LightWorks Blog

Technology to Market: What’s holding us back?

published October 15, 2014, 1:32 pm

From the invention of the computer mouse to the world’s first video game console, the 1960s marked a time of huge technological achievements. The animated sitcom “The Jetsons” spurred whimsical visions of a futuristic utopia where household robots, flying cars, and regular space travel would be commonalities. The 1960s marked a time when people were constantly asking, “What if?” and was described by historians as the ten years that have had the most significant changes in history. People were aware of the possibilities of technology and were not hard-pressed to believe that flying cars were not too far away.

The Jetsons Intro

Nearly 55 years later, there is no doubt that we’ve made significant strides in our technological advances. But where is our space-based solar power? Where are our effective and highly efficient batteries? Even though it may seem that technology is moving fast, there are plenty of times where innovative research comes to a standstill. This is the challenge of bringing technology to market. Brilliant minds across the world may have ideas that could further our goals to a futuristic utopia like what we see in “The Jetsons,” but there are certain roadblocks that prevent technology from being a commercial product.

Judy Giordan, managing director of ecosVC®, has over 33 years of experience translating research to commercial opportunities, an integral part of bringing technology to the market. Among many projects, Giordan has been a National Science Foundation Program Officer for the IGERT Program, which provides traineeships to graduate students  to work on interdisciplinary challenges, and has been a Fortune 500 corporate officer and Chief Technical Officer. I was very excited to speak with Giordan to discuss the issues of bringing tech to market as well as what steps have been taken, and what is needed, to spur progression. 

Interview with Judy Giordan below:

1. What are the problems of bringing tech to market?

When you think about all the components of bringing tech to market there are some key considerations. First, how do human beings think about the technology – what is needed; what is the problem to be solved? Second, how much time will it take to actually commercialize the technology? Third, how much will the technology cost and where will it be integrated into a given market and what is the value it will provide?

Academic institutions need to play a larger role in commercializing innovative science. Humans are like pack animals, not in a bad way, but we want to know our roles, how we can contribute, and how will we be rewarded? We therefore must ask the question, how do we work to achieve the outcome we want? If the outcome is that we want true commercialization, we must reward faculty and students with the tools to bring the constructs to market and not simply by allowing them to gain a patent.

Most people never appreciate the time it takes to commercialize a scientific or engineering achievement. Unlike a mobile app where you can ask 20 people how they feel about using it, write the code and launch, it takes significant time to figure out how scientific technology meets a demand in the market and then how you will develop and scale that technology. You have to understand the market structure and how your innovation will impact and address challenges in that market.

Cost and integration:  
In the end, innovators must think critically about how much their innovation will cost to develop and commercialize and how and where it will be integrated in the value chain in a market. There are many ways to scale a product – from making it yourself, to toll manufacturing to partnering with others to licensing it to others to make.  You need to be the type of person who has the time and tenacity to go through the iterations required to develop, scale and sell your product with cost and market integration in mind.

2. What does ecosVC® do to help bring tech to market?

The bottom line is this, most researchers need to understand what society wants and needs from scientific innovations. This is particularly true for those who have not done this before, particularly undergraduates, graduates, and post-docs. ecosVC® works to touch as many universities as we can to aid students and post docs in gaining the skills required to understand how markets and technology commercialization works so that they can use this information along with their excellent backgrounds on science and engineering to address technological challenges armed with both the skills and vocabulary of science and technology commercialization.  I contend that it’s no longer possible to come out with a 4.0 in the best university and be guaranteed a great career. Regardless of the career path you would like – academe, industry, government, a non-profit –
having both scientific and market strategy skills and understanding can help you build not only a dream career – but also address real challenges facing us in the 21st Century. That way you have the tools and ideas ready for development and production of a device, as well as the knowledge of how to market it!

3. How is ASU LightWorks providing a solution to this problem?

ASU President Michael Crow has always been a leader and visionary in innovative science. This vision in an academic institution can play a key role in making this transition of bringing technology to market. Research not only needs to fill a demand but it also needs to bring something “to light” that can solve issues for people on this planet. ASU LightWorks works with people like me and organizations like ecosVC®, those who are not always internally or academically focused, to put together the right group to address not only the lab to market problems that initiatives like the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) face, but also Arizona as a whole.

Conclusion of interview.

