“We are at war”

The Intersolar USA East (Intersolar Brooklyn) trade show opened on a combative tone, as the first Intersolar trade show following the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. As summed by up the comments of New York State Senate Energy and Telecommunications Chair Kevin Parker (D): “We are at war”.

Parker was referring specifically to the actions of climate deniers in the Trump Administration and Congress. He spoke to the fear that he saw many experiencing across the country in the wake of Trump’s federal budget proposal, which slashes Environmental Protection Agency funding and would eliminate most solar R&D funding though the U.S. Department of Energy.

In his speech, Senator Parker addressed the human dimensions of the Energy Transition, and gave a healthy reminder of what is really at stake. “Climate Change is real and unless we start dealing with it and act head on, we are not going to leave anything for our grandchildren and their children,” stated Parker. “The bad news is that the planet will expel us.”

He spoke the members of the solar industry present as “soldiers” in that war, and noted that in a hostile federal policy environment “you have a sanctuary here in New York… we want your industry here in New York, and we want your industry here in Brooklyn.”

For the nuts and bolts of the Energy Transition in New York, “Energy Czar” Richard Kauffman from the governor’s office spoke to the development of the state’s visionary “Reforming the Energy Vision” (REV) process, which marked a major milestone earlier this month with the approval of a formula to value distributed energy resources including solar.

Kauffman also noted that there is much at stake under REV. Referring to New York’s goal to reach 50% renewable energy by 2030, Kauffman noted that “we are not going to be able to achieve this mandate on a cost-effective unless we utilize market forces to built a better grid.”

Kauffman explained that the Value of Distributed Energy Resources proceeding addresses only one part of what he describes as the three pillars of REV, with the others including changing the way that utilities are compensated, and establishing competitive markets. He likened the role that the state is playing in setting up an environment for competition to iPhone, noting that private app developers work in an environment set up by but not controlled by Apple.

The ambition of REV cannot be underestimated. “We are trying to change a system of systems,” observed Kauffman. However, there has also been tremendous progress in the state. In 11 years the capacity of solar deployed in New York has increased 100-fold from 8 MW in 2006 to 776 MW in 2017, with New York City reaching a 100 MW milestone earlier this week.

It is important to note that the distributed energy resources addressed in the REV proceeding include more than solar, but other resources as well, most prominently energy storage. The critical role that energy storage will play as the portion of solar on the grid grows is not lost on the battery storage industry, and such companies were among the top sponsors of the conference.

And while Florian Wessendorf of Intersolar conference organizers Solar Promotion noted that roughly half of the solar companies in the United States are located on the East Coast, it was important to many speakers to clarify that the focus on the conference is larger than New York. California Solar Energy Industries Association (CalSEIA) Executive Director Bernadette Del Chiaro introduced speakers, and stressed the “bi-coastal connection” that the conference represents.

In his presentation, Richard Kauffman of the governor’s office expressed the desire to see other states take on work similar to REV to transform the distribution grid, something which solar industry leaders have privately expressed hope of to pv magazine.