3 pathways to a clean energy future

In this final installment of our eLab Accelerator blog series (read part 1 and part 2), we are reviewing three teams who are focused on developing strategies to understand and achieve clean energy futures.

The increasing capability and affordability of renewables and distributed resources, the pressure to combat climate change, and the need for a more resilient electricity system are creating opportunities as well as challenges the likes of which our electricity system has never faced before. By working together, these teams recognize that successful solutions must address not only the technical but also the social and creative complexity facing the electricity system.

University of North Carolina System Energy Future

The 17-campus UNC system has adopted aggressive energy and carbon reduction goals at the system level and on many individual campuses. Across the UNC system there has been a 20 percent reduction in energy per square foot over the last decade. And the UNC campuses are investing in renewable energy systems, with North Carolina State installing over 130 kW of solar PV on campus buildings and homes, Appalachian State University installing a 100 kW wind turbine and nearly 30 kW of solar PV, and multiple commercial-scale solar thermal installations.

Despite these successes, the campuses recognize that there is still a significant opportunity to capture more energy efficiency going forward and to adopt high levels of low-carbon, renewable energy systems on rooftops and land throughout the UNC system.

Key issues the team tackled include:

• How to position the UNC system in a solar financing market that is based largely on tax credits
• Coordinating complex and diverse administrative structures, needs, climates, technical knowledge, and natural resources across the UNC system
• Making the economic case for renewable energy sources in a state where low electricity prices make this more difficult

Lafayette Clean Energy

In November 2013, the citizens of Lafayette, Colo., voted to direct revenues collected from the existing utility franchise fee to clean energy development in the city. Revenues would be targeted for investment in energy efficiency programs and renewable generation projects including solar development within the city. Due to a competing ballot measure, however, occupation tax revenues were not secured and the city of Lafayette, with local citizens, is now reviewing options for energy investment in the city.

A number of solar and small clean energy projects have been built in Lafayette in recent years including solar PV installations on city hall, the police department, and the municipal recreation center. In 2013, in partnership with Community Energy Solar and through Xcel Energy's Solar Rewards program, Lafayette built a 1 MW "solar garden" to supply energy to local buildings and residents.

Key issues the team is tackling:

• Evaluate the tradeoffs that must be considered in spending city tax revenues
• Outline shared priorities for clean energy investment
• Develop an initial shared vision for Lafayette's energy future
• Identify the most promising opportunities for clean energy investment

Minnesota Energy Future Framework

In 2013, Minnesota's legislature passed legislation requiring that a framework be developed for a transition that ends the state's contribution to greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels within the next few decades. The objective is a long-term and comprehensive vision for Minnesota's energy future — including electricity, heating and cooling, transportation, industry and agriculture.

The goal is to drive action, and to do so it must engage stakeholders deeply. Initial scoping work suggested the framework investigate the potential to reduce fossil fuel use by 80 percent or 100 percent by either 2030 or 2050 respectively, and evaluate pathways according to affordability, reliability, economic development, environmental quality and public health. This is a large and complex undertaking, requiring a defensible and analytically rigorous study along with a network of leaders within government, business, utilities, civil society and academia to shepherd the framework's development and realize its implementation.

Key issues the team tackled:

• Define success and align on what it looks like
• Structure the overall process to have the greatest impact, including through political shifts
• Assess whether the evaluation criteria suggested by the study scoping are appropriate and complete
• Determine key leverage points and next steps to move the Energy Future Framework forward

This article originally appeared at the RMI Outlet. It is the third installment of a three-part series. Solar panel array image by Richard Waters via Shutterstock.