experts Craig Anderson of Solar Turbines and Jackie Ferlita of Element Markets who will discuss compliance strategies such as:   

  • Benchmarking and free allocations  
  • Covered entities to reduce GHG emissions
  • Indirect impacts expected by the rule, such as higher electricity and water rates, and what companies can do to prepare to mitigate the impacts
  • The opt-in options 
  • Setting up compliance accounts  
  • The role of the carbon markets 
  • Compliance strategies for the first period 


Partner and Clean Tech Practice Group Leader

Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP 


BlueScape Environmental, Inc. 

Corporate Director of Environmental and Government   Affairs   

Solar Turbines    


Element Markets     

Thursday, March 29, 201    7:30 – 9:30 am
Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP 
525 B Street

First Floor Conference Center 
San Diego, CA 92101    

Please RSVP to:
Brittany Lewis at 619.525.3818

This event is complimentary to attend


Smart City San Diego Collaborates to Deliver Results

With a focus on the San Diego region’s job growth, smarter technology development, solar energy storage integration and increased electric vehicle infrastructure and deployment, Smart City San Diego is delivering results. The collaborative is made up of City of San Diego, GE, UC San Diego, CleanTECH San Diego and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E).  It formed to leverage each entity’s strengths to create and implement initiatives to improve the region’s energy independence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and assert San Diego as a clean energy leader.

“Over the past year, Smart City San Diego has been forward-thinking about creating opportunities for a more sustainable region,” said San Diego Mayor Sanders. “Moving into 2012, our collaborative will continue to build on those results and develop and launch even more initiatives to drive economic growth for our region.”

These results include:

Car2Go: The City of San Diego and SDG&E worked with Daimler’s Car2Go to make San Diego’s launch of its plug-in electric vehicle car sharing pilot a big success. The City continues to work with SDG&E to increase the number of public-access charging stations throughout the Car2Go targeted region. The team is working collectively to educate the community about the benefits of the pilot program and expects to increase public interest in electric vehicles and encourage the growth of the plug-in electric vehicle industry in San Diego. Data gained from Car2Go will provide information on where charging stations are most needed. Smart City San Diego also continues to work to streamline the permitting process for deploying charging stations.

Smart Appliances: SDG&E and GE are working together to test the communication links between GE’s smart appliances and SDG&E’s smart meters to ensure consumers are empowered with the best technologies to manage energy use and costs. GE’s Appliances business is supplying SDG&E with a smart dishwasher, washer and dryer along with a GE Nucleus energy manager and Programmable Control Thermostat to expedite the testing process. SDG&E’s team is currently testing the communication between these assets prior to consumer deployment.

Economic Development and Job Growth: CleanTECH San Diego – working with the City of San Diego, SDG&E, UC San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and its private sector member companies – is quantifying and categorizing regional clean tech companies that touch smart grid technology development. Categories include solar energy, energy storage, energy efficiency, clean transportation and other technology companies. CleanTECH San Diego has also created a baseline analysis of the direct and indirect economic impacts of the named clusters. This baseline analysis can help quantify year-over-year job growth and other economic impacts of the regional smart grid sector. This will be particularly helpful in measuring the economic impact of the over 180 solar companies and over 20 storage companies that call San Diego home.

Solar Integrated Energy Storage: UC San Diego and SDG&E have submitted a grant application to test, demonstrate and evaluate a variety of solar integrated energy storage projects over a 12 to 24 month period. If funded, this initiative will test multiple applications at multiple sites and provide analysis for the benefit of utilities, grid planners, regulators, solar inverter manufacturers, system integrators, business modelers, energy storage manufacturers and other early adopters. CleanTECH San Diego supports this initiative as part of efforts to advance the region as an Innovation Hub (IHub).  In August 2010, the California Governor’s Office of Economic Development designated the greater San Diego region as an IHub for solar energy storage.  The purpose of the IHub is to build on the region’s existing innovation infrastructure and strong culture of collaboration to accelerate the convergence of solar energy and energy storage.

Policy Leadership: In July 2010, Smart City San Diego hosted California Public Utilities Commissioner Mark Ferron for a day long briefing on San Diego’s smart grid initiatives.  The Commissioner met with industry representatives from the solar, energy efficiency, smart grid and technology sectors and toured UC San Diego’s world renowned microgrid.  The collaborative held a roundtable with the Commissioner to brief him on the vision and work of Smart City San Diego.

