European and Global Clean Local Energy Leadership

Europe is changing its energy service game to enable both local climate action and collaboration.  Meanwhile, NGOs and energy consultants in Europe and the US are stepping up to the task of collecting and disseminating program statistics and organizing them according to program goals and project types. 

Renewable Energy Communities.  Are 21st century energy utilities natural monopolies, public service providers, enablers of community renewable energy, or all the above?  We think all the above. 

The EU seems to agree.  Thanks to game-changing legislation, i.e. the revised Renewable Energy Directive (REDII), agreed by the EU in 2018, citizens and energy communities across the EU now have a number of guarantees that ensure they are able to invest in renewables and benefit from the transition to renewable energy.  REDII acknowledges that citizens and communities are stakeholders in the energy system; it contains a core set of enforceable rights to ensure that citizens are protected in investing in renewables. 

Once they are interpreted and incorporated in national legislation, these rights can empower local energy collaboration, with local governments able to consider various roles, from strategic advisors to project partners, infrastructure operators, etc.   Click here for what the new laws mean for people, and  click here for how European cities are enabled to support renewable energy communities as regulatory and policy enablers, project partners and facilitators and infrastructure operators.

Global Smart Renewable Cities.  Deloitte defines smart renewable cities (SRCs) as having a vision that integrates renewables and smart initiatives.  Chicago, San Diego and Los Angeles are among the 18 that qualify as SRCs.  The newest SRCs are greenfield smart city projects entirely powered with renewables. 

Deloitte sees renewable energy as the “linchpin of smart city and utility goals” in three categories, i.e. sustainability, economic growth and quality of life.  Click here for more detail on how renewable energy can contribute to smart city goals.  

Are US cities leading or following?  Of the 620+ global cities reporting to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), over 100 now get at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources such as hydro, geothermal, solar and wind.  Aspen, Burlington, Eugene and Seattle are the only US cities counted among the 100.  Looking ahead, importing renewable electricity is a smart start.  US cities and counties are adopting Community Choice in order to do so, but a more locally integrative approach will allow them to be smarter and more resilient.   

The US Clean Local Energy Eco-system.  Clean local energy in the US is advancing in the US, thanks to the work of diverse NGOs, experts and consultants highlighted in the following paragraphs.   

Resilient US Solar Communities.  Is there an update on resilient solar communities since we introduced topic in a 2017 webinar?  There is.  The USDOE’s SolSmart Program is providing technical assistance to communities across the U.S. to help facilitate solar development.  With support from SolSmart and the Solar Foundation, the Regulatory Assistance Project is addressing “collaborative planning for resilience” and “beneficial electrification”.  Carl Linvill’s webinar and slides on the topic of Resilient Counties outline a five step process for creating a collaborative implementation plan for approval by community and utility leaders.  Carl also summarizes “collaborative planning for resilience” results for counties in Colorado, New Mexico, and Illinois, as well as numerous renewable energy resilience micro-grid and micro-grid ready projects in New York, Utah and at Army, Navy and Marine Corps bases around the US. 

US Green Energy Cities.  Who is helping energy experts across the US learn from one another?  The Municipal Sustainability and Energy Forum has been in the lead.  MSEF is funded and informed by energy and sustainability experts.  They share their local energy and sustainability experience via conference calls and webinars.[1]   For example, Samuel Golding’s recent MSEF webinar summarized important initiatives for local energy collaboration underway in Minnesota and Colorado as well as utility-led local smart grid demonstration partnerships in Illinois, Utah, Oregon.  Sam also summarized Lorenzo Kristov’s Advanced Community Energy vision, which Barry Vesser of the Santa Rosa, California based Climate Protection Campaign has targeted for California legislative action in 2020.   

Energy Resilient US Communities.  Clean energy supply projects are the keystone species of local energy eco-systems.  What does energy resilience look like at the project level?  The Business Council for Sustainable Energy is a coalition of trade associations, corporations, and utilities working to advance market opportunities for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and natural gas.  BCSE recently posted a slide deck summarizing two dozen clean energy projects that upgrade the energy resilience of military bases, medical facilities and public safety, sheltering, and basic post-disaster services.  Utility engagement in the projects is primarily focused on numerous large fuel cell power or CHP plants in the US and Korea.  BCSE’s project list may be representative of an even larger collection of projects that do not involve BCSE corporate or utility members. 

US Clean Energy Colleges and Universities.  Who is leading the transition to 100% renewable energy on campus?  According to a recent Environment America Report, the answer may surprise.  You might expect to find the leaders in states that have strong commitments to renewable energy deployment.  But the base is much broader than that.  Small liberal arts colleges, large public universities and community colleges alike, from every corner of the U.S., are taking the lead in reducing energy consumption, deploying renewable energy technologies on campus, and switching to electric vehicles.  This is very good news for the advancement of local energy collaboration and resilience.  Experience being gained on campuses can be an invaluable assist to collaboration between local governments and large energy utilities, even in states that do not yet have strong commitments to renewable energy deployment. 

Author’s Perspective.  Resilient systems rely on diversity and interdependence.  US energy systems evolved to exploit diverse and robust supply portfolios.  As new supply options emerge and others are ruled out or phased out, it will be wise to keep diversity and robustness in mind.  This may require “both/and” policies, i.e. toward a vision of both zero carbon electricity and zero carbon gaseous fuels, and careful stewardship of capacities that support progress toward delivering both zero carbon fuels and zero carbon electricity.   

Likewise, a robust mix of local energy sources and imported energy sources will be the best goal in many cases.  If so, can all current stakeholders win in the transition to locally produced clean energy? 

They can, but some important and unprecedented trade-offs must be considered.  Some are as subtle as they are important.  They should be made locally because local constraints and opportunities vary so much.  Though they have a crucial long term role, today’s centrally planned and operated energy systems and services are already inequitable and becoming less affordable to greater numbers of people and businesses. 

How much control do local governments and giant energy utilities need if they are to function responsibly and effectively?  What rules of collaborative behavior will keep them out of one another’s way while also able to partner in projects that result in more economically and environmentally sustainable energy service?

Communities in the US that want to offer locally produced renewable energy to their citizens are being stymied by early 20th century laws and rules protecting “natural monopolies”. In all public services, regardless of who delivers them, monopolistic behaviors are no longer as natural as they used to be.  

As smarter local public services emerge, systems of wires, pipes, and cables will still be needed.  Costly redundancy in their ownership and operation will best be avoided.  Yet, there is ample evidence that clean, independently and locally produced energy can deliver important economic and environmental benefits that nothing else can.  Is the path to these benefits also the path to local energy resilience? 

Local energy collaboration looks to be the key to timely global and national climate action and related infrastructure investments.  If the intent of the EU is realized, European communities may be in the vanguard of collaborative behaviors that result in cost-efficient and equitable citizen and community investments in renewable energy and local energy resilience.  If the work of US NGOs and energy experts bears fruit, US communities can play a leading role as well.

Gerald Braun

© 2019, IRESN, Inc.

[1] There are other vibrant expert networks around the world, e.g. the Claverton Energy Research Group in the UK.