Idaho Technology Council’s Energy Connected Conference

Growing our clean energy sector is critical to Idaho’s future. That is the take away from the fourth annual Energy Connected Conference hosted by the Idaho Technology Council. Against the backdrop of the snow covered foothills, attendees heard from entrepreneurs, researchers and policy makers about Idaho’s clean energy opportunity. Governor Otter remarked that energy efficiency remains the lowest hanging fruit in our energy orchard, while developing Idaho’s wind and other resources can deliver clean energy to our neighbors.

Part of the conference consisted of lighting presentations including several ICEA members.  Ben Otto of the Idaho Conservation League spoke to Idaho’s $370,000,000 opportunity-the market value of the fossil fueled electricity Idaho imports each year. Imagine if these dollars went into our clean energy sector instead, such as the geothermal potential described by U.S. Geothermal and solar potential described by EvenGreen Technology. Leif Elgethun described a lighting retrofit application developed by his company, RetroLux, that can drastically streamline efficiency projects. Other speakers highlighted the educational and academic resources available in Idaho. An interesting new opportunity came from Bronco Sports Properties plan to solarize the scoreboard high above the blue turf as a means to engage a broad range of Idahoans.

Three panels covered broader issues shaping the clean energy sector. Ralph Cavanagh, a policy expert from the National Resources Deference Council, described the need to change utility regulation to open the marketplace to independent power and efficiency companies.  Fellow panelists from Idaho Power and the Public Utilities Commission did not disagree with him.  Opening up Idaho’s regulatory environment is a top priority for ICEA.

The next panel built on this notion. Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, director of the Integrated Design Lab, listed a series of projects his lab is working on to support Idaho’s clean energy sector. ICEA member Scott Flynn of Flynner Homes spoke to the value of building super efficient homes, many of which feed electricity into the grid.  Don Sturtevant, Energy Manager at Simplot, described how his facilities are seeing energy reductions of 30% or more while increasing profitability.  This panel highlighted that policy makers must adapt to meet the needs of Idaho’s growing clean energy sector.

A highlight of the day was Jack Uldrich’s keynote speech on the need to stay ahead of the technology curve.  Innovations in computing power, nanotechnology, and materials science mean the future is coming faster than we realize.  Among other things, Jack mentioned that policy makers must grapple with advances in geothermal mapping, solar materials, and sensor technology radically reducing the cost and complexity of delivering clean energy.

The final panel covered a hot topic – the smart grid.  Panelists described how smart grids enable energy markets that better incorporate independent power and customer behaviors.  Dr. Robert Hebner of University of Texas, Austin discussed how microgrids–imagine a college campus–can improve reliability and security. Boise State’s own Dr. Vijay Dianali, spoke to the capability of his lab to analyze big data to uncover opportunities for new goods and services.  Idaho Power has installed automated meters and a new computer back end.  This panel made clear we can leverage this investment by developing additional technology and energy markets in Idaho.

ICEA looks forward to being a voice for Idaho’s clean energy businesses. A consistent theme was Idaho has the resources, companies, and supporting institutions to develop a vibrant clean energy sector.  But to unlock this potential we must enact policy changes at the state and local level. By bringing together Idaho’s diverse clean energy businesses, ICEA will continue to advocate for polices that promote our sector.  We thank our members for their support and invite others to join us today.