LightWorks is working diligently to find solutions for the problem of bringing energy technologies to market. LightWorks-supported ATP3 is currently working with analysts to detect financial and operational barriers to algae based business models to assess the current state of technology. ATP3 is using data generated by the national network of their algae testbeds to engage techno-economic analysis (TEA) and life cycle assessment (LCA) stakeholders who will examine the economic and environmental impacts of algae-based biofuels and bioproducts. ATP3 hopes to advance algae-based products and biofuels by providing open and free data to the algae community via the Department of Energy’s Open Energy Information Initiative. For more information about ATP3 services and data, visit To learn about the data provided by ATP3 and to learn how to access it, read more here.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks.

Additional Information:

Light Technology Wins Nobel Prize for Physics

published October 7, 2014, 3:08 pm

This year, three researches from Japan and the U.S. were deemed to be no dim bulbs in the science and research community. Professors Isamu Asaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura were nominated this week for the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

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LED macro, blue. Retrieved via WikiCommons.

This breakthrough not only brings a whole new light to the bulb and smartphone industry, but has an incredible impact on global energy use.

In 2012, Americans used about 461 kilowatthours (kWh) for lighting alone, according a U.S. Energy Information Administration lighting report. This represents about 12-percent of all energy used in the states that year.

Globally speaking, about 19 percent of the energy used on this planet is for the purpose of lighting, according to the IEA.

About 1 900 million tons of carbon dioxide is emitted each year in the process of generating the energy used for global lighting purposes. According to the IEA, this is equivalent to 70-percent of the emissions from the world’s light passenger vehicles.

The LED bulb, as designed by Asaki, Amano and Nakamura, represents an opportunity to reduce this energy use around the globe. LED bulbs can use up to 80 percent less energy than traditional light bulbs.

Red and green LEDs have been around for many years, but blue LEDs have long since been a struggle for scientists in both academia and industry. According to the BBC, the trio had made the first blue LEDs in the early 1990s and have since enabled a new generation of “bright, energy-efficient white lamps as well as color LED screens.”

The improvement of the blue LEDs will advance the lights and screens of smartphones, but also improve traditional incandescent and florescent lamps. The blue LEDs are able to convert electricity directly into photons of light, instead of using the inefficient mixture of heat and light generated inside traditional incandescent bulbs. In the award citation, the Nobel committee declared: “incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th Century; the 21st Century will be lit by LED lamps.”

The BBC also reported that the Nobel jury “emphasized the usefulness of the invention, adding that the Nobel prizes were established to recognize developments that delivered ‘the greatest benefit to mankind.’” The Nobel Prize not only commemorates the success of the blue LED invention, but also enables us all to think about how innovative energy technology has a huge impact on shaping our world. It is truly momentous for a light-inspired, energy-efficient technology to be recognized as a fundamental need for our future.

Asaki, Amano and Nakamura were named at a press conference in Sweden on Oct. 7 and join a prestigious list of 196 other physics laureates recognized since 1901.

Written by Gabrielle Olson and Sarah Mason, ASU LightWorks

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LightWorks’ Clark Miller calls for rethinking of sovereignty, energy policies

published September 30, 2014, 1:11 pm

Clark Miller, associate director of the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes (CSPO) and associate professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University, wrote an article discussing the potential of a national referendum on climate change in the United States. The article, “Are we sovereign?” was featured as a contributing piece in The Hill. Read the article here.

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"63 Years of Climate Change." This visualization shows how global temperatures have risen from 1950 through the end of 2013. Retrieved from NASA.

The article reflected on Scotland’s recent challenge of its people to vote on whether to remain a part of the United Kingdom or to become an independent nation. Miller correlated this historic vote to the current challenge of the United States to confront climate change, specifically the ways in which we produce and consume energy. According to Miller, the United States will soon face the issue of whether to agree to make changes to our current energy system or to live with the consequences of not doing so. Miller explores areas of philosophy, our constitution, and economical markets to conclude that it is indeed possible for the United States to be sovereign over our energy systems and the future that they will bring us. The only thing that appears to be holding us back is ourselves. Whether we like it or not, every choice we make determines our future. We have agency over our decision to mitigate climate change and transform our current energy systems whether we are conscious of it or not. Below is an excerpt from Miller’s article explaining this further:

Will we get the chance to have a national referendum on climate change in the United States? It might seem not, but the answer is yes. This November, we will vote on climate change. And next. And 2016. Every vote we take; every purchase we make; every time we plug a new technology in. Every time we make a choice, whatever it's about, it has ramifications for how tomorrow's energy systems will evolve.

