Sustain OC – 2016 Annual Conference & Expo

Past Tides
November 21, 2016 By Hai Truong

A diverse cross-section of government, business, and the non-profit community gathered at the Cove for Sustain OC’s Sixth Annual Conference and Expo. The day included panels and discussions on a variety of topics in addition to local companies and agencies providing demos and educating attendees on their organizations.  Session topics discussed at the event included innovation in the electric utility industry, renewable energies, emissions trading, waste energy initiatives, smart energy, and sustainability across numerous applications.

The event began with opening remarks by Scott Kitcher, President & CEO of Sustain OC, and moved into an opening keynote by Robert Sherick, Principal Manager of Renewable Integration for Southern California Edison Advanced Technology. Sherick prefaced that long-time energy utilities are trying to make the energy market as competitive as possible and not interested in getting in the way of innovation. He clarified that organizations such as SCE focus on improving distribution channels for the increasing amount of energy providers entering the space. Given that the energy industry has been around 130 years, Sherick stated that regulatory and safety issues are a key consideration to keep in mind for companies entering the market. New opportunities in the form of energy innovation clusters are also developing across California with resources such as the SEED (Sustainable Energy Entrepreneur Development) initiative which provides a robust suite of business development services—business planning, research teaming, fund development and mentoring—for emerging entrepreneurs.

Following Sherick’s keynote was a panel on renewable energy along and cap and trade. Jam Attari, CEO of BayWa, shared that solar energy is one of the most competitive energy resources in several places around the world and currently competes with coal as a low-cost energy source. Mike Levin, Director of Government Affairs for The Center for Sustainable Energy shared that curtailed energy sources such as solar and wind power could be channeled into other options such as fuel cells.  Levin also mentioned that more Orange County-based businesses are taking control of their power and actively thinking about sustainability. Vitaly Lee, VP of Business Management for Terra-Gen, shared that natural gas is on the decline and being replaced by renewable energy with wind energy on the rise. On the topic of cap and trade, John Bledsoe, Of Counsel for Latham & Watkins, shared that cap and trade permits carbon allowances that can be bought or sold. Revenue generated from cap and trade is then applied to consumer incentives such as rebates for purchasing hybrid or electric vehicles. The marketplace for cap and trade currently generates 4 Billion dollars in revenue per year and is facing an uncertain future after 2021 based on various pressures on the program.  Ryan Carney, Marketing Associate for the Center for Sustainable Energy, shared the website resource,, which provides financing tools for both residential and commercial clean energy projects. Additionally, he shared information about DSIRE (Database of State Initiatives for Renewables and Efficiency) for those interested in learning about regulatory policies or incentives they may qualify for.

University perspectives on sustainability followed with Richard Demerjian, Asst. Vice Chancellor, Environmental Planning & Sustainability for UC Irvine, and Mackenzie Crigger, Energy Conservation and Sustainability Manager for Chapman University, each discussing sustainability milestones and goals. Demerjian shared UCI’s focus on being a living laboratory for sustainability through research and education. A central goal includes operating at net-zero GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions by 2025 through initiatives such as sustainable land use, building design, and replacing fossil fuel-based energy. Crigger shared accomplishments such as a 60% reduction in landscape water use since 2012 and also being the first private university to do a lighting retrofit, saving the carbon equivalent of taking twenty cars worth of emissions off of the road per year.

The next panel discussed the challenges associated with waste from a cost and resource perspective. Dylan Wright, Director of OC Waste & Recycling, shared that costs are still a factor for businesses when deciding whether to recycle or dispose of waste through landfills. The current recycling regimen consists of materials brought in, sorted, and sold to markets looking to buy recyclables both domestic and abroad–where there is significant demand. Additionally, existing solutions such as composting still have not achieved wide acceptance due to unfamiliarity with the process and an overall lack of interest to compost within the home.

Afterward, the City of Huntington Beach in partnership with Dr. Jack Brouwer, Associate Director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center and Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace for the School of Engineering at UCI, shared their sustainability project focused on Oak View, a community in Huntington Beach. The project will involve collaborating with Altura Associates, one of the premier green building companies in the world, along with local utilities to introduce a suite of energy conversion technologies. Examples of the new technologies include thermal storage, biogas storage, electric vehicle charging stations, fuel cells, digesters, and solar panels. The larger goal is to improve the overall quality of life for residents in a community of more than 10,000 residents and a crime rate 200% higher than the rest of Orange County. A working example of the proposed solutions for Oak View includes UCI’s own Smart Grid which uses some of the technologies described above.

Highlights from the mid-day break included an award presentation for Company of the Year, Sustainable Government of the Year, and the Van Vlhahakis Sustainability Award for Excellence. Recipients were Smart Utility Systems, City of Huntington Beach, and Raytheon respectively. Wing Lam, co-founder of Wahoo’s Fish Taco, spoke briefly on sustainability as a core value and explained that everything they do as a company is to make things better for the next generation. Additionally, Steven Kellenberg, SVP of Community, Urban Planning & Design for the Irvine Company, shared perspectives on how the Irvine Company approaches high-performance development by implementing solutions such as Rideshare programs, hybrid electric power systems, and the development of preserved land such as Gateway Park. Joe Dunn, retired state senator and lecturer at the UCI School of Law, finished the mid-day break with a presentation on UCI’s emerging Cybersecurity Policy and Research Institute. With a diverse advisory board comprised of industry, advocacy groups, law enforcement, and academia, Dunn shared that the genesis of the institute originated from an initial conversation with the LAPD Chief of Police a year and a half ago.

The remainder of the conference covered topics such as impact investing by Kyle Crimgeour from Core-Capital Management, a presentation on the Center For Sutainable Energy by Lou Hering, Executive Director, and a closing keynote by Keith Kaplan, CEO of the Tesla Foundation. Kaplan’s final remarks encouraged participants to think about the effect of emerging industries and disruptive technologies as it relates to job creation, economic development, and the greater public benefit.