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Viewpoints: Don’t strangle California’s skyrocketing sharing economy

By Barbara O’Connor

Barbara O’Connor, a professor emeritus at California State University, Sacramento, is on the board of directors of the California Emerging Technology Fund and of the national AARP.

Special to The Bee

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 - 12:00 am

‘Technology is not neutral,” wrote the French philosopher Jacques Ellul. “It has both positive and negative effects.” As the sharing economy skyrockets in popularity, giving rise to companies such as Airbnb, Lyft, Uber and others we have yet to hear of, Ellul’s words bear remembering.

The wisdom of his observation was evident in the 1980s, when the Internet was in its infancy. Few then could grasp the tremendous commercial potential of the quasi-federal network of interconnected computers that emerged from government and university labs. As the Internet’s commercial power became apparent in the 1990s, some viewed it as a threat to traditional commerce and pushed to tax and regulate it.

But for the most part, California has taken a different tack, working through initiatives such as the California Emerging Technology Fund to provide more connectivity and access to new opportunities, rather than erecting barriers to the innovation that has indisputably brought so many jobs and opportunities to our state.

Enabled by apps and the Internet, the new sharing economy – in which people can safely and easily share rides, housing and just about any other service you can imagine – is creating new opportunities for thousands of Californians and helping to drive our recovery from the Great Recession. Whether it is food, shelter or transportation, people are increasingly choosing to spend their money with their neighbors, rather than with distant corporations.

The new economic model is less about Wall Street and more about Main Street. Sharing has helped homeowners who, after they lost their jobs, found a safety net to sustain their incomes and keep their homes. Seniors on fixed incomes have another way to stretch their Social Security checks. And consumers have more options to get a safe, convenient ride across town.

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Cities’ Air Problems Only Get Worse With Climate Change

AUG. 20, 2014


SAN FRANCISCO — The threats from climate change are many: extreme weather, shrinking snowpack, altered ecosystems and rising and more acidic seas, to name a few. Another lesser-known issue may hit especially close to home for city dwellers. In the world’s already smoggy metropolises, pollution is likely to grow worse, a phenomenon scientists have taken to calling the climate penalty.

Ozone is a key culprit. This lung-damaging compound, often formed from chemical reactions involving sunlight and automobile exhaust and other pollution, plagues major cities around the globe. As the climate heats up, it is projected that more ozone will form in polluted areas on sweltering days.

“You have a hot summer, you’re going to get a lot of ozone,” said Daniel Jacob, a professor of atmospheric chemistry and environmental engineering at Harvard.

The explanation lies in chemistry. Ozone, formed by a sunlight-aided reaction of volatile organic compounds with nitrogen oxides, is created more quickly at higher temperatures, as was evident during the European heat wave of 2003. Climate change will also make the air more stagnant in some areas like the East Coast of the United States, Dr. Jacob said, because with the Arctic getting warmer more quickly than the tropics, air circulation between those two regions will slow. In a warmer world, plants may also produce more emissions that are precursors to ozone.

In a 2009 paper in the journal Atmospheric Environment, Dr. Jacob and another researcher found that “climate change alone will increase summertime surface ozone in polluted regions by 1-10 parts per billion over the coming decades, with the largest effects in urban areas and during pollution episodes.” (The United States standard for ozone is 75 parts per billion, though many experts say it should be lower to protect health.)

But the projections for ozone are not uniformly bad. Scientists predict that the climate penalty will mainly affect already polluted cities, where ozone is formed locally. But because a warmer climate means more airborne water vapor, which can dismantle ozone through a series of chemical reactions, the background level of ozone — that not created by man — at the earth’s surface is expected to fall. This means that sparsely populated areas, which produce less pollution, may escape the climate penalty.

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Uber hires ex-Obama adviser David Plouffe to oversee strategy

By Carolyn Said

August 19, 2014 | Updated: August 19, 2014 5:11pm

Beset by regulatory challenges, Uber has hired a heavyweight political insider as its "campaign manager."

David Plouffe, who headed President Obama's 2008 campaign and served as a senior White House adviser until last year, will be Uber's senior vice president of policy and strategy, the on-demand ride company said Tuesday.

"We have a leader for the Uber campaign," CEO Travis Kalanick said in a conference call. "I like to think of David as a strategic thought partner and a brilliant general."

He expanded in a blog post. "We needed someone who understood politics but who also had the strategic horsepower to reinvent how a campaign should be run - a campaign for a global company operating in cities from Boston and Beijing to London and Lagos," he wrote.