Just as Scotland was able to determine their future as a nation, we will soon be able to concretely determine ours in terms of our energy systems. Miller brings up an important point to exercise our right to vote in order to create the world we wish to see. If we choose to work together to mitigate climate change, we can create the low-carbon and just energy system that we need for our future. The question is, will this be the choice we make?

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks.

Welcome to the Arizona Clean Energy Online Forum from LightWorks director Gary Dirks

published September 29, 2014, 10:29 am


Over the course of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the United States’ electricity system was largely built by investor-, municipally-, and cooperatively-owned utilities using generation from centralized power plants, servicing single territories. At the time, this was the most efficient method of production and distribution of electricity, and regulatory bodies were formed to ensure that ratepayers were protected in the absence of a competitive market. However, as we progress into the twenty-first century, the ways we are able to generate, transmit, distribute, and consume electricity are also advancing and evolving.

In the midst of these changes, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a suite of regulations (the “Clean Power Plan” or CPP) that could significantly reshape aspects of the United States’ electricity system well into the twenty-first century.  The CPP is complex and raises many questions; our electricity system is complex and current changes are raising tensions within the old operating paradigm. To discover a practical, optimal path forward, we will need data-rich discussions to dispel misconceptions and provide stakeholders and decision makers with the information they need to make wise choices. As our contribution to these discussions, ASU LightWorks is pleased to launch the Arizona Clean Energy Online Forum. Through this forum, Arizona State University will offer a wealth of resources for Arizona to take advantage of, including straightforward facts and statistics on the electricity system and the CPP, discussions of the main challenges and opportunities associated with the CPP, plus deep analysis of potential scenarios for Arizona as it seeks to meet the CPP. 

This forum will look at the CPP through four main lenses:

  • What are the potential socio-economic and socio-cultural costs, benefits, tradeoffs, and opportunities, in the short (3-7 yrs), medium (7-15 yrs), and long term (20-30 yrs)? What are the costs and benefits to society? How are different members of society involved and impacted? How are these costs, benefits, etc., calculated? Which industries or sub-industries would likely be most involved and most impacted? How could these impacts be mitigated or exacerbated? How would these shift over time? What are the business opportunities and risks associated with the changes?
  • What are the potential impacts and opportunities on future energy resources use in the short, medium, and long terms in the U.S. and specifically in AZ? Which resources and technologies would most likely be impacted? How will new energy technologies be effectively developed? Which geographies would most likely be impacted? How would the impacts to the resources, technologies, and geographies shift over time? How would these impacts and shifts be calculated? How could the impacts be mitigated or exacerbated?
  • What are the potential impacts on our electricity generation infrastructure, grid planning, and operations across the U.S and specifically in AZ in the short, medium, and long terms? What opportunities, challenges, and tradeoffs does the CPP provide for the build-out of our infrastructure? What new tools and models will be needed? What impact will significant reduction in coal have on the reliable operation of the electric grid? How can significant amounts of renewable energy technologies be integrated onto a reliable grid?
  • What are the potential public policy, jurisdictional, and legal issues that arise out of the CPP? What are the international implications of the EPA’s proposal? What state policies in AZ support the creation of a state plan and which ones hinder it? How will the EPA and state agencies across the US resolve issues of federalism and enforcement? How will AZ approach various aspects of its implementation plan such as governance and monitoring and reporting outcomes.

A report by the Ceres group estimates that within the next two decades $100 billion will be invested in our electricity system, and that by 2030 the electricity industry will have invested nearly double the net invested capital that is currently invested in the electricity system. In other words, our future investment opportunities are significant. It’s likely that the CPP will direct much of that investment. ASU intends to ensure that Arizona has abundant, accurate data in order to make the best energy investments for its future.  We look forward to presenting the views and commentary of ASU’s most experienced researchers and professors in the Arizona Clean Energy Online Forum, and to providing a space for interaction with others on this important and wide-reaching proposed policy.