Solar Decathlon 2013 Finalist: The City of San Diego and UC San Diego worked with the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon Committee to make San Diego one of two finalists for the location of the 2013 Solar Decathlon. The event promotes the outreach, education, and economic benefits of energy security, renewable energy and energy efficiency.  If early projections bear out, attendance at the event has the potential to be larger than the San Diego Convention Center’s highest attended conference and create a positive economic impact for the region.

Economic Development and Job Growth: GE worked with CleanTech San Diego and SDG&E to host a GE Sourcing Supplier Diversity event for the first time in San Diego.  Over 50 diverse local suppliers participated in one-on-one sessions with GE buyers to learn how best to work with GE and be considered for future projects.

“GE is proud to bring our grid modernization technology and expertise to Smart City San Diego,” said Mark Hura, global smart grid commercial Leader for GE’s Digital Energy business.  ”An efficient, reliable and sustainable electric infrastructure is essential to powering economic growth and supporting business, industry and the dynamic lifestyles of a skilled workforce.  We applaud all the successes over the past year and look forward to many more to come.”

Formed in January 2011, Smart City San Diego was charged with bringing together leading organizations from government, business, education and non-profit to maximize synergies to drive sustainability programs forward, identify new opportunities, embrace additional collaborators, and move the San Diego region beyond today’s boundaries of sustainability.  This model will be able to be duplicated in other regions.

The collaborative leverages its strengths and resources as a partnership to develop and implement local initiatives that will empower consumers, improve environmental quality, drive economic growth, and reduce the San Diego region’s reliance on oil.  The collaborative is working toward a more consumer-focused, environmentally conscious energy future by addressing San Diegan’s 21st century energy needs.

Click here for the Smart City San Diego website


VIDEO: The UC San Diego microgrid; a living laboratory

A microgrid is a localized grouping of electricity generation, energy storage, and loads that normally operate connected to a traditional centralized grid.  The microgrid at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) is one of the best examples of an electricity network that provides local control yet is interconnected with the larger electricity grid.

Recently the Rocky Mountain Institute visited UCSD to study and document the microgrid that controls and integrates electricity supply and demand on the campus.  One result of their visit was a six minute video that spotlights the groundbreaking work being done on the La Jolla campus

At UCSD, the microgrid provides the ability to manage 42 megawatts of generating capacity, including a central cogeneration plant, an array of solar photovoltaic installations and a fuel cell that operates on natural gas reclaimed from a landfill site. The central microgrid control allows operators to manage the diverse portfolio of energy generation and storage resources on the campus to minimize costs. In addition, the campus can “island” from the larger grid to maintain power supply in an emergency, as in the case of the power blackout that struck parts of Southern California, Arizona and Mexico in September 2011.

The microgrid at UCSD provides a living laboratory to experiment with integration and management of local resources and to optimize the use of these resources in interaction with market signals from the larger grid.

Click here to watch the video.

Articles of Interest
Solar forecasting and microgrids
Understanding the Role of Buildings
UC San Diego is a campus-wide living laboratory for sustainable energy


GUEST AUTHOR: Can Tides Turn the Tide?

Tom Murphy is an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego.  His blog, Do the Math, takes an astrophysicist’s-eye view of societal issues relating to energy production, climate change, and economic growth.

Now is the time on Do the Math when we scan the energy landscape for viable alternatives to fossil fuels. In this post, we’ll look at tidal power, which is virtually inexhaustible on relevant timescales, is less intermittent than solar/wind (although still variable), and uses old-hat technology to make electricity. For this exercise, we mainly care about the scale at which the alternatives can contribute, leaving practical and economic considerations sitting in the cold for a bit (spoiler alert: most are hard and expensive). Last week, we looked at solar and wind, finding that solar can satisfy our current demand without batting an eyelash, and that wind can be a serious contributor, although apparently incapable of carrying the load on its own. Thus we put solar in the “abundant” box and wind in the “useful” box. There’s an empty box labeled “waste of time.” Any guesses where I’m going to put tidal power? Don’t get upset yet.

Continue Reading >


Grid research by MIT is a “must read” for San Diego

The Future of the Electric Grid was published this week by the MIT Energy Initiative.  The 268 page report aims to provide a comprehensive, objective portrait of the U.S. electric grid and the challenges and opportunities it is likely to face over the next two decades.  It also highlights a number of areas in which policy changes, focused research and demonstration, and the collection and sharing of important data can facilitate meeting the challenges and seizing the opportunities that the grid will face.  The report shows that with new policies, the electric grid in the United States could handle the expected influx of electric cars and wind and solar generation.

