Where will our energy come from in 2030, and how green will it be?

Original interview posted by the World Economic Forum.

How can the energy industry adapt to meet the needs of a growing population while also supporting low-carbon growth?

Katherine Hamilton, Director of the Project for Clean Energy and Innovation, and co-chair of the Global Future Council on the Future of Energy, says that this essential transition will not happen without collaboration between large energy companies, entrepreneurs, the finance sector and consumers.

Why should we be thinking about the future of energy?

The energy sector is already changing very rapidly. It is transitioning, we hope, towards greater ability to meet the energy needs of a growing global population with reduced use of carbon, supporting continued economic growth in an environmentally sustainable way.

But that transition will not necessarily happen on its own. We need to get key players in the same room who can bring different experiences and perspectives, and collectively come up with better ideas than any of us could on our own – and then work out how to implement those ideas. Hence the need for this Global Future Council.

Who are the key players that need to be involved?

The incumbents are important, of course – the large energy companies who own and control the infrastructure, especially in industrialized countries. They are often criticized as part of the problem, but they also have to be part of the solution. In addition, we need the innovators – entrepreneurs who are coming up with ideas to disrupt the sector. And we need input from energy consumers, including large corporations and municipalities.

Representatives of the financial sector are important – experts in bonds, risk and insurance. There is plenty of capital out there looking for good projects to finance, but the main constraint for investors is the assurance that those projects will find a market. Creating certainty is one important thing politicians and policymakers can do to help – and it is they who, ultimately, will need the vision to define goals for the energy sector and devise policies to achieve them.

What are the biggest emerging trends in the energy sector?

The decentralization of energy generation is an enormous trend. Innovation is also being democratized; it is no longer just the incumbents who can innovate. Consumers, increasingly, are in the driver’s seat; there is more real-time interaction between energy service providers and consumers – whether that is the operator of a factory with sophisticated demand response or an Indian farmer using a mobile phone to manage crops.

We are continuing to see drastic reductions in the cost of many renewable technologies as well as greater accessibility to energy storage and efficiency.

How far are we from renewables no longer needing subsidies to compete?

Any time you talk about subsidies for renewables, you also have to remember that incumbent players have benefited from built-in subsidies for decades through policy support and monopoly power. Often there is a misconception that energy was a free market before the idea of subsidizing renewables came along. That is not the case, and we need to recognize that when we ask how best to adjust the market for innovation going forward.

What kind of innovations are we seeing in energy, and what might we expect in the coming years?

The sharing economy will be increasingly important in the transport sector. There is potential to improve efficiency and greatly reduce emissions as we move towards more electric and autonomous vehicles.

There is also room to harness data to make the grid and entire energy ecosystem more efficient. The data is available, through advanced meters and mobile applications, for example, but we have yet to fully exploit that data to move energy to where it is needed, smartly and in real time.

I expect to see more “community solar” projects, as collective consumers invest in generating and storing power. There will be more distributed generation using a variety of technologies, such as solar, wind, geothermal, fuel cells, and hydropower. We will see further innovations in multiple uses of energy storage, such re-purposing car batteries to store electricity.

In the coming years we might see some breakthroughs in carbon capture and storage – and, no doubt, there will be innovations and applications nobody has thought of yet.

What needs to be on the agenda for energy stakeholders?

Above all, we must have a solid plan to reduce carbon, To reach that, we have to define what we value – not just improving access to energy, and guaranteeing energy security to meet the needs of economic growth, but doing all of this in a sustainable way and one in which carbon emissions are drastically reduced. Then we need clear and transparent benchmarks against which to measure our progress.

We also need a vision that combines the decentralized and the centralized – embracing more distributed generation, while looking at the larger system and how we can move energy around globally in real time.

Finally, how might the energy sector look by 2030?

I fear that we will be paying for our previous failures to reduce carbon emissions, and being increasingly preoccupied with climate change adaptation. But I also believe that we can have a sector that delivers much higher access to energy than today, with greater use of renewables, incentivizing innovation and creating economic growth while reducing our impact on the planet.

The Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils took place on 13-14 November in Dubai.