In conclusion, I also want to establish some basic ground rules for this forum on behalf of the LightWorks team. First, we presume that each state will be required to meet emissions targets that are largely similar to what the EPA has proposed. We recognize that there will undoubtedly be changes and possibly legal challenges. However, our primary intention is to help Arizona and other states explore the options available to meet the present challenge and to understand the impacts of different courses of action within their State Implementation Plans. Second, we do not intend to spend time discussing the science or politics of climate change. After carefully studying the body of evidence on this matter, it is my firm belief that the risks posed by climate change are real, are already occurring, and require us to act swiftly. At this time, further debate on those issues only serves to distract from the task at hand.

Written by Gary Dirks, Director, LightWorks and Director, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability

Spurring collaboration with Mexico: Developing UNAM and ASU Partnership

published September 23, 2014, 2:45 pm

ASU has made it a priority to further its relationship with neighboring Mexico. ASU President Michael Crow has led two trips to Mexico in 2013 and 2014 to help deepen the growing ties between U.S., Mexico and other Latin American countries in education and innovation. Below is a quote from President Crow from ASU News about the importance of developing collaboration with Mexico:

“We share a border and many common interests with Mexico,” President Crow said. “It’s natural that we seek stronger ties through education, research and innovation so we can help each other prepare for the challenges and the changing nature of the advanced workforce of the 21st century."

One of the common interests that Mexico and ASU share is the need to address the challenge of transitioning into a renewable energy future. Last May, President Crow signed an institutional MOU with Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and agreed to work together on renewable energy initiatives, especially solar. During August 26-29, 2014, LightWorks hosted a three-part UNAM Energy Research Series in which research experts from UNAM presented lectures to ASU students, faculty, and staff about the current energy sphere in Mexico and ways in which ASU can further identify specific projects to implement together.

Day 1: "Solar Energy Research in Mexico: Examples from the Instituto de Energias Renovables" by Antonio del Rio.

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Dr. del Rio: “We wish to start a productive collaboration with ASU through research and student opportunities.” Photo by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks.

Dr. Antonio del Rio, director of Instituto de Energias Renovables at UNAM, generated a discussion about solar energy research and the potential for collaboration with ASU on bi-national projects. Dr. del Rio noted UNAM being multi-disciplined and having similar goals to LightWorks in regards to establishing renewable energy projects that not only drive knowledge and technology, but also create business to and for society.

Day 2: "Engineering Research to Better Society: Examples from the Institute of Engineering--UNAM" by Adalberto Noyola.

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Director Adalberto Noyola: “Although still at lab scale, UNAM is interested in research for biofuel and CO2 capture technology.” Photo by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

Dr. Adalberto Noyola, director of the Institute for Engineering at UNAM, spotlighted the Institute of Engineering of UNAM’s mission to contribute national development and well-being to Mexican society through environmental engineering projects. Dr. Noyola highlighted several projects including research in climate change and natural disasters, incorporation of renewable energy into the Mexican power system, and establishing energy efficient buildings in Mexico. Dr. Noyola expressed UNAM’s continuing interest of looking at solutions that are based on sustainability, which is an aspect he sees prevalent at ASU.

Day 3: "Electrical Research in a Developing Country: A Social Innovation?" by José Luis Fernández Zayas.

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Dr. Fernández Zayas: “Revitalization of the Mexican electrical grid is not just a technical hurdle, but also a social hurdle.” Photo by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks.

Dr. Fernández Zayas, executive director of the Institute for Electrical Research in Mexico, spotlighted opportunities for international cooperation between universities and the industrial sector. Dr. Zayas focused his discussion on the rising social and environmental need for establishing renewable energy in Mexico and beyond. Dr. Zayas pointed out that thousands of young people are interested in innovative renewable energy programs and he hopes that ASU and UNAM will be able to provide access to new student programs in the future.

The path toward driving renewable energy technologies, policy, and education is not easy. It can, however, be made simpler through leveraging mutual capacities and addressing common challenges with likeminded institutions. As we move forward, LightWorks anticipates reaching out to UNAM to further develop the bi-national lab in order to clear a pathway toward our goal.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

Additional information:

In brief: the EPA’s emissions guideline equation

published September 15, 2014, 4:56 pm

Under the Clean Power Plan, the EPA aims to reduce the carbon intensity of our nation’s electricity production on a state-by-state basis. To do this, the EPA calculated each state’s fossil fuel CO2 emissions from 2012 (the year with the most recent data available) and divided that number by the sum of the MWhs of electricity generated by fossil fuels, renewable energy (not including hydropower), nuclear power, and the savings of MWhs from energy efficiency measures. The resulting number is the EPA’s emission guideline for each state to achieve by 2030. 

