Month: April 2019

4 Key Takeaways from a Week of Energy Conferences

electric vehicle charging

Recently, I embarked on a week-long tour of energy conferences, including the ACORE Renewable Energy Policy Forum in Washington DC, the Climate Leadership Conference in Baltimore, and Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance Summit (BNEF) in New York City.  While the conferences each had a different focus within the renewable energy and climate space, I noticed key themes in the various sessions and conversations that I had with attendees.

subject-one

The age of energy abundance 

“We’re entering an age of energy abundance.” While this statement is from a speaker at the Bloomberg event, supporting evidence was discussed at all three conferences. Many speakers noted that current and projected natural gas prices remain low and that wholesale electricity generation costs are falling as renewable energy generation with zero marginal cost comes online.  Meanwhile, advances in energy efficient technology are driving down total energy use per capita. The combination of new, low-cost renewable electricity supply and energy efficiency seems likely to yield energy abundance for developed countries. Coming 50 years after many predicted we’d literally run out of energy, this is a remarkable turn of events. This new reality also necessitates a shift in mindset for policymakers, the energy industry, and consumers alike: instead of fearing a scarcity in our energy supply, it’s critical that we now focus on limiting energy’s environmental impact.

Instead of fearing a scarcity in our energy supply, it’s critical that we now focus on limiting energy’s environmental impact.  

reason-two

The challenge of intermittent generation

The next wave of policy innovation and technological progress supporting renewable energy generation will center around reliable, cost-effective integration of intermittent generation. Large scale wind and solar projects regularly win energy request for proposals (RFPs) with highly competitive prices, so it’s not unreasonable to think that tax credits and grants will be allowed to fade away. But now the next chapter begins: we need new rules guiding how intermittent supply is valued, larger wholesale energy markets, more energy storage deployment, and clear market signals to shift demand. More progressive policies in these areas are actively being discussed and implementation will enable continued rapid deployment of renewable energy generation.   

3

All eyes on transportation

In 1990, the electricity sector was the single largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), responsible for roughly 25% more emissions than the transportation sector (the second largest emitter).  Over time, the emissions profiles of the two sectors slowly converged, and in 2017 the transportation sector took the lead as the largest source of emissions . This statistic was clearly weighing prominently on conference attendees’ minds. Although none of the conferences I attended were explicitly about transportation or electric vehicles, all three included multiple sessions and much hallway conversation about the transportation sector, the environmental challenges it presents, and how it’s likely to evolve in the decades ahead.  

Similar to the adoption of solar photovoltaic technology a decade ago, the EV story today is one of high growth rates on a very small existing base. Applying the solar adoption model to EVs today, conventional wisdom predicts that in another decade, we will see an exponential increase in the number of EVs on the roads globally. In fact, BNEF’s most recent Electric Vehicle Outlook predicts this number will hit 30 million by 2030.  Activities and policies that will support this outcome, including an expanded public charging network, more EV options for consumers, less expensive batteries, and continued subsidies at the state and federal level are all currently or soon-to-be underway.

…in another decade, we will see an exponential increase in the number of EVs on the roads globally.

4

RECs remain a critical ingredient

All three conferences provided ample evidence of the critical role that renewable energy certificates (RECs) play in tracking the generation and use of renewable energy. RECs are indisputably the currency of renewable energy transactions, whether meeting renewable portfolio standards (RPS) or tracking voluntary renewable energy purchases.  However, it’s challenging to maintain the accounting integrity of RECs in an age of distributed solar and cap-and-trade systems that overlap state RPS guidelines set up to protect the voluntary market. Going forward, I anticipate that electrification of the transportation system will bring even more tracking and attribution challenges. It seems clear that all market participants benefit when everyone is clear what a REC represents, when everyone can trust that a REC hasn’t been double-claimed, and when market rules are aligned. One concrete action in support of these outcomes might be for every tracking system to adopt a policy of all-generation tracking; the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL), PJM General Attribute Tracking System (GATS), and New York GATS have all been built this way and it helps with tracking across state boundaries.    

The meta theme of continuous change undergirds everything in the energy industry and the tricky part as always is to know which topics will still be relevant two, five, and ten years from now.  As I reflect on these recent industry conferences, I believe that these four themes recalibrating to an age of energy abundance, addressing intermittent generation, decreasing transportation emissions, and supporting effective systems for tracking renewable energy generation and use  will stand the test of time.  

California Bright Schools Solar Program

california-bright-schools

Solar Providing a Brighter Future for California Schools 

The California Bright Schools Program was born out of a vision to create a way for school districts to promote solar energy, save general fund dollars, and provide educational opportunities for students and teachers. This program helps to identify the most cost-effective energy saving opportunities and support the installation of photovoltaic solar systems on schools across the state.

The solar installations support curriculum that aligns with the state’s testing requirements and provides hands-on learning tools for schools. The panels installed on campuses bring daily attention to clean energy and provide a direct educational opportunity.

Schools that take part in the Bright Schools Program and implement energy efficiency initiatives are able to enjoy greater budget stability and predictability as a result of locking in long-term fixed electricity prices. Beyond the savings in energy costs provided by hosting these projects, the schools can also sell renewable energy certificates (RECs) generated by the systems, which help fund renewable energy education and provide an additional revenue stream to support school district operations.

The Milpitas Unified School District serves as a great example of how schools are directly benefiting from the Bright Schools Program. 3Degrees worked with the school district to help them build revenue through the sale of RECs generated from their solar system. As a participant in the Program, the district is expected to save $12 million over the portfolio’s lifespan.

 

3Degrees + renewable energy

certificates

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Sunny Knoll Farm Anaerobic Digester

Perry-New-York

Family-owned Farm Anaerobic Digester Project

Sunny Knoll is a family-owned farm with 1,200 milk cows located in Perry, New York. The project generates emission reductions by capturing and destroying methane gas that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. Methane gas is a common byproduct of dairy farms, which traditionally manage manure and other organic waste by storing it in open wastewater lagoons. Since these lagoons are usually more than a few feet deep, this waste decomposes anaerobically over time, thereby producing methane. The installation of a digester to accelerate the decomposition and capture the resulting gas is one of the few technologies available to dairy farmers to avoid such methane emissions.

Digester projects are very expensive, especially at a small-scale farm like Sunny Knoll; carbon credits provide a very important stream of revenue to help make the projects economically viable. Sunny Knoll also harnesses the captured methane to generate electricity, enabling the farm to generate its own power and sell excess power to the grid. This helps the farm reduce operating costs and mitigate the impact of milk price fluctuation and other economic conditions.

Like most dairy digesters, this project also provides environmental and social co-benefits, including reducing water pollution that can result from nutrient runoff from wastewater lagoons and reducing odor in the local community.

Sunny Knoll Farm

3Degrees + carbon offsets

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