Much of the report relates directly to developments in the San Diego region.  Chapter 5 is about The Impact of Distributed Generation and Electric Vehicles.  Chapter 8: Utility Regulation touches on the current challenge in San Diego to have a rate structure for distributed generation which is equitable for all parties.

(From page 182 of the report), “The distortions caused by these implicit subsidies rise with the penetration of distributed generation and with energy conservation more generally.  Consider, for example, proposed “zero net energy” buildings: if network costs continue to be recovered on a per-kWh basis, these customers could in theory receive all the benefits of being connected to the grid, drawing and injecting power on demand, while paying little or nothing toward the cost of the system or the option to use the network.”  Of course, the opposite side of the issue is also compelling.

Click here for the complete report and here for the abstract.

The multidisciplinary effort of the MIT Energy Initiative to generate The Future of the Electric Grid included economists, engineers and, of course, graduate students from MIT and from without.  Click here for an excellent video of the introductory presentation by the study c-chairs of the report. 

The last two sections of the report include a useful Glossary plus a list of Acronyms and Abbreviations.


GUEST AUTHOR: California Is Making History by Leveling Its Demand Curve

SIERRA MARTINEZ is an energy attorney and analyst in the San Francisco office of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Clean Energy Efficiency Continues To Displace Expensive Dirty Power Plants

Some skeptics of energy efficiency claim that energy efficiency never really avoids the need for new power plants.  They claim that energy efficiency might reduce our energy consumption in theory, but not in practice.  Well, the good news is that there’s new evidence from the California Public Utilities Commission showing that energy efficiency is actually displacing the need to build power plants.  So much power is being saved, in fact, that California is embarking on a historic path: Instead of increasing the total amount of electricity we use, which has been the general trend since Edison’s time, energy efficiency will reduce the total demand for electricity.  (This efficiency will also provide a significant boost to economic growth, I might add.)  In the graphic below, you can see that energy efficiency is actually bending the demand curve downward. 
              Electricity Demand in California ISO From 2008 to 2020[1]

California is in the process of determining how many power plants it should allow private utilities to build over the next decade.  The Public Utilities Commission analyzes how much energy California is expected to consume over the next decade, and (more…)


California dominates ranking of top cleantech companies worldwide

Cleantech companies in San Diego continue to receive global recognition as innovators.  On Wednesday Cleantech Group LLC (not to be confused with CleanTECH San Diego) announced their 2011 Global Cleantech 100.  From our region the honorees were Genomatica, On-Ramp Wireless and Synthetic Genomics.  There are 58 U.S. companies on the list with California way in front with an impressive 36.  In all, 16 countries were represented.

The rigorous selection process began with a long list of 4,274 nominated companies.  The expert panel was made up of 70 individuals drawn principally from leading cleantech investors from around the world. 

The leading cleantech sub-sector was Energy Efficiency with 19 companies.  This was followed by Solar (14), Water & Wastewater (12), Energy Storage (10) and Biofuels & Biomaterials (9). 

Click here to read the 32 page report. 


UC San Diego is a campus-wide living laboratory for sustainable energy

Last week I attended Procopio’s Environmental Breakfast Club held on the UC San Diego campus.  Under John Lormon’s direction the speakers began with some comments about the differences between smartgrid and microgridByron Washom, Director of Strategic Energy Initiatives, UC San Diego gave an update on the status of the sophisticated microgrid being built on the ever-expanding seaside campus.  Much has been accomplished with more to come.  The UC San Diego system demonstrates the advantages of an intelligent energy system designed for increased efficiency, security and sustainability.  Environmental sustainability at UC San Diego is a real-world learning experience serving the dual purposes of advancing the base of knowledge and saving the university millions of dollars in operating expenses. 

About the UCSD microgrid Forbes magazine said, “First light for what the new smart grid architecture will look like is already visible”.  It is an integral part of a much larger campus community effort.  Click to learn about Sustainability 2.0, A Living Laboratory.  Click here for Byron Washom’s presentation, Local Impact, National Influence, Global Reach

My favorite educational experience has always been show and tell.  We were treated to a tour of the campus for a first-hand look at the key components of the evolving energy system.  On the very day we were there the largest full cell on any college campus was being activated for the first time.  Manufactured by FuelCell Energy, Inc., the 2.8-megawatt fuel cell will provide about 8% of UC San Diego’s total energy needs.  In conjunction with the City of San Diego and Encinitas-based BioFuels Energy, the renewable-energy project will turn waste methane gas from the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant directly into electricity without combustion.

