Thursday, March 08, 2007

Part 2: Live from the Power-Gen Renewable Energy & Fuels Conference

The Power-Gen Renewable Energy & Fuels Conference had an impressive list of speakers yesterday, including the Director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Dr. Dan Arvizu. Arvizu addressed the 700 conference attendees on what the renewable energy market needs from policymakers and investors to grow as fast as possible.

Americans must think differently in order to build a new energy economy. It’s great that renewable energy is growing so rapidly, but if we really want to achieve the maximum capacity and benefit of wind, solar, biomass, etc, we need to develop policies committed to a sustained, vigorous energy economy that will attract and retain investment dollars. While a national campaign calls for a national commitment to get 25 percent of our energy from renewables by 2025, our friends in Europe consider 25 x ’25 to be business-as-usual for their markets.

Arvizu particularly lamented the decline of research and development (R&D) in renewable energy technology. He presented us with a graph showing that the amount of R&D in renewables has generally followed the price of oil: As the cost of oil increases, so does the money dedicated to renewables. When oil is cheap, the money flowing to R&D wanes.

It seems like energy is a hot topic, but there is quite a disparity of understanding among federal policymakers. One Congressman asked Arvizu “When is this renewable energy stuff going to happen? When will it be ready?” Arvizu stared at him and explained, “It’s a $70 billion industry now. This is happening now.”

Wind power is leading the renewable industry with the amount of investment and growth of the sector. Many opportunities remain to make wind even more efficient and diverse: Turbines that perform at slower wind speeds, offshore turbines (none have been constructed in the U.S. yet) and distributed wind energy are areas for future growth.

Geothermal is an area with “phenomenal” potential that has been vastly under-funded. Arvizu hopes to see more of a commitment to that energy source.

To see this new energy economy through, the nation needs to continue to accelerate investment, commit to predictable policies that will help investors (like a federal renewable energy standard or making permanent the Production Tax Credit for wind), and figure out a plan to deal with global warming pollution like carbon dioxide. But despite the challenges and opportunities, Arvizu, like Moore of Conergy, believes that the United States is the next big market for renewable energy.

Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons even made an appearance and was extremely enthusiastic about renewable energy.

Gibbons has been in office just a few months, but has amassed an impressive list of renewable energy initiatives. He wooed the renewable energy investors and corporations in the audience, claiming that Nevada is the best place in the country to locate renewable energy industries. The state has corridors to allow for new transmission lines, lots of R&D in fuel cell research, and a new energy advisor to the Governor who has a strong background in renewable energy. The permitting process for renewable energy industries have been streamlined, and two taskforces were formed to deal with impediments to renewable energy growth like transmission lines and addressing Nevada’s contribution to global warming. In conclusion, he listed off a slew of taxes that Nevada doesn’t have, like income tax, estate tax, franchise tax, etc.

All presenters were optimistic that the renewable energy industry will continue to show strong growth, but there are real challenges in terms of logistics, costs, investment, and predictable policy.

For more coverage of the Conference, see Part 1 here and Part 3 here.

Update: The Las Vegas Sun editorial board is embarrassed that Nevada isn't a part of the recent agreement between five Western states to fight global warming together.
This really should be a no-brainer, including for our governor, who likes to remind people of his scientific background in hydrology and geology. Nevada should be leading the effort to combat global warming.

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