A trip to the sunshine state

Suzy's trip to California gets her thinking about the renewable energy transition around the world.

After an amazing holiday exploring the sunshine state I was fortunate to ease my way back to reality by spending the last week working alongside our lovely H+K colleagues in San Francisco. Before I hop on a plane home I thought I’d share some musings.

You might think two weeks of blissful Californian sun, avocados in abundance and crisp white chardonnay would be enough for me to forget about energy but no no – we really are geeks in E&I! Holidaying just before me, my colleague Ros shared her snap of wind turbines gracing the freeway (below) and I too kept a keen eye out as I drove my 2,466 (!!) mile all-American road trip.

Ros spies turbines from the road

On the approach to Vegas driving through dusty desert with nothing to be seen for miles something flashed on the horizon. My fellow travelers thought it might be an alien landing, but I was adamant we had in fact come across a giant solar field. It was so white and bright in the distance no amount of camera zooming could confirm my hunch. Two weeks later I discovered this was in fact the 392MW Ivanpah solar thermal site – providing enough sustainable power for over 140,000 homes, and coincidently an H+K client. Too late to gloat – my friend has already flown home!

At other locations we too saw wind turbines rotating in the distance majestically. Of course this is the home of electric vehicles, which drove alongside us on the road down Big Sur. And back in San Francisco as we caught the ferry over to Alcatraz I paid a little too much attention to the signs telling me the ferry was powered by on-board solar and wind!

Pretty much everywhere you look in California there is evidence of renewable energy at work. And if this article is anything to go by, they are at the forefront of cracking the holy grail of energy storage too.

Getting to know my colleagues in the SF office I learnt that the California Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) established in 2002 is one of the most ambitious renewable energy standards in the USA – which came as no surprise. The programme requires the utilities to increase procurement from eligible renewable energy resources to 33% of total procurement by 2020. And it’s fascinating what they mean by eligible. Hydropower doesn’t apply; not because it’s not clean, but because its already a mature technology, ditto nuclear.

That makes our 20% by 2020 ambition across the pond seem rather feeble. Especially when you consider all the backlash and resistance.

However it’s not all plain sailing. According to this NYT piece there is a conservative resistance against renewable energies gaining traction in the US – in particular at present, the Koch brothers fighting state laws that allow homeowners with solar panels to sell power they don’t need back to electric utilities. Worrying news for the solar industry, which in California has reached record highs of 18% of the state’s electricity on certain days; truly living up to its sunshine state name! If this movement reaches California it could be a serious setback.

So it seems that wherever you are in the world – even in the most progressive areas for renewable energy – there is work to be done to demonstrate the need for cleaner energy. Here good communications is vital.

From educating business leaders on the economic benefits of investing in sustainable practices, to ensuring policy makers make informed choices, to reassuring local residents – clear and consistent communications will ultimately be what ensures the transition to a low-carbon economy is a smooth one.

H+K Admin

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