The brilliant scientists who created nuclear weapons were appalled by what they had made possible. Nuclear war. During the Cold War, they saw humanity inching steadily toward self-annihilation. They started a movement among themselves to lobby for nuclear sanity. They used the image of a clock showing minutes to midnight to make plain the imminence of existential risk. It was on the cover of every issue of their monthly magazine, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The minute hand moved back a bit when disarmament negotiations showed progress. It moved forward when tensions rose, or nuclear sabers rattled. We called it the Doomsday Clock. Clearly, humanity was in uncharted territory, master of its own fate and hostage to its worst instincts.
As the energy sector in the US decentralizes, decarbonizes, democratizes, demonopolizes and digitizes, city/utility collaboration will pay huge dividends. But there is not yet strong, explicit policy support for it in most states. State legislatures and agencies have close relationships with state regulated utilities and local jurisdictions. So, state policy may be the key. States have the necessary relationships and authorities to set expectations and conditions for city/utility collaboration.
IRESN's project to inform state policy on the topic is progressing and on track to provide initial recommendations in early 2019. To read more, click here.
There is anecdotal evidence of the need for collaboration. For proponents of local clean energy resources there is an even more basic question. Why energy resources that are both clean and local? The case is compelling.
Simply put, local¹ clean energy resources are happening, unevenly around the world, mostly, except for California, outside the US. They come in many sizes. So do utilities. So do cities. Maybe we need a common denominator if we are to connect dots more strategically and less anecdotally.
In an era of big data, the trade-off between local economic optimization and utility system-wide optimization can be readily informed by data-driven economic analysis. There is no motivation to do the analysis now because no adjustments are possible. But if local energy franchise agreements were mandated by the state to consider the possibility of city/utility collaboration on local economic and carbon footprint reduction goals, the parties would be motivated to engage.
In California, state regulators are starting to assert jurisdiction over Community Choice business planning, citing the need for consistency between the supply plans of all energy service providers. Does this solve a real, on-going problem?
(The following article is based on a presentation by Gerry Braun at the California CCA Forum in Los Angeles California on May 19, 2015)
Decentralized energy technologies will transform the electricity sector over the next couple decades. Community choice aggregators (CCAs) can be leading agents of the transformation to the extent they push for, and secure, the freedom to transform themselves. The extent to which they evolve to take a more and more integrative role may determine whether local clean energy resources are developed or held back.
States lacks the capacity to account for decisive and locally specific factors affecting on-site and community based energy supply. Meanwhile increasing numbers of local jurisdictions are aiming for sustainability and resiliency in their goals and plans. In order to follow through they must have policies and programs in place that are responsive to on-the-ground energy trends and opportunities in their communities.
Net zero building retrofits were identified in a Cal-IRES report as a key element of a renewable energy roadmap for Davis, California. In the past year I’ve had opportunities to smoke the devil out of the details of this vision. I purchased a PV system for our home, negotiated a solar electricity power purchase agreement for our church, and worked with a few like-minded colleagues to advocate for applying net zero as a standard for a new residential development in the city. In parallel, in the 2013 legislative session our state senator, Lois Wolk, successfully carried legislation that carved out 20MW for the city in a bill that mandates 600MW of "solar gardens" state-wide.
People who want change have two options, and the “obvious” one gets a lot of attention. If you see a big problem and its bothering you, it’s natural (obvious is probably not the right word) to hope or want a powerful organization to use its capacity to solve it. This rarely works, because big organizations, including and especially our national and state governments, already have plenty of problems to work on. They already outsource most of their problems to smaller organizations.
The classical planning view would be that in an electric generation mix, higher capital cost/ lower fuel cost generators and higher fuel cost/ lower capital cost generators complement one another, resulting in a least cost generation mix. There are also other complementarities, e.g. overlapping science and technology needs (think enhanced geothermal and natural gas fracking). Likewise, there is a potential at least for shared infrastructure (think injection of bio-methane and later hydrogen from renewable sources into gas pipelines and distribution systems).
Ten years ago, Susan Davis introduced me to the notion of “both…and”, aka “both/and”. It may be a measure of cultural imprinting, or a slow paced intellect, that it took me some time to fully grasp the full meaning. “Both, and…” is another way of saying, “You are both right”, an observation Solarex CEO, Harvey Forest, was fond of making in the midst of heated debates among his management team members. But it goes further. It is essentially a call to integrate, not differentiate. And wouldn’t it be a relief just now if our Congress started to do a little more integrating and a little less differentiating.
The road to hell is paved, not only with good intentions, but also bad choices. Choices have consequences which require further choices. Getting it right once is easier than getting it right consistently and continuously, especially when the definition of “right” is shaped by changing circumstances. That's why so many businesses fail and so few survive over the long term. It’s not that the ones that failed didn’t plan. It is one thing to make a plan. It is another to execute the plan. When the planning and operational execution processes are decoupled, as they often are, eventual failure is almost assured. It is one thing to plan incremental product line changes and cost saving measures. It is another to anticipate and effectively prepare for longer term market shifts and competitive threats…especially when the related investments pay out over decades rather than years….