Leadership: An Essential Variable in Washington’s 2035 Energy Equation

Opinion

When I look out 20 years, I see a future energy system that is a lot more distributed and a lot more efficient. The centralized inefficiency problem that we currently wrestle with will be greatly mitigated, and we’ll be matching the variability of supply and demand much better. There will likely also be a sophisticated distributed storage component in 2035.

Obviously, we face challenges in getting to this 2035 system. Matching supply and demand, especially with less controllable renewable energy sources, is definitely an area that we need to work on proactively. I also think that the tremendous anticipated growth in generation in developing countries is a huge issue that must be addressed—especially if we want to follow an eco-friendly and lowest-cost path.

There are some solid opportunities here as well.

For example, I think that if we can crack the code on distributed generation, implementing the generation of power in our homes, or on local micro-grids, in a way that is based on renewables, then eco-friendly, distributed generation can become a very real positive solution for vastly improved energy efficiency. It would also enable a much more rapid and eco-friendly path to providing energy capacity to developing economies that is inherently flexible, low capital investment, and faster to implement.

There are a number of things that we have to do, however, to realize our true energy potential by 2035.

First, we need to solve our localized energy storage problem so that it enables distributed generation and allows us to match unpredictable generation with consumption at the local level.

Second, we need to electrify vehicles. We just shouldn’t be selling or buying gasoline vehicles in 2035.

With an eye on today—and an eye on the future—my company, EnerG2, is trying to help by developing and manufacturing advanced nano-structured materials for next-generation energy storage breakthroughs.

In Washington state, we have all the capabilities, all the expertise, and all the pieces that are needed for the energy future.

But, in my view, we haven’t been able to develop true leadership that helps put all these pieces together. Too many people, too many companies, and too many organizations are just doing their own thing. We need better coordination. And it may be that we need what I call an “anchor tenant”—or one central entity—to focus in and blend it all together. This “anchor tenant” provides the critical mass required to focus regional technical and manufacturing expertise in specific areas enabling more coordinated and accelerated growth. Boeing and Microsoft are good examples of regional industrial “anchor tenants” for other industries. We need the same approach for energy.

We also need more public-private efforts. And we need to find ways to bring state, local and federal energy initiatives together with private sector support and coordination.

Most importantly, at least from my perspective, Washington state has the right attitude and the right culture as it works its way toward 2035 in the world of energy.

And we have the right players—whether it’s the University of Washington, Washington State University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Puget Sound Energy, or an assortment of private sector companies—to serve as our “anchor tenant.”

My bottom line is that Washington state has the promise and potential to be a genuine and innovative leader in the new energy economy of 2035, but we won’t be able to realize this extremely important and valuable possibility unless—and until—we coalesce around an institutional or organizational hub that can seamlessly meld and channel our collective efforts.

Read the other pieces in this series looking at Washington State’s energy sector in 2035 here. The essays were commissioned by the University of Washington Clean Energy Institute.

Rick Luebbe is CEO and Co-Founder of EnerG2, a Seattle-based company manufacturing advanced nano-structured materials for next-generation energy storage breakthroughs. Follow @

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