Policy Leadership for Transition to a Clean Energy Economy
David Olsen leads collaborative planning for renewable energy and transmission development projects, and pioneers policies and practices to advance the transition to a clean energy economy.
He is the former President/CEO of Patagonia, Inc., a pioneer of sustainability practices in commerce. Earlier, he led the development of wind, solar, hydro and geothermal power projects in more than 20 countries, as President of Clipper Windpower Development, President of Peak Power Corporation, President/CEO of Northern Power Systems, and Vice President of Magma Power Company. In 2000, he led creation of the California Climate Action Registry, the first state registry of greenhouse gases.
In 2009, Olsen serves as coordinator of California’s Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI). He helped conceptualize and plan the Western Renewable Energy Zone initiative of the Western Governors Association. As Principal of Western Grid Group, he leads state, regional and national energy policy discussions.
Clean Energy Economy: More Jobs, More Reliable Electricity, Less Cost
Prosperity and security in a carbon-constrained world depends on moving beyond reliance on carbon-based fuels. This transition to living within ecosystem limits offers huge opportunities for dynamic economic development and a higher quality of life, more equitably shared.
Energy policy is key. We have the technologies to obtain—cost-effectively—most or all of our power from solar, wind and geothermal resources and improvements in energy efficiency. Plug-in hybrid vehicles can meet much of our transportation needs, shifting those emissions to the electric sector where we can use off-peak wind power to charge them. Using some natural gas in Combined Heat and Power plants can provide heating, cooling and electricity generation in urban centers and help keep electrical supply and demand in balance. A smart grid can integrate these resources, helping us eliminate waste and use energy, appliances and equipment more efficiently.
There are many indications that such a system could be more reliable, and less expensive, than our electric system today. Building a shared vision of energy goals is the first step of the transition.
Wind and solar generation is variable, much like the constantly changing demand for electricity. In fact, wind and solar appear on the system as negative load, reducing the amount of generation that must be provided by fossil resources. In many weather regimes, wind and solar output profiles complement each other, with solar generation occurring during peak usage times and wind generation extending into off-peak hours. When large amounts of these resources are installed in geographically dispersed locations, they provide the core of reliable supply.
In Iowa, for example, system operators for MidAmerican Energy, the large utility company in the state, have found that they can reliably count on receiving 300 MW-350 MW of power from the company’s 1,000 MW of wind capacity in every hour of the year, through all seasonal and diurnal weather patterns blowing across the state. This enables them to schedule a portion of the wind power as a baseload resource. In Europe, with wind turbines dispersed across many wind regimes and a much larger geography, operators are determining the amount of wind power they can reliably expect to be generated in every hour, regardless of weather. Analysis of existing wind generation around the world shows how combinations of wind projects can be located and designed to provide a steady supply of electricity under all weather conditions. A small amount of gas-fired generation, which can be started or ramped up quickly, provides effective energy storage to ensure that a renewable energy-dominated electric system provides reliable electricity at all times.
Rapid, large-scale deployment of solar, wind and geothermal generation is one leading edge of the transition to a low-carbon economy. This requires development of major new transmission facilities, to bring large amounts of renewable energy to load centers.
2005, Olsen has led a campaign to show policymakers and energy industry
executives how transmission carrying renewables, either primarily or
exclusively, can be economically justified and approved, while meeting
requirements of federal open transmission access policy. Olsen’s paper
outlining economic findings and policy guidelines for renewables-first
transmission is available here:
Renewables-first transmission facilities are now being deployed in states across the country, with federal legislation to advance transmission explicitly for renewables under discussion.