Renewable Energy:Our Generation's Shot to the Moon
RETECH 2010 took place Feb 3-5, 2010 in Washington, D.C. and was a who’s who of those highly involved in revolutionizing energy as we have known it. The conference was organized by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and provided a platform for over 250 industry-leading speakers to share their knowledge and insights with attendees on each of the key technologies (wind, solar, hydro, ocean, geothermal, and biomass/ biofuels/ waste energy), plus cross-cutting sessions on markets, finance and policy. Attendees included industry, government, scientific, and policy leaders to help lay the foundation for the transformation of America that will increase energy security, combat climate change, and provide economic growth and jobs.
Renewable Energy (RE) is being compared to the Information Technology boom that surrounded the internet. As Carol Browner, Advisor to President Obama for Climate and Energy, explained in her speech at RETECH, “This is our generation’s shot to the moon” – meaning, the country that leads in clean energy technology will lead the 21st century.
Representatives of the US Department of Energy highlighted a couple of successes in the last year:
- The U.S. solar industry grew by 40%, and provided 18,000 jobs
- The U.S. installed wind energy in an amount equivalent to more than 3 nuclear power plant’s energy generation
The overwhelming themes of this year’s conference were establishing national energy and climate policy, and competing globally in the economic “race” for RE. China, India, and Germany are all at the RE forefront and are competing for manufacturing jobs. The United States has much of the innovation, but we are losing valuable manufacturing jobs to outsourcing. Great weight was put on lowering manufacturing costs at home to help boost our economy by incentivizing companies to manufacture at home in the U.S. This would create jobs for our economy that is in desperate need of job growth.
Dan Reicher, Director of Energy & Climate Initiatives at Google, declared “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” He said we must rebuild the energy system with security, environment, and economics in mind. RE creates U.S. jobs, reduces the dependence on foreign energy, helps climate change, and provides a much safer alternative to current energy production methods.
Michael Polsky, President & CEO of Invenergy, explained that our country’s infrastructure is set up to run on coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy and there is no room for RE in the existing infrastructure. Market forces are not going to change this because they only deal in the short term. According to Polsky, increasing our use of renewable energy will require decades of investment that can only happen in the long term by establishing national policy on energy and climate. The United States is behind other countries in setting national legislation on energy and climate change and therefore, everything is left up to the states and municipalities. In order for RE to really take off in the U.S., speakers at the conference were unanimous in concluding that the most important thing is to establish national policy to set up for investment and development.
Much of the struggle is how to create a bipartisan consensus at the federal level over issues such as climate change. As Carol Browner explained, renewable energy must become a bipartisan issue. John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman have taken the forefront on this and have crossed the aisles to work on a collaborative solution. Jason Grumet, Founder and President of the Bipartisan Policy Center further detailed that we cannot get caught in the fight between energy and climate, they are the same thing and legislation must address both. Upcoming legislation must come from the efforts of multiple parties.
Until national policy is set, many states and municipalities are stepping into the game to drive the use of RE. The example of Babcock, FL was shared. Babcock Ranch is the first city planned to be powered by the sun, with the majority of its electric needs generated from the largest (75MW)on-site solar photovoltaic energy facility powering any city on earth. www.babcockranchflorida.com
According to Reicher at Google, renewable energy is now in the “big leagues” and many banks and private investors are looking to invest serious capital into new projects. According to experts, much research and development is being done and innovations are just waiting for funding in order for full commercial deployment. Universities across the nation are becoming living sustainable laboratories spawning ideas in the RE field. We need a strong public/private partnership to take innovation and apply it. It takes the marriage of technologies and policy as the mechanism for change in the U.S. Other countries understand this and we are falling behind. Global energy spending could be the biggest economic opportunity in the 21st century. The United States must put itself in position for this.
Equinox Intern and 3rd year law student at Cal Western School of Law