Originally published in Orange County Business Journal 12/19/16
By Rich Bluth, Vice President of Energy Management at Irvine Company Office
If this state has shown the world anything, it’s that Californians meet times of crisis with visionary solutions.
The crisis we are facing now is one of deepening energy shortages. It’s been three years since San Onofre was shuttered. The gas leak last year that forced the evacuation of Porter Ranch, and the suspended operation of the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility continue to pose threats to Orange County’s energy supply. Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed legislation that commits California to one of the most aggressive renewable energy strategies in the nation, setting a goal of 50% renewable energy and the doubling of energy efficiency in existing buildings by 2030.
The ongoing drought, meanwhile, underscores the precariousness of our energy situation – as much as 19% of the energy in the state goes toward supplying and treating water.
This is precisely the seemingly intractable problem that ignites the imagination of our most inspired innovators. Many of these visionaries are in the business sector, and in the coming years, we will see business continue to take the lead to influence sustainability.
The Irvine Company, for instance, is creating the world’s first fleet of hybrid-electric buildings using Tesla-battery-powered energy systems. We are also reducing the water usage with innovative solutions, including leading-edge irrigation management techniques that reduced outdoor potable water usage by 34% over a two year period ended in 2015.
Solutions like these promise to inform measures that will eventually be taken across the nation and around the globe. The domestic trend is clearly under way, as more than two-thirds of the states- 37 altogether- have renewable energy production targets from 15% to as high as 75%. We are facing a future where our energy supply will have to come from renewable energy sources, backed by natural gas generation, to create a more complex electricity “grid” than the one we have known since World War II.
A first-of-its-kind program, Irvine Co.’s hybrid-electric buildings will reduce peak-energy consumption, ease the need for additional power plants, and help reduce electricity costs.
The battery-powered energy system- launched in partnership with Advanced Microgrid Solutions and Southern California Edison- is the next logical step for the Irvine Co., which as an owner already leads the state in LEED, and the nation in ENERGY Starcertified office buildings. It follows, therefore, that we are turning some of Orange County’s most sustainably built office buildings into resources that will store 10 megawatts of power for Southern California Edison- enough to power 10,000 homes for one month.
The philosophy behind storage is simple. While renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, are gaining a stronger foothold in our state’s energy portfolio, they have aspects that vex utilities: timing and variability. Solar power in California is projected to soon produce more energy during the middle of the day than is needed. Storing that energy for later use, when everyone returns home from work and starts turning on their lights, AC and TV’s, maximizes the benefit of renewable power after the sun has gone down.
With state mandates requiring that half of all electricity come from renewable sources by 2030 and that energy efficiency in homes, offices and factories double, energy storage will become ever more vital. That is why everyone involved in this hybrid-electric building project is so excited to be a part of this quantum leap in energy management.
Tours, Two-Ton Boxes
We are designing all our new office projects to be hybrid-electric “ready” and our installations are inspiring others to put more energy into sustainability. In fact, we are regularly asked to give tours of our new installations to customers and neighboring businesses interested in how the systems work and how our customers’ energy usage impacts the overall building’s energy profile. Those two-ton white boxes don’t look like much, but an incredible amount of power resides inside them. Not just the power to supply energy to 10,000 homes.
But, just possibly, the power to radically change how we power the world.