Center Stage at the California Energy Summit: Clean Energy

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Energy leaders from throughout the state of California are descending upon San Francisco this week to explore the energy landscape of the future. At this year's California Energy Summit, what's the standout issue that pops up in all the discussions? You guessed it: clean energy.

California's electric system is in the midst of a serious revolution, shifting from one designed around central station fossil-fueled power plants, to a system that will need to address 21st century problems, like mitigating climate change and allowing users to participate in providing energy services back to the grid.

For the energy sector, which hasn't historically been a leader in innovation, this is a major task. And it is one that will require solutions from all corners of the energy world.

This week's 3rd Annual California Energy Summit accomplishes just that. Assembling experts from various backgrounds is critical in order to identify the most important issues facing the electric system today and beyond.

Key to this endeavor are a number of organizations, all of whom will be represented by top leadership from their institutions: the California Independent System Operator (the government organization that runs most of the electric grid in California), the Public Utilities Commission (which authorizes most of the state's investments in new electric resources), electric utilities (who implement many of these policies), clean energy developers (who put solar panels on people's homes, build new wind farms, and install batteries on the system to help keep the grid reliable), consumer advocates, and environmentalists.

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My panel will explore the impacts environmental regulations are having on California's energy market. In it, I will stress these two points: (1) California must ratchet up its recent progress with stronger environmental targets, and (2) Coordinating with regional partners is essential to make the clean energy future a reality.

California has led on a number of environmental issues thus far: establishing the first-in-the-nation economy-wide cap on carbon emissions, ramping up production from renewable energy resources (which emit no harmful pollution, unlike their fossil-fueled counterparts), and saving more electricity from energy efficiency than the total amount of electricity used by the entire state of Colorado in a year (by designing our buildings so that they waste less energy).

But California is no longer going it alone. The federal government is ratcheting up carbon pollution standards to cut power plant emissions from electricity generation through the President's Clean Power Plan, which will provide opportunities for states in the West to work together to achieve carbon reduction goals. At the same time, California Independent System Operator's energy imbalance market now has participants from several western states, and just announced intentions to expand the scope of that coordination. These regional changes will be key to unlocking the full potential of clean energy.

Clean energy is the future.

It is an exciting time to be working on clean energy issues in this state: Governor Jerry Brown just declared that California will reduce its carbon emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and called for a number of efforts to achieve it: a doubling of energy efficiency statewide, producing half our electricity from clean energy resources like solar panels and wind turbines, and halving the amount of pollution-emitting petroleum that we rely on for mobility. And the California legislature is working industriously to deliver supporting bills to the governor this session. These policies will drive the increased action that we need.

Building the electric grid of the future will be no easy feat. But the wheels are in motion everywhere, within California and beyond. Completing the task will require input and creative insight from all parties with an interest in California's energy markets.

Organizers of the California Energy Summit are smart to bring together thought leaders with varied interests in the outcome. It will make the three-day exchange a more significant step toward California's clean energy future. This is the future we want for generations to come - to work toward an emissions-free society and cleaner air for all of us.