Directly opposite the site of the huge fuel cell are two impressively large solar arrays designed and fabricated by Soitec and installed on the campus for evaluation.  The first solar installation was a progressive step which led to San Diego Gas & Electric signing contracts with Soitec for 125 megawatts of solar power.  The second is the fifth generation of Soitec’s concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) system which will generate about five times more electricity with a fractionally larger footprint. 

The new system consists of 12 CPV modules, each generating more than 2 kW of peak power.  For this new product, Soitec has reconfigured its Concentrix modules to reduce the number of parts per CPV system, making installation in the field simpler and faster.  By leveraging the field-proven CPV cells, high concentration ratio and silicone-on-glass Fresnel lens construction used in previous generations of Concentrix products, the new system delivers the same high reliability and life expectancy.

Soitec’s two-axis-tracking CPV systems are well suited for installation sites with high direct solar radiation.  The systems produce a high, constant power output curve throughout the day and are able to match peak-load demands.

Soitec has begun shipping demonstration units to project sites.  Plans call for volume production to ramp in the first quarter of 2012 at the company’s manufacturing facility in Freiburg, Germany, and later at Soitec’s planned new factory in San Diego.

The last photo is of the partially completed, fifth generation Soitec CPV system on the UC San Diego campus as of October 12, 2011.



Signs of Renewable Energy on the River

Over the Fourth of July weekend while I was in Ohio for a family get-together I had the thrill of seeing a barge of wind turbine towers being towed up the Ohio River at Ripley, OH.  Where they came from and where they went remains a mystery to me.

About 200 miles up-river from Ripley, construction has begun on a new hydroelectric power plant in St. Marys, WV.  Previously I was under the impression that we had seen the last of new hydroelectric facilities in the U.S.  Most of the good sites for hydro plants have been taken.  Under current environmental and seismic regulations most of the hydroelectric dams constructed in the last century could not be built today.  Environmental groups have opposed hydroelectric projects that put new dams on bodies of water.  However, 350MW of new “run-of-the-river” hydroelectric generation plants will be built on the Ohio River to harness the energy of water flowing over existing dams.  Since no new dams or reservoirs are required the usual impediments to project development are side-stepped.  Click here for the full report.

Facing Kentucky, Ripley, OH is a one hour drive up-river from Cincinnati.  The town was an early stop on the Underground Railroad, a network of citizens helping slaves escape north to freedom. A number of prominent abolitionists lived in the town in the 1800s, mainly on Front Street near the river.  My sister and her husband have restored the Thomas Collins house which served as a hiding place for slaves escaping to Canada.  The character Eliza in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was inspired by a slave woman who crossed the frozen river to Ripley in 1838.


X Prize Foundation: Which incentive prize to drive cleantech?

On Friday Dr. Peter Diamandis, founder and CEO of the X Prize Foundation, was the keynote speaker for the annual venture summit of the San Diego Venture Group.  This was my second opportunity to hear the dynamic Diamandis present.  His work is focused outside the box, but not so far as to be non-productive; in summary, “audacious yet achievable”.

The X PRIZE Foundation is the leading nonprofit organization solving the world’s Grand Challenges by creating and managing large-scale, high-profile, incentivized prize competitions that stimulate investment in R&D worth far more than the prize itself.  The first two X Prize competitions awarded $20 million to the winners.  In May the X PRIZE Foundation announced that they would collaborate with Qualcomm Incorporated to design the Tricorder X PRIZE, a $10 million prize to develop a mobile solution that can diagnose patients better than or equal to a panel of board certified physicians.

In addition to active X Prize competitions there are others which are in development waiting funding or under consideration including several in the category of Energy & Environment.  The X Prize website lists a dozen “audacious yet achievable” topics for consideration.  (click to link)

In particular I am intrigued with Carbon Utilization and Solar Pavement.

