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How Do We Figure This Smart Grid Out? Introducing CADER: Communities for Advanced Distributed Energy Resources

My, but we learn so slow,

And heroes, they come and they go

And leave us behind,

As though we’re supposed to know

        ~ Joe Walsh, The Eagles, Pretty Maids All in a Row

BPoilspillThe recent coal mine collapse and the gulf oil spill has caused the blogoshere to once again heat up with debates about clean energy versus the fossil fuel stuff.  Scientists are saying that the Deepwater Oil Disaster could be more than 10 times worse than initial estimates — and the well could keep spewing oil into the Gulf for months before the oil companies figure out how to stop it. Meanwhile, some elected officials who insisted all along that offshore drilling was safe are trying to tell us that we just need better “backup blowout preventers” on offshore oil rigs. Glenn Beck continues to compare Global Warming to Nazi propoganda, but as Lewis Black points out so humorously, Glenn Beck has “Nazi Tourette’s” (you’ve got to see the video ~ I had tears in my eyes laughing so hard). On the other side, I just read a great blog today written by Green Builder Media’s Ron Jones. It’s titled Hostage Situation and makes many great points. This point stood out for me:

Why is it so difficult to get people to admit that we not only have the ability to make intelligent decisions and effect positive change in the way we conduct our lives, but that it is our moral obligation to do so? We know how to reduce the environmental impacts of our industries, our transportation, and our built environment. We are not forced to continue to pass the poison for the sake of profit.”

Getting off the poison and embracing the light, as I’ve written in earlier blogs and articles, is not a simple matter. In fact, it will take the coordination and cooperation of many disciplines to achieve the morally imperative change. At the end of last month we were very fortunate to attend the CADER Conference 2010 at the University of California at San Diego. The venue was spectacular, on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The gathering was even better. Attending were representatives of the California utilities, the Department of Energy, major universities, non-profit advocacy organizations, large and small manufacturers, green builders and green designers, among others.

Over the three-day conference there were several threads or themes that emerged. I will blog about them in the weeks and months to come. Most importantly, it is clear that to get from where we are to where we need to be it will take a cooperative effort by the broad range of disciplines representated at CADER 2010. In fact, I got a chuckle recently when someone made me aware of an article in Smart Grid News about the Smart Grid’s Most Powerful Men. More likely, an earlier Smart Grid News article on The Networked Grid 100: Movers and Shakers of the Smart Grid probably better captures the essence of our challenge. Many attending the CADER 2010 event were not on this list and clearly should be.

And what does all of this mean to the Solar Tribe? Jigar Shah, CEO of The Carbon War Room, founder of SunEdison, and brilliant futurist, put it very well in a recent email:  

I think there needs to be a pivot by the solar industry away from solar advocacy towards Distributed Generation (DG) advocacy. This includes DG (solar, CHP, wind, small hydro, geothermal, etc) and, more importantly, aggressive electrical engineering (EE,) targeted storage, and smart grid.

Bringing together stakeholders in these various disiplines is the only way to sort out obstacles and opportunities. As we look around, we can find an unbelievable number of conferences and seminars on Smart Grid. Many organizations are creating forums for wide discussion and debate about where to go with with DG, EE and targeted storage. A quick search of the Internet identified the following gatherings in the very near future:

Two Day Smart Grid Conference in Palm Springs, California May 18-19, 2010

Community Energy Roadmap Summit and Workshop Bellevue, Washington June 2-3, 2010

Smart Grid Technology Conference & Expo 2010, San Diego CA, June 2-3, 2010

Smart Grids – China 2010, Shanghai China , June 8-11, 2010

Smart Grid Interoperability Summit, Toronto Ontario, June 15-16, 2010

…and that’s just the next thirty days. In addition, these organizations exist for the purpose of advocating for distributed energy development:

World Alliance for Decentralized Energy (WADE)

California Energy Commission’s Distributed Energy Resources Guide

Distributed Energy – A Journal of Energy Efficiency & Reliability

Galvin Electricity Initiative

There are many more I have not listed. Several blog installments can written on each of these organizations and others. They are necessary for the smart grid dialogues to take place.

CADERlogoSo why does CADER have the opportunity to be different from these other conferences and organizations? It’s really quite simple and something of which I had not  been previously aware. Communities, or microgrids, are natural innovation zones. They provide opportunities to perfect Smart Grid technologoes because communities have experimentation scalability. These microgrids also provide flexibility. At the community level, utilities can create partnerships with universities, as well as small and large businesses. At the community level, potentially contentious stakeholders are more likely to come together in cooperative efforts to jointly find solutions to the many technical challenges involved in creating a distributed energy smart grid. Perhaps most importantly, at the community level stakeholders can afford the trial-and-error required to acheive optimum cost reduction, without wide-scale public opinion slowing down or halting progress.

CADER is all about taking a community approach to advanced distributed energy. From the beginning to the end of the 2010 conference, attendees heard about progress being made at the microgrid level from a broad range of community spokesmen. We heard different perspectives to common challenges shared by stakeholders. We heard from community leaders in the city of Chula Vista about the real world challenges and accomplishments for turning a decent-sized community green. We heard from representatives of the University of California – Davis about their development of a net zero community. We heard about the development of microgrids in India, Borrego Springs CA, and Canada. All with different challenges and points of view. We heard from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), Sacramento Metropolitan District (SMUD)  about the utilities community plans and actions. We heard from the current and former commissioners of the California Energy Commission, as well as the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), the Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) Coalition and World Alliance for Distributed Energy (WADE). We heard panels talk about the critical role that water is playing and will continue to play in the energy-water nexus. We took a tour of UCSDs 30MW microgrid.

I’ll cover all of these and more in upcoming blogs and articles. In the meantime, you can find many of the CADER presenters’ powerpoint presentations here. This is important and relevant to all of us, especially the solar tribe. We need more of this. In the past, the CADER Conference has been held bi-annually. Hopefully, it will shift to an annual event and broaden both its attendee base, as well as its media coverage.

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