Jessyca Sheehan, APCO Worldwide: What's the Energy Pathway to 2050?

APCO WorldwideEarlier this week, the Advanced Energy Economy held its “Pathway to 2050” summit, focused on how California can best achieve – and exceed – its energy goals over the next several decades. While the focus was on the Golden State, many of the implications apply to other states as well, particularly since all were in agreement that the path to 2050 is going to be chartered by the states, not the federal government.

Discussions throughout the day touched on such topics as energy efficiency, renewable energy, advanced transportation, and energy financing, among others. The points that struck me as most salient include:

  • Energy efficiency – often hailed as the “low hanging fruit” in absence of federal renewable energy policy – is on the cusp of a transformation, according to Lauren Casentini, chair of the California Energy Industry Council. Once viewed as a cottage industry centered around a widget-based approach (think CFL light bulbs and EnergySmart™ appliances), energy efficiency is evolving into an integrated market focused on analytics-driven programs that reach the right customer at the right time to motivate behavior change. For example, clean tech darling Solar City announced its in-home software platform in late June, on the heels of the President’s Climate Action Plan.
  • Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) have become ingrained in many parts of the country; next up for many in this space is advocating for Clean Energy Standards that support growth of clean technologies beyond renewable energy that can have a direct impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The term “flexible grid” was used more than once, by both renewable energy companies and a major utility player. California may very well have enough renewable energy to achieve or even exceed its 33% RPS, but we must rethink our grid design and communications to successfully accommodate variable energy generation. Germany was pointed to as a leader in managing its grid in a flexible way.
  • The key to taking many of these advanced energy technologies mainstream is exactly that – they must become just another product that first and foremost help a company increase profitability and customer attraction and retention, with efficiency and sustainability as secondary benefits.

A common theme throughout the day is that technology is ahead of policy, and that clean tech entrepreneurs – busy with business plans, R&D, and pursuit of financing – could do a better, more unified job of delivering their compelling stories to policy makers. For this audience, it’s about jobs and economic growth. Once California can back up its leadership story with solid economic proof points, other states will likely follow in our path.

Jessyca Sheehan, director, is a member of APCO’s global energy and clean tech practice.  This article is from the APCO Forum, August 21, 2013.