Carbon Utilization

We recycle aluminum, glass, paper, plastic, and yard waste – why not carbon? As of now, no company has successfully commercialized a carbon utilization technology. Current government funding is narrowly focused on ultra-expensive geologic sequestration, which treats carbon as a liability, with virtually no attention to utilization technologies, which treat carbon as an asset. A Carbon Utilization competition crosses political boundaries and environmental ideologies by finding profit in reducing emissions through technological solutions. The goal would be to develop radical new technologies that solve the global carbon challenge by recycling CO2 into brilliant new products. The winning team must create a system that cost-effectively transforms carbon emissions from coal-based power plants into beneficial products. This must be accomplished while maintaining energy producers’ ability to provide reliable cost-effective “base load” power to their customers, including those below the poverty level.

Solar Pavement

While nearly 3% of US land area is covered by pavement, it provides no benefit other than surface structure. A significant impact could be achieved if it were made to also produce power. The goal of the Solar Pavement competition will be to turn blacktop surfaces into photovoltaic power generation sources. The winner will be the first team to convert a one acre parking lot surface into a generator that can produce a peak power output of 50kW of solar energy.


Environmental Defense Fund works with San Diego G&E on smart grid report card

SACRAMENTO, Calif., June 6, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today released a framework to critically evaluate how effective California public utilities’ plans to upgrade the state’s outdated electricity network into a digital smart grid will be at delivering environmental and consumer benefits. The California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) approved a roadmap last June based on the provisions of state law SB 17.  It requires that utility smart grid investments help California meet its climate change, demand-side management and renewable energy goals.

EDF played a key role in shaping the CPUC guidelines, which the state’s three investor-owned utilities (IOUs) are required to use in designing and deploying their smart grids.  With 20 million customers among them, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE) are the largest utilities in California. Plans are due to the CPUC by July 1st and EDF will score them in mid-to-late July.

In addition to developing this ‘report card,’ EDF worked with SDG&E on its plan—also being released today—to ensure that, among other things, its smart grid:

  1. Empowers customers to save energy and money;
  2. Enables integration of large- and small-scale renewable energy projects to meet the state’s 33 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard and distributed generation goals; and
  3. Incentivizes electric vehicles to charge when electricity is cheaper and cleaner.

EDF also is advising PG&E and will use the framework to score all three utilities’ plans with (more…)


San Diego’s massive transportation plan: Now to 2050

On Tuesday I attended the San Diego Regional Smart Grid Working Group Stakeholder MeetingOrganized by CleanTECH San Diego, the meeting reviewed San Diego’s leadership position in integrating Plug-In Electric Vehicles (PEV) into the grid.  With over 2,000 PEVs (primarily Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt) scheduled to hit San Diego streets this year alone, there is much to do to create an effective infrastructure to handle what will soon be a substantially larger base of electric transportation.  Included on the “to do” list is the construction of 1,400 non-residential PEV chargers.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there” is frequently included in the preamble of major planning projects.  Muggs Stoll of SANDAG presented an overview of San Diego’s 2050 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP).  SANDAG is the first regional planning agency in California to integrate Green House Gas (GHG) reduction targets and PEVs in its regional plan.  On Friday the SANDAG Board of Directors released the Draft 2050 RTP and its Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS). The release of the Draft 2050 RTP begins the public comment period which will extend through June 30, 2011.

Click to link to the 2050 Regional Transportation PlanIt is a hefty 313 pages and over 50 mb if you download the PDF as one file.  SANDAG has created a three-minute video entitled “Our Region. Our Future.” about the 2050 RTP.


CA Proposition 23 and the National Clean Energy Dialogue

By Guest Author Lee Barken, CPA, LEED-AP

Tom Steyer has a vision for a national dialogue about energy production and consumption.  At the 2011 gathering of the Cleantech Investor Summit in Palm Springs, California, Steyer shared his perspective on the defeat of Proposition 23, along with how that outcome can inform the national conversation on clean energy issues.

Steyer is an unlikely spokesperson in the clean energy movement.  As the founder and co-managing partner of Farallon Capital Management, he has built a career around institutional investing for schools, foundations and high-net-wealth individuals.

“I have been a professional investor for the last 30 years, not having to do with clean energy,” said Steyer.  “When Prop 23 was proposed, I assumed that I would do absolutely nothing.  When everyone else took the exact same (more…)


Return of the T-RECs: Back from Extinction, Part Two


Nearly a year ago, I wrote about the unanimous decision of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to allow Tradable Renewable Energy Credits (T-RECs) in California.  If you’re not familiar with a T-REC, it is, quite simply, an environmental commodity representing the environmental attributes associated with one MegaWatt hour of renewable energy generation.

