June 28, 2017

Snapshot on Sustainability: Independence

by Stacy Sinclair

As the July 4th weekend draws near, thoughts of BBQs and fireworks fill my mind and I wonder (maybe a little too often) why the smell of a BBQ makes me hungry, no matter how long ago I ate. I remember past fireworks shows and how my eyes ache for the spectacle while my body recoils from the vibration of each explosion. These are, after all, symbolizing bombs and battle.  It gets me thinking of what it means to be independent.

S/V Rhiannon on its way south from Los Angeles to Mexico

I think about energy independence a lot. I live on a sailboat and although I have access to shore power, I have solar panels that take care of 90% of my electricity needs. When at sea or on anchor, I have to decide how to make up that 10% by running my generator or engine, using my limited amount of fuel, or turning off my freezer and water maker to conserve energy. My home is an island and it’s all about managing energy independence.

What would it take for America to be energy independent? This isn’t a new idea. I think about the gas lines of the 1970s and the need to create an energy reserve. If energy is a matter of national defense, which it currently is categorized as, then to set a pathway toward energy independence requires us to take stock of our local resources and look for ways to manage and optimize them.

When I was a delegate in Germany to The Aspen Institute last month, we met with Jan Aengenvoort at Next Kraftwerke. We talked about some of the ways Germany is looking at building energy independence through decentralization, competition and digitalization. By unbundling the grid, independent power producers and consumers are making conscious choices and building new conversations using technology platforms for trade based on supply and demand. Technology innovation is creating a space for new energy choices.

Localized development of solar, wind, and geothermal energy create energy independence. Our nation has the land, sun and wind to support such production increases, but desperately needs the infrastructure to move energy from production locations to where it is most needed. Micro-grid installations can do much to optimize production locally, but innovations in battery storage are also needed. Optimizing batteries only gets us part of the way.

Energy infrastructure development creates jobs and not only supports a thriving economy, but expands it. In our current political climate of America first, what better way to embrace our independence than to invest in green energy infrastructure?

New ordinances on Net Zero construction are capturing our imaginations, and technologies will follow to make compliance less challenging. It’s what Americans have always done – we get angry and then embrace the impossible until we’ve solved the confounding puzzle.

I may live on a sailboat and hold myself to my own energy budget, but I also know traditional houses nestled across Los Angeles that are net zero. Santa Monica is setting forth the challenge and in time, they will innovate this into reality. This idea of creating energy independence is getting less crazy every day as the borders of an energy community get redefined and rethought. What would it look like if all of Los Angeles, the county, or California became energy independent? What would foreign policy look like if our nation no longer relied on foreign fuel? We can keep pushing the borders of what is possible and I believe, that is really what putting America first is about.

What do you think about energy independence? Where does opportunity lie in your business sector and neighborhood? I hope you will join the conversation by contacting me directly at stacy.sinclair@me.com or leaving your thoughts here.

Stacy Sinclair is an accomplished educator and author. She is partnering with USGBC-LA to explore perspectives that drive decision-making on issues related to sustainability and resilience

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