What's in the Name IRESN?

Why are we changing our name from Cal-IRES to the IRES Network, or IRESN?

A practical reason is the name California Integrated Renewable Energy Systems (aka Cal-IRES) in some sense belongs to our former sponsors, the California Energy Commission and UC Davis. More importantly, our emphasis is shifting in subtle but important ways.  We were part of an academic research center, i.e. the California Renewable Energy Center (CREC).  The CREC program was organized around traditional research boundaries, e.g. wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal.  Cal-IRES was launched to address the ways in which these groupings relate in the energy market.

Integrated planning and operation of energy systems is not a new idea.  Ironically, it was more easily and (arguably) better accomplished in the past than in the present.  For example, electric utilities invested to create an economically balanced mix of generation resources.  The individual economic attributes of these resources were complementary.  High capital cost, low fuel cost base load plants (e.g. coal and nuclear) provided the majority of the energy.  They were complemented by plants that cost less per unit of capacity and consumed higher cost fuel (e.g. combined and simple cycle plant burning natural gas).  Plants and transmission links were located to give the franchise area grid a highly reliable carrying capacity.  All proposed generation and transmission projects were selected according to a goal of minimizing overall cost of delivered energy.

As the pace of demand growth slowed, regulatory emphasis shifted from planning generation expansion to creating competitive pressures that would moderate increases in “rates” paid by energy consumers.  Integration of electricity systems became the responsibility of new regulatory entities focused on transmission system operations.  Utilities and their economic regulators turned their attention to implementing an increasingly complex set of policies targeting end use efficiency while accommodating public preferences regarding energy supply and delivery projects and their public impacts.

For better or worse, integrated renewable energy systems will not be an outcome of market regulation at the national and state levels.  Some recent studies have pointed to the plausibility of primary reliance on renewable sources for electricity at the national and international levels. However, the path to an integrated renewable energy system serving California, to say nothing of the entire US would require integration across formidable technology, economic, financial and political boundaries.

Let’s just say it:  Full and broad geographic energy system integration is already realistically unimaginable.  Further, the trends are not encouraging.  It is more likely to be achieved as an outcome of forces compelling integration at more manageable scale, e.g. at the community level. A significant aggregated effect of better integration at this level is at least plausible, especially considering the diverse transformative and even disruptive energy technologies that are rapidly gaining a foothold.  They include solar electricity, electric and hybrid vehicles, real time energy usage information, and automated, interactive building energy systems.

So, we’ve chosen to shift our attention to the community level of integration, where alignments of local resource opportunities, humanistic technologies, political will, economic interests, inter-generational investment goals, and political will are at least imaginable.  Integrated Resources Enabling Sustainability is a shared interest of an increasing number of cities, counties and communities world-wide, certainly including many in northern California.  Effective networking to advance this interest is the mission of The IRES Network.

-- Gerry Braun

©2012 The IRES Network