According to the CPUC, under the new rules, T-RECs “can be purchased by a utility and traded separately from the underlying energy produced by a renewable generating facility.  These energy credits can then be applied, by the utility, toward their renewable energy compliance goals.”

Within days of last year’s March 11 decision, a flurry of (more…)


Feed-in Tariffs Take Center Stage at AREDAY 2010 Renewable Energy Conference

By GUEST AUTHOR Lee Barken, IT practice leader at Haskell & White, LLP

Among the critical topics presented by industry luminaries at this year’s American Renewable Energy Day (AREDAY) summit in Aspen, Colorado, the theme of financing emerged as a significant roadblock to renewable energy development.  One of the policy mechanisms, the Feed-in Tariff (FIT), was comprehensively analyzed by Craig Lewis, founder of the FIT Coalition.

“The FIT coalition is focused on identifying best policy practices from around the world for scaling cost-effective renewable energy in a timely fashion and bringing those policy mechanisms to the U.S.,” said Lewis.

A Feed-in Tariff is a contract that guarantees three critical elements for project developers:  1. A fixed price payment (typically a prescribed cents per kilowatt hour rate).  2. An interconnect agreement to provide access to the grid.  3.  A long term contract length (typically 20 years). 

Global Interest

In other words, a Feed-in Tariff is like a pre-approved, pre-defined Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with a utility company.  The mechanism has been wildly popular around the world and has driven much of the growth in Germany, Spain and other leading solar markets.

“86 percent of solar PV that was deployed in the world in 2009 was driven by a Feed-in Tariff,” said Lewis.  “We would not have a solar industry if we did not have a Feed-in Tariff.”

Price Considerations

The success of any Feed-in Tariff is based on setting an appropriate price and making adjustments to the program over time.  “We have to set the price at a level where you actually attract development.  Otherwise, you’re not going to have any projects,” said Lewis.  “You also have to make sure that a FIT is fair to the utility, or purchasing (more…)


Externalized costs: Beyond apples to oranges

Coal is cheap.  Coal mine disasters are not.  In West Virginia on April 5th, the worst U.S. coal mining accident in 40 years came at the cost of 29 lives.  Fifteen days later the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded and caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico.  Eleven lives were lost.  Oil rig disasters are not cheap.  In fact, lives are lost in the process of us enjoying most every economic aspect of our lives whether it is the construction of a high-rise or trucking toys to Wal-Mart. This is a dramatic way of saying that the all-in cost of every economic event is greater than the financial cost paid directly by the user. 

The cost paid by the user plus the externalized costs equals the all-in cost.  If you were to ask the residents of the Montcoal, WV, the all-in cost of coal is about $50 per ton plus the loss of their husbands, sons and fathers.  For a Louisiana shrimper the all-in cost of oil is $80 per barrel plus the loss of his income for years. 

There are externalized costs associated with every source of energy whether it is coal or solar, wind or oil, nuclear or cow dung.  The only universal reducer of externalized costs is “to consume less energy” either through energy efficiency or frugality.  As a society we will be better able to make rational decisions about energy production and use if we have a clearer vision of the externalized costs associated with the various sources of energy.

I am at odds with the climate change deniers and with the strict environmentalists.  However, I would no more attempt to change them than I would try to persuade a Red Sox fan or a Yankees fan to switch allegiance to their rival.  It just isn’t going to happen.  What the Bostonian and New Yorker have in common is their love of the game.  What I share with the climate change deniers and the strict environmentalists is a belief that there are consequences to our choices of energy sources.  Clearer information about the externalized costs of all the energy options will bring all parties closer together. 

To climate change deniers I say that it is not inconsistent for them to maintain their skepticism while at the same time embrace those changes which will encourage the shift away from fossil fuels.  Let’s give everyone the information to make decisions on an apples-to-apples (more…)


Energy Storage is the new plastics

The Graduate.  It’s 1967 and Ben Braddock gets career advice.

graduate-plasticsMr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you.  Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?

Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Dustin Hoffman as Ben spent the rest of the movie being distracted by the archetypical cougar and never got around to seeking gainful employment.  A current-day sequel would find a 65 year-old Ben advising his grandson to seek his fame and fortune in the ripe opportunity of energy storage. 

