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The Sunrise Portfolio

The growing importance of renewable energy.

Well, 2016 has certainly started off with a bang! As I was writing this, the EPA’s Secretary McCarthy just came out and said what was on everyone’s mind:

“The clean energy train has left the station, folks,” McCarthy said at the recent IHS Energy CERAWeek conference in Houston. “We are really hitting the ground running in 2016. The energy market is shifting and we anticipate taking meaningful climate action.”

Some utilities are adapting and investing in enormous new amounts of renewables, especially solar, at lower and lower prices, while it almost feels like others are fighting progress one disastrous decision after another. Over half of new capacity in 2015 in

Andrew H. Johnson

the US was from solar and wind. To put that in perspective, the United States installed more solar in one year - 7,300 megawatts -  than all of Australia’s solar combined. And yet, the utility and energy industry at large feels as though it could perish based on natural gas prices. This whole dynamic currently fuels the national economy and concerns about the future. 

For consumers today, energy efficiency, distributed energy resources and electric vehicles are beyond just “a good idea” — and energy storage isn’t far behind.

However you shape it, this is all an enormous moment of opportunity for some and loss for others.  Which side you are on impacts how you view the energy change we see today. A new energy regime is arising and will continue forward with renewables as its base. Even how infrastructure is perceived  and financed is being put to the test in a way we have not seen before. There is chaos, but within the chaos comes enormous opportunities.

"I think we're just undergoing massive disruption, whether we know it or not, in the energy space and it's delicious and chaotic. Light never jumped on the man sitting in the shade," said Robbie Wright, vice president, Innovation at Direct Energy. Doyle Beneby took CPS Energy from reliant on 90 percent fossil-based centralized energy to the #1 solar utility provider in Texas, and began a program that enables true empowerment to low-income, and cross-cultural and generational homeowners. 

As John W. Rowe, former head  of Exelon recently noted, “The biggest part about the art of running a utility is knowing what is enduring, changing slowly and rapidly.” He continued, “The best leaders don’t come out of boring times, they come out of messes.”

Other examples of utility leaders guiding these transformations include Gil Quiniones, the CEO of New York Power Authority. The beloved mentor to many in the Northeast,  Quiniones stewards the greatest statewide reform project that the country has seen in the last decade. Adapting and innovating around renewables is essential to the success for truly empowering the citizens served by producing models of exceptional deployment that shape the great energy transition that is currently underway.

The renewables sector has been the standout success story of the past eight years, growing from a small and largely immature industry, technology- and industry experience-wise, to the face of the future.

Even more interesting is that the accelerating demand for solar and renewables at large is from a mix of drivers to the whole market – residential, commercial, and industrial. Indeed, 75 percent of new renewables-based purchase power agreements  were from utilities in 2015, and 25 percent of PPAs were secured by corporations.

The future of renewables is connected, digital, distributed,  and likely, much cleaner than the last one.

Andrew H. Johnston is president of the Energy Thought Summit organized by Zpryme.


The California Renewables Rush, San Franisco, April 6

The Energy Thought Summit,  Austin, March 29-31

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