On Wednesday, nuMeridian attended the monthly meeting of the San Diego Renewable Energy Society, hosted by the California Sustainable Energy Center. The topic for the night was San Diego Gas and Electric Company’s long term renewable energy plan for San Diego County.
Our team arrived a few minutes early and as we took our seats in the back of the presentation room and glanced around at our fellow renewable energy enthusiasts,we were a bit surprised that the average age in the room was 55 plus and there were only four women in a sea of men.
As a recent college graduate and founder of nuMeridian, I can understand that the average college student does not want to spend their Wednesday night in Kearny Mesa. But is there no one out there under 30 in the alternative energy industry? Is my generation apathetic to the exciting potential of solar power and wind generation? Or am I the only 25 year old that stays awake at night thinking about how to overcome the challenges of inconsistent power availability and peak load response? I admit it, I am an alternative energy geek, but it would be great to see more young professionals and new grads like myself at these meetings.
While the Copenhagen Energy talks go on this week, and get mired in political posturing, my generation needs to take action. Our generation, the Gen-Energy generation, can’t afford to wait for old fashioned politics to catch up to emerging technology that could solve our energy needs by the time we are gray in the temples.
I digress. So, back to SDG&E. Rob Anderson, Director of Resource Planning, was the speaker for the day and he began his presentation by discussing the new challenges of two-way energy-flow versus the traditional one-way flow of energy from the power plant to your home and then to wherever wasted energy goes to die. The two-way model incorporates new distributed power generation technologies, i.e. rooftop solar, which goes from your home back out to the grid so that it can be used up by someone else. This type of technology has been going on for years for home owners with solar panels that essentially run electric meters backwards. This is old school new energy technology.
Today, the possibilities are more dynamic. Now anyone can have solar, geothermal, wind and fuel cells all providing power on site and trading excess energy back to the grid to finance the overhead costs and loans. All of these new energy sources will be the only way for San Diego County to reach its mandated energy production levels by 33% by 2020. SDG&E has developed six guidelines for how to reach these goals.
Everyone Needs Energy Efficiency
The first is energy efficiency to reduce the overall consumption of electricity in San Diego county. This includes, efficient lighting, proper home insulation and encouraging the purchase of energy efficient appliances. SDG&E has spent more than $485 million on energy efficiency awareness programs, which have saved more than 2.9 million megawatts (MW) hours and mitigated the need for up to five additional power plants..
Where is the Demand?
Second on the SDG list is depend response and encouraging home owners to reduce their energy use during high-demand times. Power need in San Diego tends to peak after 4 PM and SDG&E would like home owners to run their dish washers and laundry machines in the morning or late at night. This will reduce the number of peak load power plants that need to be online in anticipation of the high demand.
Peak load plants are a concept I had not heard of until Anderson’s discussion. There are several power plants in San Diego County designated as “peak load power plants,” most of which are powered by natural gas. At certain times during the day, such as in the morning and early afternoon, home use of electrical appliances peaks and additional power is needed. Peak load power plants sit idle at their minimum and most inefficient level, waiting for these spikes in power consumption to appear. Anderson talked about how to shift the load demand to a more stable power curve to keep these plants offline, which can save energy and reducing carbon emissions.
Show me the Solar Power
The third piece of the SDG&E planning guidelines is to build more renewable energy power plants to bring total renewable energy electrical production to 33% of the total by 2020. Currently renewable energy sources provide 11% of the total power used in San Diego county. Forecasts for 2015 put renewable energy production at 26% and well on its way to 33% by 2020.
Distribute it and They Will Come
The fourth thing Anderson discussed was distributed generation methods to build small power plants that can power homes and businesses in proximity to the plant. Options for these types of plants include installing solar panels on the roofs of large buildings or turning parking lots into a solar covered garage. Opportunities are available for land owners and business owners to contact SDG&E and offer their land or building space for renewable energy projects. See The 2009 Renewable RFO page for PPA options.
More People More Power
While 100% renewable energy is the end goal, new power plants must still be built to meet the current and expanding demand for electricity. New power plants which use the latest in natural gas technology will be built to ensure that San Diegans have enough power to run the latest tech gadgets. San Diego is ever expanding and it is more and more difficult to build power plants near the places where people need power.
The sixth planning guide addresses this problem. Investments are being made in new transmission infrastructure to bring power from renewable energy sources to San Diego. The Imperial Valley has a high potential for solar and wind power generation but getting the energy to where it is needed is a difficult task. Say hello to the Sunrise Power Link. A 120-mile long stretch of above ground and underground transmission lines to bring renewable energy power to San Diego residents. The $1.9 Billion projects promises to bring an additional 1000 MW of capacity to the San Diego power grid and intends to spend more than $680 million inside of southern California and 90% of the budget is to be spent inside the US.
SDG&E has made the commitment to stay ahead of government mandated requirements for renewable energy production. Their plan is comprehensive and makes use of the most economically feasible options available at the time. While I would love to see more up and coming professionals in the audience at these meetings, I am impressed with the work they are doing and hope they continue to drive renewable energy forward. The next meeting is on January 13th, 2010, I hope to see more people my age attending.