GridNEXT 2019: A Fascinating Energy Conversation in San Antonio

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via Peter Kelly-Detwiler - Storyteller in Residence

On June 27 and 28th, members of the Texas sustainable energy community got together to discuss the latest opportunities and challenges in the industry, with the underlying theme of “Grid Safety and Security.”

A pre-event industry briefing was held on the afternoon of Wednesday the 27th, where we discussed the trends driving the industry, and the remarkable changes we have witnessed in both Texas and the world in just the past year.  That was followed by an evening networking reception at the Zinc Bistro and Bar, where the lively energy dialogue continued.

Thursday morning, attendees gathered at International Center for a day of conversation encompassing a wide range of topics, largely related to the issues of electric power safety and security.  A number of consistent and critical themes emerged from the panelists’ presentations.  

Topics of discussion

While a number of important points were emphasized, some of the most important were the following:

  • Professionals Hala Ballouz and Ken Donohoo from Electric Power Engineers and Chris Crichton of Sunpower commented that we are quickly seeing a new grid emerge with a huge number of new assets on both sides of the meter, including smaller utility-scale generation, customer-sited devices, and integrated micro-grids. These are challenging to integrate but also offer the potential for increased future resilience.

  • Panelists Chris Tran from SunPower, Troy Kirkpatrick of ABZ, and Michael Allgeier of ERCOT observed that intelligent and secure data management and analytics will be essential to the safe and reliable functioning of the evolving grid. This panel also commented on the difficulty of hiring and retaining qualified cyber professionals in a competitive market, and the need to constantly evolve to meet the threat, with maintenance of cyber-hygiene (Yup, that’s a phrase for taking the proper cyber precautions – ‘don’t click on that link!’) as a priority.

  • Speakers Dean Tuel from Aggreko, Wayne Callender from CPS Energy, Judy McElroy from Fractal Energy Storage Consultants, and Andrés Rangel North American Development Bank commented that properly integrated, diversified and managed renewables can help cost-effectively improve grid resiliency, but energy storage is going to be essentially in facilitating higher levels of renewables integration.

  • Professionals Cyrus Reed from the Sierra Club, John Umphress of Austin Energy Green Building, and Douglas Melnick from the City of San Antonio highlighted the importance of standards and regulations to increase efficiency in the built sector, and discussed the potential to make buildings even more efficient in the future.

  • Panelists Melissa Miller from Avangrid Renewables, Shanna Ramirez of CPS Energy, and Christian DeLaRosa of Joint Base San Antonio highlighted the value in coordinating across sectors to arrive at optimal solutions. They made it clear that there is an increasingly important role for the military and civil society in working side-by-side on grid security issues. In an extended power outage, military bases must take civil society into account. If the military bases have power and the surrounding population doesn’t, the bases will not effectively function.

  • Husch Blackwell’s Chris Reeder wrapped up the afternoon with a humorous recap (not easy to do with normally a dry-as-dust topic) of energy-related activities in the 86th Texas Legislature, noting how important these activities are in shaping our local energy investment environment.

An impressive keynote

A powerful highlight of the day was the after-lunch keynote by CPS Energy’s charismatic CEO Paula Gold-Williams (profiled in the May TREIA newsletter).  She reflected on her early background, growing up in a challenging neighborhood in San Antonio, what it was like moving up through the ranks, and the privilege she feels today in being able to serve her community.  Her presentation was somewhat unconventional for a utility leader. It focused less on infrastructure and megawatthours, and more on the role of CPS as a partner within the broader municipal network that makes San Antonio a desirable city to live in today, and positions the rapidly-growing metropolis for tomorrow.  Gold-Williams made it abundantly clear that keeping the lights on is but one concern of many in her organization’s role of serving multiple stakeholders.

Looking ahead to 2020/2030

Part of the 2019 discuss also centered around how the sustainable energy community is faring relative to the TREIA goal of 50% renewable energy by 2030.  The answer to date is “not too bad.” We currently stand at around 20%, with tens of gigawatts of wind and solar projects in the ERCPOT pipeline, with some storage projects joining the queue as well.  As the numbers grow, the challenge of integration – and managing the resources and the data – will become more pronounced and create new business opportunities. The next 12 months will surely provide the TREIA community with much to talk about at next year’s GridNEXT event.  We are already looking forward to seeing you there!