The certainty of long-term expansion of energy storage as an industry segment is driven by huge needs which exist on both the supply and demand side of the equation.  Giant utility companies are mandated to dramatically increase the production of electrical power from alternative sources of energy.  The two largest sources, solar and wind, share the problem of intermittency.  Unlike coal and natural gas generated power, solar and wind have an uneven output which is to varying degrees challenging to forecast.  Until recently this was of manageable consequence for most utilities because wind and solar were a small percentage of their total input.  But what happens when these uneven sources move towards 20% as mandated in California?  For many utilities the peaks of need are satisfied by natural gas “peaker plants” which are fired up to meet demand on the electric grid.  During periods of low demand wind turbines can be idled to avoid excess power into the grid.  Both of these alternatives underutilize the production capacity of the capital equipment.  With efficient energy storage a higher portion of power produced can be utilized and production capacity can be designed to more closely approximate average demand rather than peak demand.  Just these two important needs present a life-time of opportunity for the development of energy storage. 

Ben Braddock’s grandson will also find a target rich environment of opportunities for energy storage on the demand side of electrical consumption.  As smart grids are installed, electrical utilities will be able to flatten out consumption using technology to influence consumption behaviors via pricing and information.  The Nissan Leaf automobile in our garages will be used as a reserve of electrical power to be sold back to the utility.  Excess electricity from PV solar panels on the roofs of our homes will flow into energy storage for future use or to sell into the grid.  Energy storage systems in cars, homes, businesses, substations and in the field become a stabilizing buffer to smooth out the variations of both production and consumption.  It’s a business proposition as compelling as plastics were 43 years ago.

Energy storage systems are as big as Lake Meade and as small as a AAA battery.  Included are:

Pumped-storage hydroelectricity
Superconducting magnetic energy storage
Flow batteries
Conventional batteries (e.g. rechargeable electricity storage system)
Gas holder
Grid energy storage
Fuel cell and hydrogen technology
Gravitational mass
Capacitors (e.g. rechargeable electricity storage system)
Electromagnetic mass
Thermal energy storage
Solar chimney
Compressed fluids (e.g. compressed air)
Vacuum storage (in rush generation technology)

CleanTECH San Diego’s database of cleantech companies lists nine companies in the energy storage sector.  Sempra has stated their interest in compressed air as a large capacity energy storage system for wind and solar.  San Diego is one of only five cities in the U.S. selected to participate in the EV Project.  1000 Nissan Leaf automobiles owned by San Diego business and individuals will be driven and monitored in the best possible test lab, the real world.  Maxwell Technologies is a leading producer of ultracapacitors and power systems for consumer and industrial electronics, transportation, telecommunications, and electricity generation industries.

The wealth of opportunity in energy storage which young Ben Braddock III faces is supported by a simple but enormous truth.  The amount of electricity produced by any utility is substantially greater than what is ultimately consumed.  Some is lost in transmission.  A greater amount is wasted because of the mismatch in time of supply and demand.  Energy storage addresses the mismatch.  As the cost of electricity escalates the economic advantage of “waste not” becomes more compelling.

There are frequent meetings in San Diego about smart grid, smart meters, energy storage, etc.  On April 22nd the San Diego EDC and CleanTECH San Diego will present, Earth Day Brilliance Found in Smart Meter Opportunities.  Click here for details.


T-RECs Invade California Energy Market

To meet renewable goals, California utilities can buy power from Arizona households. It’s a new ball game.

By GUEST AUTHOR Lee Barken, IT practice leader at Haskell & White, LLP

Barken T-RECSTo meet their renewable standards, California utilities are now able to look outside the state. What happens next should be interesting.

California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) mandates minimum renewable energy thresholds in a utility company’s electricity mix. In California, that minimum is 20% by the end of 2010. Utilities can obtain a three-year extension, and most will ask for that, but 2010 is still the official deadline.

Why an RPS?

According to the Public Utilities Code, Section 399.11, an increase in renewable resources “may promote stable electricity prices, protect public health, improve environmental quality, stimulate sustainable economic development, create new employment opportunities, and reduce reliance on imported fuels.”

However, these lofty goals overlooked one important element: execution.  Drafting a law mandating a 20% renewable mix doesn’t (more…)


Climate & Energy Law in San Diego

USD LogoCritical to the success of any regional technology cluster is the presence of an engaged legal community.  The rapidly expanding roster of clean technology companies in San Diego has the benefit of a strong base of intellectual property legal talent which has served our life science and high tech hubs for more than a generation.  Like every other aspect of local technology advancement, our institutions of higher education have provided intellectual stimulus.  Recently the University of San Diego School of Law began publication of the San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law.  This is the first academic law journal in (more…)