Clean Energy in California

Day 1 in SF
by -- March 9th, 2012

Sunday marked the first day of the California Clean Energy Field Trip. In total, there were 26 of us –  24 Energy & Environment MEM students, 1 TA: Kat Fraser, and 1 professor: Lincoln Pratson, PhD. Regardless of our different backgrounds and varying interests in the clean energy arena, there was something for everyone in the four-day trip. Our agenda covered wind, solar, utilities, geothermal, energy consulting, and more, including a tour of an eco-winery in Napa!

Our first stop after a long day of flying cross-country was Vista Point Overlook, north of the Golden Gate Bridge. We were greeted by 70 degree weather and a fantastic view of the bay. The topics at hand were the economies of California, Silicon Valley, and the Bay Area, and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

A breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Although I am a California native, I learned quite a few facts about my home state in the student-led presentations:

  • California’s economy makes up 13% of U.S. GDP and ranks as the world’s 8th largest economy
  • San Francisco’s 13,000+ clean tech jobs are growing at 5.3% per year
  • The CPUC started off as a railroad commission in the early 1900s, and is now a leader in innovative utilities regulations in the U.S.

Pratson leading a discussion on California's economy.

After stretching our legs and walking on the Golden Gate Bridge, we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf to wind down at the hotel before dinner. Our guest speaker at dinner was Melissa Semcer, a 2007 MEM alum. She started working at the CPUC after graduating from the Nicholas School as a senior analyst on climate change market strategies and moved up to become an administrative law judge. We learned a great deal about the inner workings of the CPUC and what it’s like to deal with cases that can involve over 40 parties and last for multiple years. Melissa also helped us understand how California is planning to meet its ambitious 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by 2020. Here’s a hint: it comes from something that we’d be basking in for the next few days in San Francisco.. Yep, solar!


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