June 27, 2016 - From the June, 2016 issue

Center for Sustainable Energy’s Rear Admiral Hering Facilitates Turnkey Market Solutions

The Center for Sustainable Energy works with government agencies, utilities, businesses, and policymakers around the US to facilitate a market transition to clean energy. Rear Admiral of the United States Navy Len Hering came aboard as the Center’s Executive Director in 2012 as a pioneer of integrating sustainability practices in the Navy by demonstrating the value of resource management as a necessity for business operations and national security. He joins TPR to talk about the Center’s recent growth from a regional to national player, and the need for continued financing mechanisms to continue to propel renewable energy and low carbon transportation technologies into the mainstream.  


RADM Len Hering

“Last year, large financial institutions invested more in renewable energy than in oil and gas. It’s taken us a long time, but we are at a tipping point that holds the potential to create more sustainable, high paying, U.S. jobs.” —RADM Len Hering

The Center for Sustainable Energy has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years, which you’ve had no small part in driving. Share the Center’s mission and the scope of its work.

Len Hering: Our mission at the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) is to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world powered by clean energy. We accomplish this by creating turnkey market transformation solutions and providing technical assistance for our clients, who want to improve building performance, advance electric vehicle adoption, implement renewable energy technologies and navigate the policy landscape of this dynamic and ever-growing industry.

CSE is a non-profit. This business model allows us the freedom of objectivity to provide services to organizations of all sizes and consumers based on latest emerging program strategies and technologies that drive the market and support their bottom line, rather than that of investors and shareholders in the for-profit modal.

Currently, we manage programs, serving as administrators for government agencies and utilities, as well as a number of special contracts for the Department of Energy. We also provide engineering services for municipalities, school districts and others. In addition to California’s Energy Upgrade California campaign, we support the California Air Resources Board by administering the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project and similar electric vehicle programs in Massachusetts and Connecticut. We’re expanding our role, and we’re excited about where this space is taking us.

CSE recently released a joint paper titled Closing the California Clean Energy Divide. Elaborate on report’s findings.

We partner with a number of organizations around the county to help spur conversation and inform the public. It creates a space for us to offer individuals the opportunity to engage and shape an energy future that creates greater consumer choice, increased energy independence for our nation and cuts our use of fossil fuels.

One piece of this puzzle is energy equity, or making clean energy available to consumers regardless of income. This is part of closing the divide.  We understand how technologies can integrate and scale, and, in partnership with the Clean Energy Group and the California Housing Partnership, the recent paper demonstrates that combining solar PV with battery storage systems can deliver significant electricity bill savings for affordable housing residents and property owners. In short, that could mean potentially eliminating electric bills for those who might be on fixed incomes for example.

We recognize that there are things that need to change to make this reality, but if you look at what we have today, there’s so much that’s already possible. The paper points out that we already have some of the technologies we need to make a big difference. The opportunities already exist; we just have to put the pieces together.

How does the white paper relate to the state’s Multifamily Affordable Housing Solar Roofs Program, established by SB 693?

Multifamily, low-income, and affordable housing are all part of our focus. We believe that we can do a much better job on housing in this state given the portfolio that exists, and that low-income individuals would benefit from greater adoption of renewable energy facilities.

Implementation of solar and renewable energy, energy storage, efficiencies, and building performance—all this comprises a portfolio that can provide great opportunities for multifamily, low-income, and affordable housing stock.

We often hear that multifamily homes are less liable or less able to take advantage of solar. The paper helps establish evidence that that is simply not the case. Residents of multifamily homes might not own a solar system directly, but they can be involved in the solar environment and the renewable space.

You retired from the US Navy in 2009, after 32 years, as a rear admiral. How did your service in the Navy inform your work today?

I was brought into base operations and facility support because I had a business background. This was right after the first Gulf War, so we had a lot of things to do and we needed to be fiscally and operationally efficient. That meant improving base operations—everything “behind the lines,” if you will.

I started out by identifying our highest bills. They turned out to be energy and water, so I focused on reducing our energy and water consumption as a way to find dollars to put back into operations. Before you know it, I was installing some of the first photovoltaic systems in the Department of the Navy.

More and more, we began to focus on exactly what it took to run the shore infrastructure of the Navy, and how to be more efficient with our resources. We took a serious look at our water use, and how to take advantage of opportunities for reuse. I started a recycling program for the purpose of creating a return. In fact, I didn’t call it recycling; I called it “commodities management.”

When I left the Navy, I became the VP  for Business Services and Administration at the University of San Diego, where I installed the largest photovoltaic system of any private university in the country at the time. It saved the university $1.3 million in the first year of execution. But I decided I needed to do more. Now here I am at the Center, putting that work into wider practice.

Two representatives from the Navy spoke at VerdeXchange in January 2016—Assistant Secretary Dennis McGinn and John Simpson. They shared how the Navy’s investment in clean technology has advanced over the last decade, including adopting the Internet of Things. Could you comment on their approach and success?

I can tell you: Both Denny and John really get it. I am so proud, having been part of the Navy since 1977, to see where it is today. It’s been thrilling to watch the service embrace the notion that our resources are crucial, not only to our environment, but also to strategic objectives—national security.

