NY’s Energy Vision Spelled Out in Syracuse Symposium

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - A group of movers and shakers met last week in Syracuse to describe the vision for the state’s energy economy at the Energy in the 21st Century Symposium. This year’s feature was The Electric Grid. This was particularly timely in the wake of the release of NY’s Renewable Energy Vision (REV), which calls for a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, (from 1990 levels), a 23% reduction in building energy consumption (from 2010 levels), and for the state to receive 50% of its electricity from renewable sources, without nuclear, all by 2030.  This vision puts NY on the path to play a leading role in the transformation of the national energy economy.  In his opening remarks, Richard Kauffman, NY’s first “energy czar,” came right out and said, “It’s time to stop rebuilding the grid of yesterday.” He went on to describe the new grid as “hybrid, bi-directional, flexible, and both centralized and distributed.” Solar in the state has increased 600% since 2012. The goal is to have no more coal plants by 2020 along with a state tax credit of $2000 for zero emission vehicles.

Former Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll, now commissioner of NYS Department of Transportation, spoke of investing in transportation as an effective way to create jobs. His office has embraced Smart Growth and the notion of Complete Streets. Given the state’s commitment to public transportation, NY can boast the lowest per capita consumption of motor fuel. NY’s 2.7 billion annual passenger trips account for one-third the national total. As for transportation’s tie-in to the electric grid, Driscoll announced plans to add 3,000 EV charging stations by 2018, as well as a Transportation Solar Initiative to add solar PV along highway right of ways.

Dennis Elsenbeck, representing National Grid described a major brownfield remediation initiative taking place in Buffalo. He’s facing the question ‘can sustainability be economically sound,’ head on. The 3,000 acre site will have 150 businesses, including Solar City. “It’s time to get out of the bunker mentality,” says Elsenbeck. “We need to make sure we are in this together, and not taking sides.” The site will include a substantial amount of renewable power including 35MW of solar and 32 MW of wind on what was formerly the Bethlehem Steel site. Power quality is crucial for advanced manufacturing where surges and dips are not acceptable. National Grid is investing $80-90 million. The key, says Elsenbeck, is "the three legged stool of Market driver, Policy, and Technology."

Erfan Ibrahim, Director of Cyber Physical Systems Security and Resilience for NREL gave a talk on a “Layered Solution to CyberSecurity,” in which he described the challenges of protecting the grid from cyber-attacks that are “driven so fast by ideology that science and technology can’t keep up.” As more and more unmanned systems are established, “security by obscurity will no longer work.” We need macro standards, he says, like ISO 9000, that work across the many different protocols. All that being said, he said the NREL has demonstrated effective end-to-end security using off the shelf technology, which was described in some detail.

Herman Wiegman, a Principal Engineer at GE, spoke on the Viability and Value of Micro Grids. He believes that these tiny grids will do a great deal to improve the resiliency of the electric distribution system. He pointed out that last year alone, there were eleven weather events costing upwards of $1 billion each, in terms of the damage. Much of that was due to damaged power and gas lines. The shape of electric demand is changing rapidly, not only in terms of its size, but also the daily profile. While the contributions of solar (daytime) and wind (day and night) will help offset demand, the arrival of electric vehicles that will mostly charge at night will change the shape of the curve. Wiegman points to the many tools available to manage the situation, including demand response that will be built directly into many home appliances, to reduce peaks, to the idea of “synthetic reserves,” where things like air conditioning can be utilized ahead of time, in anticipation of a peak. Microgrid controllers can help manage these assets, both from an emergency priority perspective as well as from a purely economic standpont. And while the ability to “island off” microgrids in times of crisis is an important feature, if they are not connected with other microgrids or with the larger grid, then a significant opportunity to provide value to the larger system is being missed.

Mike Langford of the National Utility Workers Union, spoke about the synergistic need to repair our again infrastructure and to create jobs and the Repair America initiative that is working to address both.

Finally, Aaron Mair, President of Sierra Club’s Board of Directors, who spoke about a  Fair and Just Transition for a Clean Energy Future where environmental justice figures prominently in the set of priorities we should all strive to achieve. He claims that the word “resilience” has been co-opted by business interests who “want to make the call in the way that best suits them.” He says we need to reboot the system, and that environmentalists think differently about value than capitalists do, which is important to consider since there is no Planet B.

To sum it up: there was a lot of material presented, with the question of centralized vs. distributed still a very open one. The subject of microgrids came up frequently as a possible way to combine the two. There is no single answer, it will be a combination. Some were for nuclear, others against.

At the end of the day, we already have the technology we need to confront the challenge. Of course, better technology is coming out every day, but according to the speakers here, that’s not the most critical path. What is really needed most is to bring people together from various disciplines: economics, physics, engineering, policy, like has been done here, so that they can see this problem through the  eyes of the other stakeholders as a way to find solutions that serve all.