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Uber hires David Plouffe, former Obama strategist, to lead political campaign against cabs, regulations

By Heather Somerville

Posted:   08/19/2014 01:30:43 PM PDT

SAN FRANCISCO -- Uber on Tuesday tapped David Plouffe, former campaign manager and White House adviser to President Barack Obama, to wage a multifront fight against regulators and the taxi industry, becoming the latest Silicon Valley company to hire a Washington insider to woo policymakers and bolster its political firepower.

Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick said Plouffe would make "sure that our story is told, and that the right outcome happens" to prevail against regulators and insurance and taxi companies that have staged fierce opposition to smartphone apps like the one his company offers that let users hire a car for a ride.

"There are a number of places that we aren't in because of the regulations that exist today," Kalanick said. "And we have tens of thousands of consumers, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of consumers, who are clamoring for a way to get around that city. "

Uber is part of a trend: Increasingly, startups and tech giants have found themselves in a maelstrom of lobbyists and politics, according to tech experts, as they tangle with business regulations.

"There is a practical acknowledgment in Silicon Valley that, much to our chagrin, Washington plays a larger and larger role in our lives," said Bob Ackerman, founder and director of Palo Alto venture firm Allegis Capital. "And like it or not, you have to engage."

Apple's Tim Cook last year tapped former Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson to lead the company's environmental initiatives. Google in 2012 hired Susan Molinari, a former Republican member of Congress from New York, to be its head lobbyist. And recently San Francisco cloud software company Dropbox appointed former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to its board of directors to aid the company's global expansion.

Plouffe, 47, will join Uber in San Francisco at the end of September as senior vice president of policy and strategy, and will run Uber's campaign in its self-described political race against taxis and regulators. The company did not disclose his salary.

Plouffe on Tuesday said his role at Uber "will be very familiar" after his work running Obama's 2008 campaign. "But with any new challenge, there are distinctions and a learning curve," he added.

Ackerman said Plouffe's hire is "an astute move on the part of Uber. They are up against an entrenched, well-organized adversary in the taxi industry that has developed and maintained tremendous political sway."

After the Public Utilities Commission last year rolled out new regulations to legalize on-demand car service apps, Uber and its supporters had hoped most of the country would follow California's lead. Instead, the company has continued to face resistance in new markets, and some experts say only a seasoned political strategist -- not software engineers -- can sway regulators from Dallas to Philadelphia, Spain and Germany.

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In Berlin, Uber Has Yet to Earn Its Umlaut


August 20, 2014 6:00 amAugust 20, 2014 8:03 am

Uber has brought its taxi-summoning service to the European market, and last week it was banned in Berlin.

Berlin’s State Department for Citizens’ and Regulatory Affairs has threatened fines for violating the ban, issued officially to “protect passengers.” Taxi drivers in Berlin “must be certified and face myriad regulations and requirements ranging from licenses to insurance,” reports Melissa Eddy for The New York Times.

But Uber appears unperturbed by the ruling and continues to operate in the German capital. The company raised $1.2 billion in venture capital funding in June and has said that it would help drivers cover any fines they may incur.

The ban has raised the question of whether Berlin — whose growing tech scene has been receiving some attention — is truly open to innovation. In an October 2013 report on the city’s growth as a start-up center, McKinsey & Company argued that Berlin was poised to add as many as 100,000 jobs through start-up growth by 2020.

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PG&E pleads not guilty in gas explosion case; San Bruno demands PUC preserve computer drives

By George Avalos,

Posted:   08/18/2014 02:10:51 PM PDT

SAN BRUNO -- PG&E pleaded not guilty Monday to a new federal criminal indictment on felony charges linked to a fatal 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion here, and hours later, San Bruno officials requested that the state Public Utilities Commission preserve computer drives and digital data that could shed light on ties between the PUC and the utility it oversees.

The city of San Bruno, where eight people were killed in the pipeline explosion, says it's concerned that key emails, texts and other electronic documents, as well as paper documents, voice mails and handwritten notes could vanish amid a current effort by the PUC to swap out hard drives on its computers.

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Fracking could threaten air quality, workers’ health, latest report says

By Darryl Fears August 18 at 7:44 PM

Maryland’s latest report on the impact of proposed natural gas exploration in the western part of the state said drilling could pose a threat to air quality and workers in a region that is ecologically pristine.

But the report, presented to a state commission Monday, said the process called hydraulic fracturing would pose little threat of earthquakes, which were triggered recently in central Oklahoma by gas-drilling operations, according to researchers, and are of concern to environmentalists.

The report is the second of three called for under Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 2011 executive order to study hydraulic fracturing, an unconventional horizontal drilling process also referred to as fracking.

O’Malley (D) said studies of drilling impacts were required before a natural gas well could be built in Maryland. A third and final study funded by the Natural Resources and Environment departments is expected soon.

