Energy Innovation Forum

Peter Eberle
CRES Northern Colorado Chapter

On January 19, 2016, over 100 attended the Northern Colorado Renewable Energy Society (NCRES) Energy Innovation Forum in Fort Collins to listen to a panel of experts who will discuss innovations that will accelerate the adoption of renewable energy generation within municipal, investor owned, and rural electric utilities.

Panelists Allison Mason of Spirae and Bob Lachenmayer of Pos-En highlighted both the challenges and opportunities of smart grid and enhanced demand side management with the take away that the technology is here to manage a highly complex and interactive grid. Bob also addressed the storage question stating that the technology is here now and is cost effective for the value delivered. Rebecca Langton of Clean Energy Collective briefed the group on the next generation of community-owned solar, which will continue make renewable energy available throughout the population and help drive community investment.

David Keyser of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) discussed how investments in renewable energy both in developed and developing markets have very postive economic benefits. NREL recently completed a study with Colorado State University on the Colorado Renewable Portfolio Standard that showed a net positive economic benefit in terms of jobs and economic value creation to the state so long as resource variability is managed as variability increases.

Ron Binz discussed the preeminence of policy and how utilities are regulated in helping drive uptake of renewables. Germany is an example of how policy can drive massive investment in solar, in spite of a less than impressive solar resource. Locally, New Jersey is another example where policy is driving one of the highest solar markets while Florida’s market in almost nonexistent. Utility regulation is still as it was in the 1950s and need to be revamped to adapt to our desired goals moving forward. We need to provide incentives to the industry, particularly investor owned utilities (e.g. Xcel), to change its behavior to turn around the country’s power system. Let utilities manage in more flexible business environment that aligns them to pursue greater renewables penetration outside of the outdated rate-setting culture. With updated policies we will see both utility and distributed development accelerate.

According to Bob Lachenmayer the immense opportunity for cost savings on the secondary side of the meter is really beginning to drive the distributed side of renewable energy adoption. The discussion has moved from solely environmental benefits to the growing economic benefits. Bob stated that economic sustainability drives environmental sustainability.

The group finished up discussing the concept of utility “decoupling” which decouples utilities profits from gross sales of electricity which would create alignment between utilities and energy efficiency and renewable energy adoption both distributed and utility scale.