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Energy Autonomy in Southern California

Article Photoby Worldchanging Los Angeles local blogger, Foster Kerrison:

Last week, UCLA Sustainability hosted an event with the World Council for Renewable Energy (WCRE) and Environment California on Energy Autonomy. The talk was built around Dr. Hermann Scheer's new book Energy Autonomy, but unfortunately Dr. Scheer was stuck in a grounded plane at San Francisco airport, and couldn't participate.

Instead his slides were presented by Angelina Galiteva, WCRE Coordinator for Renewable Energy City Initiatives. The focus was on solar energy, following the model that Dr. Scheer has successfully implemented in Germany (he was the author of solar legislation there).

The major message was that the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) practice (i.e. committing to a 20% renewable energy component of a utility's portfolio by a given year) is misguided and unrealistic. Galiteva presented the German model of feed-in tariffs (an obligation for utilities to purchase, at a set price, the electricity generated by any renewable energy resource) as being a preferable method for promoting solar energy. The concept was presented pretty quickly for a newbie like me, but Canada's Ecology Action Centre has a good primer (PDF). The new Caltrans headquarters in downtown LA was pointed out as a great application of new solar technology (see picture).

Dave Freeman, current board Chairman of the Port of LA, spoke strongly in favor of energy independence, framing it in terms of our foreign policy challenges (the "no blood for oil" argument). He made a great point that the debate needs to move to a practical level that laypeople can understand. I certainly agreed, as much of Galetiva's presentation went right over my head.

Bernadette del Chiaro, Clean Energy Advocate for Environment California wrapped up the topic in terms of our local politics -- namely the need for Mayor Villaraigosa to place a higher priority on solar energy as part of the city's committment to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2010. Environment California led the lobbying effort for California's million solar roofs initiative, which was successfully passed last year. Del Chiaro noted that only 0.04% of California's energy is provided by solar -- even though we are recognized as one of the sunniest parts of the world. Germany and Japan are the world leaders in solar, even though they are located in cloudier climates.

The million solar roofs initiative will remove the need for six large coal-fired power plants. The challenge in implementing the policy is to convince the local utilities to change their energy portfolio -- the state legislature doesn't have direct authority over the utilities. Hence the need for all of us to convince our local mayors and utilities to make the decision to increase their solar portfolio.

It certainly makes sense. Throughout the event I kept thinking of the line in Swingers, when Rob says to Mike

You gotta move on. You gotta let go of the past. The future is so beautiful. Every day is so sunny out here. It's like Manifest Destiny man.

Indeed. We all moved out here for the weather. We might as well use it as a sustainable energy source!

[photo of movable solar panels on the Caltrans building courtesy of]

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