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Oregon Department of State Lands denies Ambre Energy coal terminal permit

By Rob Davis |

on August 18, 2014 at 2:20 PM, updated August 18, 2014 at 4:26 PM

Our full story is available here.

Oregon's Department of State Lands on Monday dealt a serious blow to Ambre Energy's proposed coal export project, denying a key permit needed for construction in the Columbia River.

The state agency, which inadvertently posted the news in a fact sheet online, hasn't formally announced yet why it denied the permit for the project that could send 8.8 million tons of coal annually to Asia.

The terminal would create a key link for Western coal producers anxious to find new outlets for coal that is no longer wanted in the United States.

Coal terminal opponents had pinned their hopes on the department's decision and celebrated it.

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Traders Lured to Bet on Power Overloads Worth Billions

By Lynn Doan and Jonathan N. Crawford Aug 15, 2014 1:29 PM PT

Payouts that reached almost $2 billion in the first quarter are attracting traders to the transmission-rights markets run by regional U.S. power-grid operators.

The rights are wagers on where power lines may overload, choking the flow and forcing higher-cost electricity to be substituted. They generated $1.12 billion in profits for traders within PJM Interconnection LLC’s market in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest, more than triple 2013’s total, according to the operator. Payments were $462 million in New York, $109.6 million in California and $103.2 million in Texas, reports from the grids show.

The markets are dominated by financial institutions, which hold more than two-thirds of the rights in PJM. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS)’s J. Aron & Co. commodities unit registered on Aug. 12 to buy contracts in California and already trades in PJM. Others include Barclays Bank Plc and Morgan Stanley Capital Group Inc. Merchants Freepoint Commodities LLC, Vitol Inc. and Castleton Commodities International LLC, backed by hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, own rights in California where they didn’t have holdings two years ago, the grid operator’s reports show.

“It’s really a big boys’ game,” Karl Simmons, chief executive officer of data analytics company GridSpeak Corp. in Oakland, California, said by telephone yesterday. “You can lose your shirt and then some. But I think it’s a great market in terms of being able to turn a few dollars into a lot in a short period of time.”

Utility Hedging

Transmission-rights markets were born almost two decades ago with the deregulation of the U.S. power markets as a way for utilities to hedge against the limits of the regional grids. Bottlenecks often result in differing power prices across a grid, creating what’s known as congestion costs at delivery points.

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FERC Grid-Planning Rule Survives Legal Challenge, Setting Stage for Transmission Upgrades

A court upholds Order 1000, FERC’s green-friendly regional grid planning rule.

Jeff St. John

August 18, 2014

Over the past several years, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued a number of rules that have been seen as instrumental to integrating renewable energy, demand response and other clean technologies into the grid. Many of these rules have faced legal challenges -- and while some have been overturned as a result, others have survived.

On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed FERC Order 1000, a 2011 ruling that sets up a complex and mandatory new way for transmission operators and utilities to plan for, and pay for, regional grid investments.

In simple terms, Order 1000 requires mandatory coordinated planning for grid investments that affect multiple states and utility jurisdictions, rather than the voluntary system that left most plans in the hands of individual state regulators and utilities. It also demands that these plans take into account state policies on carbon reduction and renewable energy integration.

The order was challenged by 45 different petitioners, including utility groups and state utility regulators, on the grounds that FERC overstepped its authority and that Order 1000 is “arbitrary and capricious and unsupported by substantial evidence.” But in Friday’s seven-part, 97-page ruling (PDF), a three-judge panel at the D.C. Circuit Court found that these “contentions are unpersuasive.”

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The Argument for Why Utilities Should Give Up Operational Control of the Distribution Grid

Jon Wellinghoff: “If utilities really think through this, they’ll understand there’s a huge advantage.”

Stephen Lacey

August 18, 2014

Regulators in New York are about to make one of the most important changes to the modern electric grid. But is it enough?

As part of the state Public Service Commission's ongoing effort to reform the electricity system, distribution utilities may soon be turned into Distribution System Platform Providers with an explicit mandate to acquire more demand response, solar and storage, while encouraging as much energy efficiency as possible in order to avoid building new grid infrastructure.

Compared to the status quo, in which utilities have little structural incentive to invest in these technologies as part of a long-term growth strategy, the plan is quite radical. But some are calling on regulators to go further.

Clean Power Finance (CPF) has teamed up with former FERC Commissioner Jon Wellinghoff to push for an even more disruptive plan for utilities: taking distribution system operations out of the hands of the power company and putting them fully in the control of an independent body.

The idea is disruptive in the sense that it's a big change to current operations. But Wellinghoff and James Tong, CPF's vice president of government affairs, argue that the end outcome will be a far more stable and less costly system for utilities.