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The Future of Electricity: Clean and Bright

What happens when you bring together nearly two dozen energy leaders from across the globe into a room for several days of uninterrupted discussion on the Future of Electricity? Throw in jet lag for anyone not from United Arab Emirates, add a cocktail of fossil fuel interests along with renewable energy advocates, shake well in nearly 100 degree F heat, and one could not imagine consensus coalescing around almost anything. Surprisingly, perhaps, this group, convened by the World Economic Forum, agreed on a set of trends that indicate change is nigh in the electricity sector:

  • The world is increasingly electrified.
  • Renewable energy has the greatest capacity growth.
  • Clean energy enables growing universal access to electricity.
  • Energy security increases as a result of more indigenous clean electrification.
  • Distributed energy resource deployment is significantly increased.
  • Energy storage provides critical grid services.
  • Consumer engagement and choice shape future electric growth.
  • The price of electricity may increase briefly, then decrease, over time.
  • Regulation supports and accommodates these changes.

This transformation will not happen organically, however. The group also identified requirements to realize this transformation in our electric system:

  • Politic targets must be clear, transparent, and consistent.
  • Regulation should anticipate trends and create a climate for investment.
  • Power markets and platforms must be open for all participants.
  • Financing mechanisms should be clear and risk factors understood.
  • Business and monetization models must evolve.
  • Consumers must be allowed to participate.
  • Special provisions should be made for universal access.

It was affirming as a participant in this process to hear from others about the same policy hurdles I deal with every day in Congress, state legislatures, and regulatory bodies. My firm‘s public policy work, while mostly centered in the U.S., can be informed by policies that have been tried elsewhere with varying degrees of success. That the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Electricity could arrive at these principles and requirements should give us all a cogent road map to this transition. Read the full report here.

Energy Storage Alive and Well: A123 Not Dead

Check this blog out on AOL Energy!

To borrow a phrase from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, we are not dead yet. The media has picked up on the A123 Systems Chapter 11 filing and has extrapolated it to mean that somehow energy storage is another failed Department of Energy (DOE) technology. In fact, the industry feels fine. Read more of this post

Clean energy policy: reducing climate change without the politics

This blog—and my career, frankly – has carefully steered clear of politically sensitive issues and focused instead on advocating for smart public policy. But having lived through summer after summer in Washington, D.C., with temperatures continuously climbing above 100 degrees and increasingly violent storms (with scientists echoing that things seem to be progressing more quickly then once thought), I finally am compelled to comment on the topic of climate change.

Given these circumstances, it seems that at long last, a real conversation about climate change is bound to happen. I actually think climate change policy does not have to be mired in politics, especially when the skepticism is concentrated in a small part of the political spectrum in Washington, D.C.

In 2010, I participated as part of a trade delegation to COP-15 in Copenhagen. I was then heading up the GridWise Alliance, and attended the climate negotiations to meet with other business leaders and observe the proceedings. I came away with two distinct impressions.

The first was that multi-national corporations clearly saw climate change as a business bonanza; that through developing solutions to mitigate climate change, they would profit.

The second was that many of the country delegations participating in the negotiations were there because the lives of their citizens were threatened by environmental destruction caused by climate change. They had travelled to dark, cold, expensive Denmark in December, in some cases bringing their own food to be able to afford the trip. These were their countries’ negotiators; top envoys and leaders desperate to have others listen to them and recognize the dire results that climate change had delivered to their homes. It seemed to me then that saving these countries from imminent danger—and creating a business case in so doing—were not mutually exclusive.

More savvy attendees managed their expectations. Hopes were high but despite efforts from the very highest levels, including the President, a grand deal did not emerge from those talks.  Back in the states, cap and trade legislation, which passed the House, failed in the Senate.  New legislation to address climate change has not been discussed seriously since, and the topic has become taboo in many political circles.

I think the pendulum is due to swing back.

We continue to hear reports that communities in Alaska that have existed for centuries are having to relocate because of reduced hunting and fishing grounds caused by climate change. Increased extreme temperatures and dramatic weather events have continued to wreak havoc in nearly every corner of the nation. Not a single person or someone they know has remained untouched. Whether these events can be directly attributed to climate change is still a point of discussion, but climate scientists are only more convinced that it is here and now.

Sooner or later, the federal debate on climate change will rekindle and, while legislation may look different from the Waxman-Markey bill of 2010, it will contain key elements that can drive a low-carbon energy future. State and local governments are already showing leadership by enacting climate policies; California is embarking on a cap and trade program, for example. Utilities are investing in technologies like smart grid and energy storage that can maximize the use of renewables and make fossil fuels more efficient. Technology development and deployment is continuing to create new wealth and jobs, despite the inaction in Congress.

