Green:Net: How to Use Government to Promote Energy Efficiency

Investors and cleantech entrepreneurs must think about what the public utilities commissions in the states where they want to do business are there to do, Dian M. Grueneich, commissioner of the California Public Utility Commission, told  attendees at the Green:Net conference today in San Francisco. “I am the person who stands between your business, your business concept and the reality of making it happen,” Grueneich said.

Commissions and commissioners are struggling with how to bring in all sorts of green technologies being discussed today, she said, but there have limits. States have deficits and commissions and commissioners don’t have the staff to handle the amount of information coming out at them, she said. There has been a lot of discussion around the utilities, but if the utilities want to pay for these things with ratepayer dollars, then they have to go to the public utilities commissions. But it can be difficult, said Grueneich, for them to understand and approve innovative and unproven technologies.

However, there is hope. California has saved more than $56 billion in the last 35 years thanks to energy-efficiency standards in building and appliances, according to Grueneich. Electricity use per person has remained relatively stable over the last 30 years — nationwide per-capita energy use is up by almost 50 percent. Everyone should advocate energy efficiency, said Grueneich, and attendees should start by looking at California’s road map for the next decade at www.californiaenergyefficiency.com.

Examples of how aggressive the state is being can be found in the plan, such as by 2020 all new homes in California will be zero net energy. By 2030 all commercial buildings will be zero net energy. This will help utilities plan, and help entrepreneurs and investors plan so they know where the government wants to go and what kinds of services the state is looking for, she said.

Grueneich said that after the plan was developed the money had to be allocated, which it does in a three-year cycle. California has $3.8 billion in rate payer funding for the energy efficiency programs, which is the largest in the U.S., she said, and except for China, the largest in the word. It has a $78 million budget to fund emerging technologies to bridge the gap from R&D to the marketplace.

Other examples of forward-thinking in California is last December it said that the customer has access and third parties can have access to a consumer’s energy use and price information. It’s also allowed its utilities to track reductions in energy use because of behavior changes so they can get credit for encouraging tools and services that allow consumers to monitor their home energy use.

California also plans to release a website in the next few months with a lot of information about the state’s programs in terms of what the state requirements and policies are, as well as the results of previous pilots and other programs in a couple of months to help companies find out what works, what hasn’t and what is needed.

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