Arizona Solar Summit IV: Progressing AZ energy markets


The fourth annual Arizona Solar Summit took place on February 20, 2014, in part of ASU Global Institute of Sustainability’s 2014 Sustainability Solutions Festival.

Members from across the energy field gathered at ASU SkySong to discuss policies, programs, and technologies that aim to reshape Arizona’s energy markets. The summit also served as a public unveiling of the state’s first comprehensive energy plan in more than 20 years, “emPOWER Arizona: Executive Energy Assessment and Pathways.”

The Solar Summit IV kicked off with engaging roundtable discussions lead by representatives from the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives. Table topics ranged from organizational sustainability strategy in urban areas to technological developments in renewable energy. Event attendants actively engaged with each other discussing important ideas that would serve as the main topics throughout the day ahead.

Todd Hardy, Vice President of Assets of the ASU Foundation for a New American University, opened up the first panel discussion of the day with positive remarks on Arizona’s progress in energy efficiency and renewable energy development. He continued to explain the importance of having open discussions about Arizona’s evolving energy industry and thanked ASU SkySong for providing that opportunity for the day. Hardy closed his opening remark by noting that Arizona should continue to strive for “increasing solar energy by best practices and leading by example.”

The first panel discussion focused on investigating how new technology is bringing change and opportunities to electric companies and their customers. Kris Mayes, Director of the Utility of the Future Center and Professor of Practice at ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, served as moderator for the panel. Utility focusing more value on their customers in the future was a consistent theme within the discussion. Panelist Tim Berg of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District noted that utility companies must seriously consider how new technologies will influence a customer’s choice. Berg believes in utilities transforming from “one size fits most to customized solutions.” Panelist Megan Nutting of Solar City discussed how people show an increased demand for a future with solar energy as well as re-shaping of traditional utility companies. She explained that in ten years, the electric grid will look extremely different, introducing new energy efficient technologies including smart grids and meters. She believes that the public will demand more services, and utilities will need to listen. Nutting humorously referred to a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch which referenced the telephone industry’s lack of value toward their customers. The sketch created a slogan for the industry that said “We don’t care, we don’t have to, we’re the phone company,” meaning their customers must deal with whatever problems arise because there is no other option. Nutting said that utilities of the future will need to be focused on making all customers happy. Panelist Bob Graham of Southern California Edison also added to Nutting’s point saying that “the utility’s responsibility is to every single customer not just a select few.”

The second panel discussion addressed Arizona’s carbon challenge. Gary Dirks, director of the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability and ASU LightWorks, led the panel into a hard-hitting conversation on de-carbonizing the energy system. A main theme was the societal and economical costs of pursuing a clean energy future alongside recent technological developments. Charles Bayless of North America Energy Holdings opened the discussion by explaining the significance of pursuing a clean energy future.

“Climate change is happening,” Bayless said. “We have got to do something for the sake of future generations.”

Kerry Smith of ASU W.P. Carey School of Business added to the point by noting how society and economics work hand-in-hand when envisioning a low-carbon energy future. Kerry believes it is important to design future markets with carbon policy in mind.

Ellen Stechel of ASU LightWorks gave the audience an insider look into possible low-carbon transportation fuels of the future. Stechel explained that the time for cheap oil is coming to an end and that cleaner fuel, like liquid hydrocarbon and algae biofuel, will be investigated further as an alternative. Stechel promoted the possibilities of Arizona’s abundant sunlight and land availability to serve algae and solar fuel processing. Stechel said she believes in Arizona being an ideal place for algae biofuel production with the current challenge being cost and making the practice more sustainable. She believes that research and development will take some time but that she is overall optimistic.

The third panel of the day focused on deep energy retrofit financing. Harvey Bryan, professor at ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, moderated the panel. Bryan asked panelists to explain ways in which energy efficiency financing and management is being incorporated in Arizona. Panelist Daniel Hunter of Ameresco explained the recent partnership between ASU, Ameresco, and Rocky Mountain Institute plans on providing a cutting-edge financing and management plan for ASU to work toward their climate neutrality and zero-waste goals. Read more about ASU’s plan, which was covered in our last blog here.

Dimitrios Laloudakis of the City of Phoenix provided insight on some of the city’s energy goals. He noted Arizona’s Renewable Energy Standard which plans to hit a renewable energy target of 15% by 2025 and the Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15% below 2005 levels by 2015. Laloudakis explained that the Energize Phoenix project, a $25 million federal grant, has made significant progress and accelerated the city closer toward this goal.

The closing panel of the summit focused on Arizona’s new master energy plan, “emPOWER Arizona: Executive Energy Assessment and Pathways”. The energy plan was signed into effect by Governor Jan Brewer on February 18, 2014. Leisa Brug, Brewer’s energy policy advisor and director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Policy, was moderator to a discussion on its plan and goals. Brug believes that the new master energy plan will help Arizona continue to be a national leader in the energy field. Brug noted that the energy plan is intended to be an “ebb and flow document” and believes that collaboration between policy leaders and energy experts will push the plan further. Brug specifically gave thanks to ASU’s Energy Policy Innovation Council for their assistance with creating the Arizona master energy plan. She is confident that collaborative effort will keep the energy plan fresh and foster growth in renewable energy development. Gary Dirks also added optimism to the states’ new energy plan by noting how the plan will “make Arizona an energy leader.” Read the “emPOWER Arizona: Executive Energy Assessment and Pathways” energy plan here.

The themes that were discussed at this years’ Solar Summit proves that progress in clean energy technology and policy is a work in action here in Arizona. The open discussions and audience participation that take place each year are critical for planning our state’s future energy market. Collaboration between government, industry, university, and community leaders will be necessary in order for Arizona to fast-forward toward its future energy goals.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

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