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It’s Official: California Moves Grid Planning Toward the Edge

The AB 327-mandated shift toward distributed, customer-owned resources in utility grid plans gets underway.

Jeff St. John

August 15, 2014

Editor's note: Here’s an update to our coverage this week on California’s big step into the unknown world of integrating customer-owned, distributed energy assets into the future of the grid.

On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission officially opened a proceeding that will set the ground rules for a multi-year transformation of distribution grid planning (PDF). It’s the first state in the country to take explicit steps to merge the traditional world of distribution grid planning -- centralized, one way and predicated on the past -- and replace it with a two-way, customer-engaged, networked grid model.

Under state law AB 327, California’s big three investor-owned utilities have until July 1, 2015 to come up with suggestions for how they can integrate these systems into their long-range grid plans. That’s not a lot of time, given the complexities of the changes being considered and the significance of what the state is attempting. CPUC Commissioner Mike Florio noted in a Thursday statement that this effort is "one of the most important proceedings that the CPUC has launched in recent years."

Interested parties have until Sept. 5 to file responses to a long list of questions asked in the rulemaking, in advance of a public workshop hosted by the CPUC’s Energy Division set for Sept. 17. We’ll continue to explore the multitude of questions this groundbreaking effort raises for grid economics, regulations and technology deployment over the coming weeks.


Here’s our previous coverage of this issue.

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AES Betting On Lithium-Ion Batteries for Long-Duration Energy Storage

AES on energy storage: “We really believe lithium-ion is the technology to go to for the next seven to ten years.”

Jeff St. John

August 19, 2014

When it comes to storing energy at the scale of the power grid, lithium-ion batteries have a lot of advantages -- and, critics say, some significant drawbacks.

Sure, lithium-ion is the dominant battery chemistry for consumer electronics and electric vehicles, which helps drive down costs and improve bankability for grid projects (see Tesla’s Giga factory for an example of how this future could unfold). And yes, they’ve been proven in many grid-tied projects around the world.

But there are two questions that continue to dog the potential for lithium-ion batteries at grid scale. Can they provide hours of energy at a time to serve grid needs, and can they last for the decade or more required for cost-effective grid use when they’re being discharged so deeply, over and over, day after day?

Chris Shelton, president of AES Energy Storage, wants the utility industry to know that the answer to both questions is an emphatic "yes." While most of his company’s nearly 200 megawatts of lithium-ion grid storage projects are serving short-duration power needs like frequency regulation, nearly half of its roughly 1,000 megawatts of projects under development fall into the “long-duration” category, capable of providing energy for two to four hours, he said in an interview last week.

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EDF Is Calling For More Demand Response In California And Why You Should Too

EDF Energy Exchange , Contributor

By Lauren Navarro

This week the California State Assembly will consider Senate Bill 1414 (Wolk). What’s so exciting about SB 1414? This bill will accelerate the use of demand response (DR), a voluntary and cost-friendly program that relies on people and technology, not power plants, to meet California’s rising electricity needs.

DR programs compensate people and businesses who volunteer to use less electricity when supplies on the power grid are tight and/or to shift energy use when cleaner, renewable resources are available. Every time a customer participates in lowering their energy use through demand response, they are rewarded with a credit on their electricity bill.

The implementation of demand response will help catalyze a much needed upgrade to our outdated grid, whose fundamental design hasn’t been updated since Thomas Edison invented it over a century ago. Demand response can empower participants to lower their electricity bills and carbon footprints, improve air quality, allow for more renewable electricity, and enhance electric grid reliability. In a tree of options for modernizing and cleaning up our energy system, demand response is a low-hanging-fruit.

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5 Things You Need to Know About PV Installer/Financier Vivint Solar

America’s No. 2 solar installer is going public. Here are some essential stats.

Nicole Litvak

August 18, 2014

A few weeks ago, we learned that Vivint Solar, the solar division of home security and automation provider Vivint Inc., had filed for an IPO that could happen as soon as this fall. The confidential filing leaves many questions unanswered, but we’ve rounded up the most important background information you should know about this residential solar powerhouse.

National market share

Vivint Solar is the youngest of the top ten residential solar installers, but has held the No. 2 spot since the beginning of 2013, making it one of the fastest-growing companies in the industry.

FIGURE: Leading U.S. Residential Installers, Q1 2014

Source: GTM Research U.S. PV Leaderboard

Despite being the No. 2 installer, Vivint still falls behind several companies, including SolarCity, in terms of the total capacity of financed solar (complete third-party financier rankings are available in the recently released report U.S. Residential Solar Financing, 2014-2018).

Regional presence

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