On April 21-22, 2016, the 6th Annual Austin Electricity Conference once again convened a diverse group of experts from across the country to explore issues in the industry. The conference is an annual, invitation-only conclave of engineers, economists, policymakers, lawyers and other experts in the electric utility industry, drawn from academia, industry, government, and NGOs. The conference follows the Aspen Institute model, in which extended plenary discussions are organized around short (less than 10 min.) panel presentations so as to promote cross disciplinary discussion among the invited participants. In this way, the model treats all invited participants as “presenters” and puts less emphasis on formal panel presentations.
The 2016 Austin Electricity Conference explored the idea of states and nations as the electric industry is undergoing a transformation. Distributed energy resources like rooftop solar panels, electric cars, and sophisticated energy management systems are changing the way electricity is produced, delivered and consumed in the United States. The trend is unmistakable and is being pushed along by policy in places like New York and California. At the same time, some of the impetus for decentralization is coming from the ground up, from technological advancements that have sharply reduced the cost of solar panels to the proliferation of smart meters in homes and businesses. These trends pose a series of difficult policy problems for the existing electric grid. How can we design a robust electric system of the future, one that ensures technological innovation, resilience and diversity? Is renewable generation best deployed on rooftops, or at utility scale? How does a distribution grid designed to deliver energy in one direction, from the central station to the customer, handle the delivery of energy from distributed rooftop solar and electric car batteries to the grid? How should distributed generators be compensated for the power they provide? How should they pay for access to the backup power on the grid? Where, if anywhere, does planning occur in this system? Is planning necessary? If so, who should do it? These are the themes that were explore at the 2016 Austin Electricity Conference.
The Thursday keynote speaker was Dr. Michael Webber, who focused on his new book, which deals with the connection between water and energy. As Deputy Director of the Energy Institute, Co-Director of the Clean Energy Incubator, Josey Centennial Fellow in Energy Resources, and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Dr. Webber trains the next generation of energy leaders at The University of Texas at Austin through research and education at the convergence of engineering, policy, and commercialization. He was selected as a Fellow of ASME, has authored more than 200 publications, holds 4 patents, and serves on the advisory board for Scientific American.
The Friday keynote speaker was Dr. Zin Smati, whose presentation was about his long-range predictions for the energy sector, including greater development and investment of renewable energy sources, especially in the developed world. Dr. Smati is a senior executive and industry leader bringing more than 30 years of North American and international experience in the energy sector. He is currently a Senior Advisor at LS Power (developer, owner, operator and investor in power generation and electric transmission infrastructure in the U.S.) and also Chairman and CEO of LifeEnergy, a North American Distributed Energy Company and an affiliate of LS Power Private Equity fund. Until December 31, 2015 and for 10 years, Dr. Smati was President and CEO of GDF SUEZ Energy NA, a North American company and part of ENGIE, one of the world’s leading energy groups.
Educational sponsors included the Cockrell School of Engineering, the Energy Institute, the Energy Management Program at the McCombs School of Business, the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business. ONCOR was a corporate sponsor.
Conference organizers included David Adelman (University School of Law), Ross Baldick (Cockrell School of Engineering), Varun Rai (Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs & Cockrell School of Engineering), David Spence (McCombs School of Business and University of Texas School of Law), Melinda Taylor (Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business), and Michael Webber (Webber Energy Group and Cockrell School of Engineering).