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Mexico panel at Fairmont Eric Weisz

Commitment, Capacity and Common Ground

Renewables Rush event answers questions on the progress of clean energy and brings up new questions on how much faster we can move.

Mexico is planning a massive, unheralded build out of solar and wind generation, along with transmission lines to link it all together, a top Mexican official told the Renewables Rush annual conference in San Francisco.

Guillermo Zúñiga, commissioner for Mexico’s Energy Regulatory Commission, said that Mexico is an open market and the CRE is committed to making it easier for investment in the country’s energy market, particularly so it can hit its renewable energy goals.

“The way to go is to absorb new technologies,” Zúñiga said. “We have seen the cost of renewable energy dropping fast. The R&D from the United States has been of use to everyone in the world.”

Mexico is looking to California as a partner and as a mentor. Andrew McAllister, commissioner for the California Energy Commission, congratulated Mexico on its recent energy market restructuring.

California - facing the need to possibly slam shut 8,000 megawatts of solar power in coming months as a result of a flood of hydroelectric power - long-term would like to connect to regions of Mexico long starved for affordable electric power.

“Integration will help the U.S. take advantage of opportunities,” Zúñiga confirmed.

Renewed Commitments

Utility executives, major entrepreneurs, and the elite of University of California-Berkeley and Stanford University energy-related graduate students were treated to wide-ranging  discussions on how the move to clean energy probably won't be slowed much by the newly emplaced Trump administration.

“If you only read about what Washington is doing, you would be really worried, but if you instead look at what is happening at the state level, it’s not partisan,” said Bill Ritter, director for the Center for the New Clean Energy Economy and former governor of Colorado. He opened the event with remarks on how Western states have big plans to join together to further integrate renewable energy into the grid.

Ritter also brought up the Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future as evidence that clean energy is moving forward at the state level.

Steve Malnight, senior vice president, strategy and policy at Pacific Gas & Electric, told the audience that the November election results “redoubled the focus at PG&E in addressing goals we’ve set out as a state. California has a strong and clear commitment to addressing climate change.
Utilities need certainty and predictability in the policy department.”

Capacity Coming

“Capacity” was a commonly used term during the course of the event, as the solution to expanding renewables is in more capacity – energy storage integrating distributed generation - and a bigger grid.

John Woolard, former vice president  of energy at Google and former CEO of Brightsource Energy, mentioned natural gas as the bridge fuel. He stressed the importance of proper planning and analysis in the race to increase renewable energy as the main power source.

“Maximizing renewables is not necessarily decreasing carbon,” Woolard said. “We need a lot of technology and R&D, and there are a lot of entrepreneurial opportunities in a strategic deployment of storage.”

J. Andrew Murphy, senior vice president of strategic planning for Edison International, reminded the crowd: “Don’t lose sight of near-term benefit of gas.”

Optimizing resources over a large geographical area will be another way to increase efficiency and utilize resources, said Lorenzo Kristov, principal, market and infrastructure policy for the California ISO. The large ISO, for example, is not antagonistic to a decentralized grid, according to Kristov. In other words, distributed energy resources and microgrids will still very much contribute to reliability.

“The interconnection of grids and markets is going to be a powerful force,” Woolard said.

Finding Common Ground

Two key change agents told the event that they were optimistic about the future of the “renewable nation.”

Ralph Cavanaugh, co-director of the Energy Program at the NRDC, said that “worrying about FERC interference should not be holding us back.” Cavanaugh also said cap and trade should be extended.

Dan Reicher, executive director at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University, ticked off a laundry list of issues and their status under the current Administration.

He was optimistic about transmission siting permits going forward. “We have to make progress on transmission if we want to get to large-scale renewables.”

Reicher also said that production tax credits for renewables were safe and that the loan program (the one Solyndra was part of) has $41 billion is left in its portfolio.

He did admit that there would be a fight over the Clean Power Plan. He also wholeheartedly supports a carbon tax and said that that conversation has come to Washington.

“When talking to ‘climate deniers,’ I raise a different topic or go about it in a different way. There are economic opportunities there. Inventions and innovations are part of the clean energy transition,” Reicher said.

Some questions were answered emphatically at the event, while other important questions were raised. Nations are trying to learn from one another, and  states have been the drivers in the energy evolution and will continue to be so, as private business and utilities all come together to meet common goals for the environment and the quality of life.

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