On average, the EPA estimates that the CPP will cut emissions in the U.S. by 30% by the year 2030 (from 2005 levels). While a lot of the discussion about the CPP tends to focus on the particular numbers states must reach by 2030, keep in mind that the purpose is to decrease our country’s carbon dioxide emissions intensity output, not to cap our overall output. In fact, Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and Rhode Island’s absolute emissions output could even increase by 2030 while still complying with the CPP.

Written by Maren Mahoney, EPIC

Feature: Introduction to ASU’s new blog series on EPA’s “Clean Power Plan”

published September 8, 2014, 4:32 pm

Welcome to our new blog on the U.S. EPA's so-called Clean Power Plan. The "Clean Power Plan" is a new set of regulations recently proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. While it's far from being finalized, the Clean Power Plan could have far-reaching implications for the U.S. electricity system, utility companies, and citizens from all walks of life. 


As part of cooperation between the ASU’s Energy Policy Innovation Council (EPIC), ASU LightWorks, and ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, we'll be using this space to share our thoughts and analysis on the EPA's plan.

Maren Mahoney, Strategic Initiatives Coordinator, Energy Policy Innovation Council, and Eddie Burgess, Program Coordinator for the Utility of the Future Center (UFC) are the primary authors, though occasionally we'll also have guest posts from ASU faculty experts in other fields such as economics, environment, law, business, geography, and engineering.


Maren Mahoney, EPIC

Eddie Burgess, UFC

The aim of this blog is to add to the discussion on carbon dioxide reduction by contributing an impartial perspective of Arizona’s unique regulatory, cultural, and economic status within the Southwestern U.S. As part of the New American University, it is one way for ASU to play a helpful role within the Arizona community.

This blog is just the start of our efforts to thoroughly and accurately inform Arizonans and people throughout the U.S. about the opportunities and challenges presented by the Plan.  As we write, we'll be asking questions that tackle big questions, such as: 

  • What are the big legal and technical issues that this proposal raises? 
  • How does the Clean Power Plan affect Arizona's citizens? 
  • How will it affect citizens, not just in Arizona, but throughout the Southwest and other parts of the country?
  • How can Arizona, working with this proposal, build the best state plan for its future?

We want to enlighten, encourage, and embolden our readers, and we look forward to exploring these questions and potential answers with you. Please join the discussion on our Facebook pages: ASU LightWorks and EPIC or via Twitter (@ASULightWorks and @ASUEnergyPolicy). We also welcome emails to:

Written by Maren Mahoney, EPIC

LW’s Elisabeth Graffy calls for revitalization of utilities

published June 24, 2014, 8:41 am

Elisabeth Graffy, Arizona State University professor and ASU LightWorks co-director of energy policy, law and governance co-wrote an article about the impact of solar installations to energy markets and electric utilities. The article, “Does Disruptive Competition Mean a Death Spiral for Electric Utilities,” was an effort of Graffy and Steven Kihm, director of market research and policy for the Energy Center of Wisconsin. Read the article in the Energy Law Journal.

Wayne National Forest Solar Panel Construction. Photo taken by Alex Snyder.

Graffy and Kihm note in their article that the recent surge in rooftop solar installations will create a new space for innovation in energy markets as well as competition for energy utilities. The article explores many areas of this issue including: the significance of disruptive competition, how electric utilities are responding to a growing solar industry, and ways to adapt to a competitive market. In a sector that is central to social, economic, security, and environmental necessities, Graffy and Kihm note that utilities must change in order to confront competition. Both write that leaders in this environment will succeed only by shifting focus on strategies that “create value for customers and that demonstrate nimble responsiveness to the broader contextual demands on energy systems, perhaps particularly during a time of rapid change.”

Below is a segment from the Devil's Advocates 07/01/2014 podcast in which both Graffy and Kihm are interviewed. 

