When IRESN took up the topic of “integrated renewable energy systems” a decade ago, we imagined an expanding renewable integration challenge driven by community-scale and building-scale renewable energy systems as well by utility-scale power plants. Now new technologies are changing what we imagined into a real and urgent challenge. The figure summarizes vectors of energy sector change that are already in effect. Collaborative planning will need to be local as well as regional.
It is time to recognize that a successful transition to a future decarbonized and more secure and resilient local infrastructure can’t be done at the state level or in silos at any level. It will depend on the expertise and capacities of both natural gas and electric utilities and their collaboration with counties and cities if it is to proceed as the fastest possible pace.
Natural gas utility collaboration with cities and counties must receive policy attention at least comparable to collaboration involving electric utilities. Current levels of reliability and resilience provided by natural gas utilities must carry forward continuously as hydrogen emerges as an enabler of the energy sector transition of the 21st Century.
In case you missed it, collaboration is in vogue these days, despite, or perhaps because of, partisan divides.
Collaboration among public institutions is essential when change is required. Especially when the institutions are mutually dependent. For example, if counties and cities encourage the adoption of new technologies that use or produce energy locally, planning and delivery of energy utility services is affected. If energy utilities offer programs that engage their customers in changing the energy infrastructure inside buildings or vehicles, local governments must account for these changes in their code enforcement, project permitting, and non-energy infrastructure planning and maintenance activities.
What’s seems to move the local carbon footprint needle best and fastest is the cumulative effect of a lot of individual decisions US families and businesses are mostly free to make. At a minimum they require good credit and modest, prudent initiative. Local governments and energy utilities can make such decisions easier or harder. Easier if they collaborate. Much harder if they don’t. What would local energy collaboration look like if it became the norm across the US? To read more, click here.
A year ago, IRESN launched a project to identify state policies that would kick-start purposeful city/utility collaboration. Project advisors pointed out the crucial role counties could play. So, the project title changed to “local energy collaboration”. The Local Energy Collaboration Project illuminated ten target areas for collaboration, plus some preliminary policy ideas for consideration by states, energy utilities, counties and cities. A draft report is under review. For the executive summary, click here. For the full draft report, click here. For a webinar and slide deck covering the high points, click here and here.
Integrated Energy Policy. We plan to complete the report review process while reaching out to states. Our first state outreach step was to comment on the scope of California’s Integrated Energy Policy Report. To read more, click here.
What is the best mix of locally generated and imported energy from the perspectives of cost and resilience? The answer will be different for every community. Should we wait for the long-promised “smart electricity grid”? Or should our counties and cities take up the task of making local infrastructure not only smart but technically and economically well-integrated? If so, they will be wise to collaborate with incumbent energy utilities. And with local families and businesses as well.
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.