And once that movement in Congress thaws, we can be in a position to help ourselves in so many ways. By devising an energy policy that asks—and strives to answer—the question “what do we want our country to look like in 50 years?” we can create incentives and groom markets for clean technologies, processes and applications that could significantly abate the threat of climate change. If we can articulate that vision and lay the policy foundation, investors will flock. Clean tech investment is still robust; private equity companies know there is money to be made. With a market that rewards reduced carbon emissions, investment—and profit—will only increase.

So, while the current rhetoric is often divisive and the hope of legislative action of any type seems bleak, we need to remain tuned in to the emerging opportunities for clean energy and innovation public policy.  Even in the unlikely scenario that the climate was to instantly stabilize, there is no risk (and potentially enormous benefits) to forging ahead on clean technologies.

New Venture in Energy and Innovation

The blogger at Cleangridview and the entire team here at QGA Public Affairs today announced the creation of 38 North Solutions LLC, to launch in July 2012, which will focus on government relations, strategic communications, and public policy advocacy.

The group, previously part of QGA Public Affairs, will maintain a strategic partnership with QGA Chairman Jack Quinn and President John Feehery.

With decades of experience working in a range of fields – including the federal government, politics, utility, finance, and clean energy sectors – the team has been working together over the past two years to serve clients in the clean technology and innovation space. They have developed a robust practice by combining technology and business acumen with a keen understanding of Washington, D.C., policy and politics, resulting in significant legislative and strategic gains for clients.

“We are thrilled to launch 38 North Solutions – the shared latitude of Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay area – which represents our unique ability to connect public policy to one of the leading hubs of innovation,” said Von Bargen, former Chief of Staff to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and a trusted policy advisor among Silicon Valley’s venture capital and entrepreneurial community.

“I encouraged Patrick and this exceptional team to form their own enterprise and I am greatly excited at the opportunities we will have to continue to collaborate in the clean tech space while enabling QGA to sharpen its focus on the traditional areas of our practice. This is a natural evolution for Patrick and his team as they delve deeper into the energy and innovation space. I look forward to our strategic partnership as 38 North establishes itself as the gold standard in this space,” said Quinn.

“We take a unique approach to our work by forming a partnership with our clients and building on their innovative strengths, to tell their story in a way that is understandable, comprehensive, and compelling to decision-makers,” said Hamilton, a current director at QGA Public Affairs, former President of the GridWise Alliance, and experienced technologist in the utility and renewable energy sectors.

Allyson Groff and Jeff Cramer of QGA Public Affairs will also serve as founding partners in the new venture. Groff is an experienced writer and public affairs consultant and former communications director and spokesperson for the House Natural Resources Committee. Cramer is a former clean energy and innovation industry analyst, and experienced political organizer on the local, state, and federal levels.

“I look forward to continuing to work closely with the team at 38 North as they start this new chapter. I am confident that their deep knowledge of the issues, entrepreneurial work ethic, and ability to work with Members and offices on both sides of the aisle will allow them to continue their success in this space,” said Feehery.

The team currently serves a variety of clean energy companies and trade associations from around the globe in the wind, solar, energy storage, recycling, bio-based chemical, electric vehicle, venture capital, and green building sectors.

Sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy: Energy Storage Getting Some Light

Check out this blog at IDC Energy Insights as well!

A Sunshine Memo was issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Thursday, October 13, moments after I met with Commissioner Norris and Chairman Wellinghoff with the Electricity Storage Association Advocacy Council. This memo listed a multitude of possible final rulemakings, one of which will set a new course for the energy storage industry. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Frequency Regulation Compensation may sound esoteric and niche-y but this rule will provide the opening the energy storage industry needs to begin its “game changing” role on the grid that has been touted for years. It looks as if, after subsequent meetings with Commissioners Moeller and LaFleur (Commissioner Spitzer will be leaving the agency shortly), there will be unanimous support from all Commissioners on the final rule.

Read more of this post

Innovation in the face of budget cuts

“We will make the tough cuts necessary to achieve these savings, including in programs I care about, but I will not sacrifice the core investments we need to grow and create jobs. We’ll invest in…clean energy technology….We will invest in education and job training. We will do what we need to compete and we will win the future.”
Barack Obama, April 13, 2011, Georgetown University

The US government plays a critical role–protecting our citizens and property, overseeing our parks and a multitude of public services, providing medical care and education to millions of Americans–all of which need to be paid for every year in the federal budget. Those functions were in jeopardy on a weekly and at times daily basis as Congress and the Administration haggle over serious policy and funding issues in an effort to pass the fiscal 2011 budget. Read more of this post