The published journal has been referenced in The Hill, a newspaper published from Washington D.C., as well as in Forbes magazine. The links for these two stories are below in the Additional Information section.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

Additional Information:

Employing Sunlight: Taking a tour of Tempe’s largest solar project

published April 23, 2014, 1:57 pm

On March 27, 2014, Tempe’s South Water Treatment Plant hosted their first public solar tour. The tour highlighted the implementation of more than 3,000 solar panels that will generate more than 1.6 million kilowatt (kW) hours of electricity each year, supplying 15 percent of the plant's energy needs. This achievement marks the city’s largest solar energy project thus far.

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Tempe South Water Treatment Plant Solar Project. Photo retrieved from SRP Newsroom website.

Sunny and without a cloud in the sky, the afternoon was at perfect condition for the solar panels. City of Tempe’s Energy Management Coordinator, Grace Kelly, and Environmental Services Manager, David McNeil, introduced themselves as tour guides. “I feel lucky because I get to go outside and work on this project every day,” McNeil said as he led guests toward the impressive display of solar panels.

Guests on the tour were free to walk around with Kelly and McNeil asking any questions they had about the solar project. The tour was without haste as guests had the opportunity to independently network with one another while pleasantly enjoying a first-hand look at the remarkable project.

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Tempe South Water Treatment Plant Solar Tour. Photo taken by Anne Reichman, ASU Sustainable Cities Network.

Once the tour ended, guests were led back inside for a thorough presentation by Kelley, discussing the development of the project. Although it had been in the talks for a few years, Kelly explained that planning for the project officially began in early 2012. The first step was establishing the city’s Alternative Energy Committee, which aims to research the best energy practices and select sites for installations. The bid to issue Tempe South Water Treatment Plant with solar panels took place in December with submittals for the project due by March 2013. Out of the 10 vendors submitted for the proposal, SolarCity was selected to install the solar energy system along with the public power utility Salt River Project (SRP). The overall project only took about two years to complete with just six weeks needed for construction. Kelly saluted SolarCity, SRP, and the City of Tempe for their great work together in the partnership. Follow this link to view the entire Power Point presentation.

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Close up view of the solar panels. Photo taken by Anne Reichman, ASU Sustainable Cities Network.

With 100 percent of the solar energy produced going into the plant, Tempe expects to save more than $25,500 in utility costs during the first year, and anticipates savings of $2.3 million over 20 years. Plans for the city’s next solar projects are already in the making. Future solar projects include a 250 kW facility at Tempe’s downtown Police/Courts building, a 900 kW system at Johnny G. Martinez Water Treatment Plant, and solar implementation at a library complex is in its planning phase. It is clear that Tempe is working toward establishing itself as a leading city committed to solar energy. Follow this link to SRP’s website to watch a brief virtual tour of the facility’s solar panels.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

Additional Links:

Arizona Solar Summit IV: Progressing AZ Energy Markets

published March 18, 2014, 3:16 pm

The fourth annual Arizona Solar Summit took place on February 20, 2014, in part of ASU Global Institute of Sustainability’s 2014 Sustainability Solutions Festival. Members from across the energy field gathered at ASU SkySong to discuss policies, programs, and technologies that aim to reshape Arizona’s energy markets. The summit also served as a public unveiling of the state’s first comprehensive energy plan in more than 20 years, “emPOWER Arizona: Executive Energy Assessment and Pathways.”  

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Photo of AZ Solar Summit IV keynote speaker William Harris, CEO of Science Foundation Arizona. Photo by Annette Fuentes.  

The Solar Summit IV kicked off with engaging roundtable discussions lead by representatives from the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives. Table topics ranged from organizational sustainability strategy in urban areas to technological developments in renewable energy. Event attendants actively engaged with each other discussing important ideas that would serve as the main topics throughout the day ahead.    

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Photo of Solar Summit IV attendants during roundtable discussions. Photo by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks.

Todd Hardy, Vice President of Assets of the ASU Foundation for a New American University, opened up the first panel discussion of the day with positive remarks on Arizona’s progress in energy efficiency and renewable energy development. He continued to explain the importance of having open discussions about Arizona’s evolving energy industry and thanked ASU SkySong for providing that opportunity for the day. Hardy closed his opening remark by noting that Arizona should continue to strive for “increasing solar energy by best practices and leading by example.”