I’ve often heard ASN McGinn allude to the fact that: National security and our objective are one. If we are to be effective in our true mission of providing national security, then we must recognize the costs associated with our dependence on the resources we use to make us the technologically superior and capable force that we are. I couldn’t agree more!

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Elaborate on CSE’s efforts to ensure that California has the workforce to achieve U.S. and California’s clean energy goals.

The solar industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the state of California. It is an economic engine of its own. In just the past few years, the market has transformed enough to allow the creation of good, home-grown, high-paying jobs.

Our partnerships with groups like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, National Electrical Contractors Association, Building Performance Institute, CalCERTS and others are a remarkable testament to this. We’re teaching people how to do the most efficient and effective electrical installations and take control of our energy future.

The smart grid is coming because innovation has helped us be smarter about how we build infrastructure and power it—how we generate the energy, store it, and call it on demand. Somebody’s got to engineer and build the grid of the future. That’s the workforce that we’ve been engaged in. We’re now beginning to see significant changes in how the industry looks at workforce development, and even more importantly, in how individuals look at career paths in the renewable energy space.

It’s exciting to see how far California has pushed the envelope. Last year, large financial institutions invested more in renewable energy than in oil and gas. It’s taken us a long time, but we are at a tipping point that holds the potential to create more sustainable, high paying, U.S. jobs. 

Speak to CSE’s interest in zero-emission vehicles and the future of transportation.

The transportation sector represents one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions that we need to address in order to combat climate change. The electric vehicle market, and the transition to alternative fuel sources, is an incredibly interesting space. 

Opportunities exist to transform the sector—and for the sector to transform other aspects of our clean energy future. For example, electric vehicles attached to the grid can be deployed as energy sources. Get 1.5 million of them on the road, and the distributed grid starts to look a little different than it does today. In low- and middle-income communities that still face significant air quality issues, that creates a significant opportunity for cleaner, better air in the future.

When modern electric vehicles were introduced just a few years ago, there were three or four models available. Today, there are more than 40 different cars, light-duty trucks and motorcycles available through the rebate programs CSE administers in California, Massachusetts and Connecticut. In the next three years, we believe there could be upwards of 60 options for the consumer. To me, that’s really exciting. It tells a story: that the market is transforming, and that we had a significant impact on that transformation.

One thing we do is inform people, through events and our website and by providing them opportunities to test drive electric vehicles and experience the ride. We also assist dealers in selling electric vehicles through workshops and educational materials. And we help municipalities plan the infrastructure, like charging stations, so that range anxiety and the other artificial barriers to new transportation technologies become irrelevant.

Many believe the financial innovation is the primary facilitator of growth in the utilization of renewables. How important are programs like net metering, FiT programs, and PACE to the growth of the renewables market?

There’s no doubt about it: Financing is always a consideration. No matter what industry you’re in, financing is the most critical aspect of adoption. 

The California Solar Initiative rebate program is a perfect example of how to best manage this. The cost of solar energy used to be somewhere around $7.50 a watt; today it’s closer to $3 per watt. Compared to 10 years ago, today’s system is not only more efficient, it costs significantly less. In fact, in some locations it’s almost competitive with regular utilities. The incentive provided us opportunities to get to that point.

Many municipalities that have been engaged in the PACE program see great benefits, and so do the homeowners. I can tell you that with my home solar installation, I’ve not had an energy bill for two years, and I love it.

We need financing options for buildings, as well. It’s very expensive to retrofit buildings where almost 70 percent of the existing structure is either at minimum code or before code. But we need mechanisms to be able to get to a point where we can address those opportunities. If we’re not innovative in the methodology by which financing options are made available, change will happen at a much slower pace. This is one of the reasons CSE places an emphasis on our policy work. Our ability to communicate with legislative bodies, state energy commissions, utilities, building industries and others contributes to the market changes needed. 

Lastly, while CSE has grown beyond California, it has been very influential in San Diego, and recently merged with the Equinox Project policy initiative there. Why? 

Earlier in the year, CSE merged with the Equinox Center, which had existed for six prior years. We saw the utility of the San Diego Regional Quality of Life dashboard that they created. After the dashboard became a product of CSE through the merger, we released the 2016 edition under the new Equinox Project brand. The dashboard remains an annual assessment of key elements of our societal package and creates cumulative metrics to gauge our region’s progress. It allows community members to ask, “How are we doing? What does this particular community see as significant issues, and how can we measure them?” The Equinox Project is expanding data implantation on cross-border issues, water, energy, and urban land use. 

In addition to informing community members, the tool is meant to show leaders how decisions are trending, and whether or not their decisions have the impact on an annual basis. Last year, leaders in San Diego referenced the Equinox dashboard 92 times. It’s a metric that citizens understand and value, and a metric that leaders want to do well by.

We are now looking forward to introducing similar tools in other locations across the state. We’d love to see it as a statewide dashboard, and potentially even a national experiment in which municipalities can measure their own actions and be held accountable to their decisions.

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© 2021 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.