Savannah International Clean Energy Conference: Renewables, Efficiency & Planning

This is the second post in a three-part summary of the 2012 Savannah International Clean Energy Conference. If you’ve not read the first post, you can find it here.

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The discussion of renewable energy sources was continuous through the keynotes and panel discussions – as mentioned in the first post, even the President of Atlanta Gas Light advocated for a diverse collection of energy sources.

Energy storage is the key to unlocking the potential of renewable sources like wind, solar, tidal and other intermittent resources. Several of the speakers noted the importance of divorcing the terms “battery” and “energy storage” – their preference was “energy storage” because “battery” is specific while “energy storage” can be accomplished in a number of different ways. Since energy storage isn’t yet common, many people use the terms interchangeably. The SustainX model mentioned in yesterday’s post is an example of energy storage that’s not a battery.

In the “Clean Energy Mix Part 3: BioEnergy” panel discussion, KC Healy of Deloitte Consulting mentioned how so many of the emerging technologies can be applied to the Gartner Hype Cycle. That’s resulted in foolish investments: inefficient design, irrational location of facilities, etc. severely cripple development of the technology. Specific examples include corn ethanol and hydrogen power. The result can be a failure of the business model without a true evaluation of the technology.

In the course of the renewables discussion, a representative from the German Embassy presented Germany’s energy plan. The United States certainly doesn’t seem like a leader when Germany can present its entire energy plan on a few slides and America has nothing but a complex tax code and short-term subsidies to present. Most notable in the presentation was Germany’s self-imposed departure from nuclear energy in favor of solar power. Germany doesn’t have significant solar resources because it’s so far north – on approximately the same latitude as Alaska.

In the “Engaging with Utilities” panel discussion with Chris Hobson, Southern Company‘s SVP of Research & Environmental Affairs + Chief Environmental Officer, was asked by one of the German attendees why Georgia Power and other Southern Company subsidiaries don’t make use of renewable resources like solar. Germany’s example of successful solar energy production as a means to offset fossil and nuclear fuel consumption significantly reduces any excuses a centralized power generation company like Southern Company can make for delaying the development and implementation of renewable energy sources.

Hobson’s respsonse was a comparison of nuclear and solar power – it seemed that he was making two points: 1) nuclear power is a carbon-free alternative to fossil fuel energy and 2) nuclear power is available to meet baseload demands without the issue of intermittent production. His answer was very poorly received by many audience members because it appeared as though the centralized power company was rationalizing centralized generation.

After the discussions of scalable, on-site energy storage solutions over the past day, decentralized power generation (such as solar panels on rooftops) seemed much more attractive than the status quo answer from Hobson. This was seconded by VADM McGinn in the following “Government Subsidies and Incentives for Renewable Energy” panel discussion – the audience interrupted with applause at that particular point in the discussion.

Efficiency is a critical component of energy independence, which is synonymous with energy security. By reducing the demand for energy through efficiency, we can reduce the amount of energy we have to import – ideally we would balance a diverse portfolio of energy sources with efficiency to eliminate the need to import any energy sources like oil and natural gas.

The “Clean Energy Mix Part 4: Energy Efficiency” panel discussion included comments from Gil Sperling, a policy advisor at the US Department of Energy, about the development of a mortgage credit certificate for energy upgrades and other government incentives. In the “Smart Cities” panel discussion, Dr. Mattias Krause, Techincal Director of EVH GmbH, presented an overview the City of Halle‘s energy efficiency program that offered a sharp contrast to the cumbersome and temporary US tax code incentives. For example, EVH GmbH, the utility company for Halle, has partnered with a local bank to issue a savings bond to home owners who invest in energy efficiency improvements – that seemed like a simple, free-market solution compared to what Mr. Sperling attempted to explain.

Susan Zielinski, Managing Director of SMART, was also part of the “Smart Cities” panel discussion. She noted the importance of breaking the assumption that transportation = cars. Instead, transportation should be multi-modal and IT enabled. Transportation should be a door-to-door experience where different services within a system work together and you can get updates through your phone (or other mobile device). Unfortunately services within a transportation system often compete rather than complimenting each other.

Information technology (IT) solutions like smartphone apps enable route/equipment changes and increased efficiency without huge investments in infrastructure. Having better information will allow us to make better decisions about what services to use and when so we won’t overburden parts of a system – causing backup in other parts. To encourage sustainable solutions, SMART has developed the MobiPrize that recognizes and rewards entrepreneurs – more problem solving from the free market.

We’ll wrap up our summary tomorrow with our third and final post on the Savannah International Clean Energy Conference. Tomorrow’s post will include the take-aways from the conference – food for thought!

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