The first panel discussion focused on investigating how new technology is bringing change and opportunities to electric companies and their customers. Kris Mayes, Director of the Utility of the Future Center and Professor of Practice at ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, served as moderator for the panel. Utility focusing more value on their customers in the future was a consistent theme within the discussion. Panelist Tim Berg of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District noted that utility companies must seriously consider how new technologies will influence a customer’s choice. Berg believes in utilities transforming from “one size fits most to customized solutions.” Panelist Megan Nutting of Solar City discussed how people show an increased demand for a future with solar energy as well as re-shaping of traditional utility companies. She explained that in ten years, the electric grid will look extremely different, introducing new energy efficient technologies including smart grids and meters. She believes that the public will demand more services, and utilities will need to listen. Nutting humorously referred to a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch which referenced the telephone industry’s lack of value toward their customers. The sketch created a slogan for the industry that said “We don’t care, we don’t have to, we’re the phone company,” meaning their customers must deal with whatever problems arise because there is no other option. Nutting said that utilities of the future will need to be focused on making all customers happy. Panelist Bob Graham of Southern California Edison also added to Nutting’s point saying that “the utility’s responsibility is to every single customer not just a select few.” Watch the video of the SNL comedy sketch below:

The second panel discussion addressed Arizona’s carbon challenge. Gary Dirks, director of the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability and ASU LightWorks, led the panel into a hard-hitting conversation on de-carbonizing the energy system. A main theme was the societal and economical costs of pursuing a clean energy future alongside recent technological developments. Charles Bayless of North America Energy Holdings opened the discussion by explaining the significance of pursuing a clean energy future.

“Climate change is happening,” Bayless said. “We have got to do something for the sake of future generations.”

Kerry Smith of ASU W.P. Carey School of Business added to the point by noting how society and economics work hand-in-hand when envisioning a low-carbon energy future. Kerry believes it is important to design future markets with carbon policy in mind.

Ellen Stechel of ASU LightWorks gave the audience an insider look into possible low-carbon transportation fuels of the future. Stechel explained that the time for cheap oil is coming to an end and that cleaner fuel, like liquid hydrocarbon and algae biofuel, will be investigated further as an alternative. Stechel promoted the possibilities of Arizona’s abundant sunlight and land availability to serve algae and solar fuel processing. Stechel said she believes in Arizona being an ideal place for algae biofuel production with the current challenge being cost and making the practice more sustainable. She believes that research and development will take some time but that she is overall optimistic. 

The third panel of the day focused on deep energy retrofit financing. Harvey Bryan, professor at ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, moderated the panel. Bryan asked panelists to explain ways in which energy efficiency financing and management is being incorporated in Arizona. Panelist Daniel Hunter of Ameresco explained the recent partnership between ASU, Ameresco, and Rocky Mountain Institute plans on providing a cutting-edge financing and management plan for ASU to work toward their climate neutrality and zero-waste goals. Read more about ASU’s plan, which was covered in our last blog here.

Dimitrios Laloudakis of the City of Phoenix provided insight on some of the city’s energy goals. He noted Arizona’s Renewable Energy Standard which plans to hit a renewable energy target of 15% by 2025 and the Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15% below 2005 levels by 2015. Laloudakis explained that the Energize Phoenix project, a $25 million federal grant, has made significant progress and accelerated the city closer toward this goal.

The closing panel of the summit focused on Arizona’s new master energy plan, “emPOWER Arizona: Executive Energy Assessment and Pathways”. The energy plan was signed into effect by Governor Jan Brewer on February 18, 2014. Leisa Brug, Brewer’s energy policy advisor and director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Policy, was moderator to a discussion on its plan and goals. Brug believes that the new master energy plan will help Arizona continue to be a national leader in the energy field. Brug noted that the energy plan is intended to be an “ebb and flow document” and believes that collaboration between policy leaders and energy experts will push the plan further. Brug specifically gave thanks to ASU’s Energy Policy Innovation Council for their assistance with creating the Arizona master energy plan. She is confident that collaborative effort will keep the energy plan fresh and foster growth in renewable energy development. Gary Dirks also added optimism to the states’ new energy plan by noting how the plan will “make Arizona an energy leader.” Read the “emPOWER Arizona: Executive Energy Assessment and Pathways” energy plan here. 

The themes that were discussed at this years’ Solar Summit proves that progress in clean energy technology and policy is a work in action here in Arizona. The open discussions and audience participation that take place each year are critical for planning our state’s future energy market. Collaboration between government, industry, university, and community leaders will be necessary in order for Arizona to fast-forward toward its future energy goals.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

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