Renewable Energy: Cities, Communities & Corporations

Renewable Energy: Cities, Communities & Corporations

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On this week’s episode of It’s Hot in Here, host Chris Askew-Merwin examines strategies for renewable energy development in cities, communities, and corporations. He is joined in studio by Ben Kunstman, a member of a Michigan Sustainability Case (MSC) team looking at municipalization, and Olivia Katz and Sean Pavlik, students at the Erb Institute at the University of Michigan who worked at the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) over the summer. The segment also features an interview from Randy Knight, the city manager of Winter Park, Florida, who successfully municipalized their electric utility.

Boulder, Colorado is currently in an ongoing process of trying to municipalize their electric utility, meaning the city would take control of management and distribution from the existing, investor-owned utility Xcel Energy. Boulder is seeking to meet long-term renewable energy and greenhouse gas goals, and municipalization offers the opportunity to control their own future. The MSC case looks at the logistics of the proposal in Boulder, and examines the changing role of electric utilities.

Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) is a Colorado-based non-profit think-and-do-tank that focuses on the efficient and restorative use of resources.  RMI’s Shine Initiative is working to open up an untapped 30GW market segment in U.S. clean energy market – community-scale solar.  As defined by RMI, the community-scale solar market includes traditional shared solar projects and other mid-sized arrays (.5-5MW) owned by utilities and third-parties.  Shine works with both buyers and sellers of solar PVs to develop innovative community-scale solar pilot projects that leverage economies of scale, shared cost-reduction levers and standardization of system design and business model to cut costs over 40%, with a path towards unsubsidized wholesale prices.  As a summer fellow on the Shine Initiative, Olivia Katz developed a corporate valuation model for solar developers which allowed the Shine team to test hypotheses around business model-redesign and ultimately show solar developers that pursuing community-scale solar market could create tremendous corporate value.  

Olivia Katz is a third-year student at the Erb Institute at University of Michigan, pursuing her MBA at the Ross School of Business and MS at the School of Natural Resources and the Environment.  Prior to graduate school she worked in environmental and energy policy in New York and Colorado and enterprise technology startups in San Francisco.  At the University of Michigan, Olivia has focused on renewable energy and strategy.  She spent her first summer as a summer consultant at Parthenon-EY, a growth-strategy consulting firm in San Francisco.  She spent her second summer as a summer fellow in Rocky Mountain Institute’s Shine Initiative.  Olivia is passionate about finding market-based solutions to drive the sustainable use of resources and believes that increasing renewable energy penetration is one of the most effective ways to achieve this goal.

In the final portion of the episode, Sean Pavlik discusses the growing space of corporate renewable energy procurement based on his summer spent at RMI’s Business Renewables Center in Boulder. Large corporates from all sectors are increasingly choosing to meet their energy needs through large scale wind and solar developments. The Business Renewables Center (BRC) provides a platform to convene corporate buyers and renewable energy developers as well as providing educational tools to accelerate this market. The BRC is aiming for this market to provide 60GW of new renewables development due to corporate purchases by 2030—the equivalent of tens of millions of homes worth of electricity consumption.

Sean Pavlik is a second-year MBA/MS graduate student at the Erb Institute, a dual-degree program between the Ross School of Business and School of Natural Resources and Environment. Sean is focusing his graduate studies on energy and sustainability issues within corporations with an emphasis on strategy. Before coming to Ann Arbor, Sean spent three years in Washington, DC, working at the intersection of government and business on key international energy, trade, and security issues, primarily with the U.S. Congress. He also spent two years working in Japan after his undergraduate studies. Sean received his B.A. in Environmental Sciences and International Studies from Northwestern University.

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