A Look Back at Interconnect: Austin, a Path to 100% Forum

Interconnect Austin in Review

The first Path to 100 Forum, Interconnect Austin, campaign was held in Austin, Texas on the University of Texas campus on September 24, 2019. We had a diverse range of attendees from across city officials, utility professionals, IPP’s, academia, and students.

Two panels, both moderated by Richard Amato (Director or Energy & Mobility of the Austin Technology Incubator), each covered the challenges faced on a path to 100% renewables.  One panel looked at the challenges from a global viewpoint and the other from a Texas perspective – each of these panels was filled with a robust discussion on issues surrounding the renewables landscape then followed by a Q&A session fueled by questions from the audience and online via a Sli.Do link.

 

Panel 1

Our first panel, titled “Global Lessons from the Path”, was focused on global trends in renewable energy and clean technologies.

The panelists included:

Varun Rai is director of the Energy Institute (EI) at the University of Texas at AustinVarun Rai
Director at the Energy Institute (EI)
University of Texas at Austin

 

Petteri Laaksonen of LUT UniversityPetteri Laaksonen
Research Director of Energy Systems
Lappeenranta University of Technology

 

David Millar, Director of Resource Planning at Ascend Analytics
David Millar
Director of Energy Analytics
Ascend Analytics

 

The Path to 100% Forum panelists discussed their research, experience, and efforts in clean tech and high-renewable power systems and renewable fuels.  Each referenced cases and steps being taken to integrate high-renewable power systems and the technologies necessary to execute these systems today and in the future.

One item became which became the central topic of discussion with the first panel was the importance of rapidly reducing the use of fossil fuels; on this train of thought, flexible generation and storage were mentioned frequently as important ingredients in cooking up a realistic solution to enable the reduction of fossil use in maintaining a realistic path to 100% renewables.

Panel 2

Our second panel was titled “Bringing it Home for Texas” – as the name implied, the panelists took up the trends & tech highlighted in the global panel and applied them to Texas (specifically, the greater metropolitan region of the IH-35 Texas Corridor consisting of Austin, San Antonio and surrounding suburbs).

The panelists included:

Erika Biershbach Vice President of Energy Market Operations and Resource Planning with Austin EnergyErika Bierschbach
Vice President of Energy Market Operations
and Resource Planning
Austin Energy (Municipal Utility of Austin)

 

Frank Almaraz - Chief Administrative & Business Development Officer for CPS EnergyFrank Almaraz
Chief Administrative and
Business Development Officer
CPS Energy (San Antonio Municipal Utility)

 

Cheryl Mele - Sr. Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)
Cheryl Mele
Senior Vice President and
Chief Operating Officer
Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

Our second group of Path to 100% Forum panelists discussed the current situation in Texas, including the high electricity prices in August this year, and their impact on market players and new investments. During the discussion, the trend of non-investment in inflexible generation assets received a lot of attention – mostly because panelists expressed a need to create an environmentally, operationally, economically viable path to 100% renewables.

Furthermore, the utilities panelists expressed that whichever path we take has to be both clean and affordable for their customers.

Video Recording of the Event

Feedback

We’re happy to report that audience feedback during the luncheon held after the second panel was highly positive – attendees said they found the event an engaging success, they enjoyed both the content and how Path To 100% panelists were able to compare & contrast along international discussions and their realistic application at a local level.  We will be using lessons learned from this Interconnect Forum in our future forums, such as one we will be hosting in California in late 2019, and we will also be leveraging survey response data for continuous improvement at each event.

A Warm Thanks to the Austin Technology Incubator

Path To 100% would like to give a big shout-out to the team at the Austin Technology Incubator at the University of Texas.  With their guidance, support, and marketing collaboration, we were able to move this Interconnect Forum from a whiteboard wish-list to a renewables discussion reality.  In short, because of their team – passionate experts such as Richard Amato (who served as our moderator) and Mitch Jacobson (Director, Austin Technology Incubator & Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Texas at Austin) – we were able to truly deliver a forum worthy of the importance surrounding the road to renewables.