Wednesday, May 06, 2009

WINDPOWER 2009: Industry Discussion

This morning was a panel discussion on the industry outlook for wind power, with input from the top wind power companies and minds in the world:
  1. Vic Abate, VP of renewables for General Electric
  2. General Wesley Clark of Emergya Wind Technologies and Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
  3. Ditlev Engel, President and CEO of Vestas
  4. Jim Walker of enXco and outgoing AWEA president
  5. Michael Polsky – President and CEO of Invenergy
  6. Declan Flanagan, CEO of E.On Climate and Renewables, the largest investor-owned utility in Europe.
For almost all of the questions, the panelists reiterated the importance of passing a federal renewable energy standard (RES) (reminding me of Governor Chet Culver's call yesterday for the wind industry to be on message).

Last year at WINDPOWER 2008, the industry discussion was very PTC-centered. But now, as Vic Abate of GE said:
"The PTC worked for its time, but the next phase of this industry needs to be built around a renewable energy standard...the market needs that signal. The US is the only major country without a long-term energy strategy."
General Clark pleaded with the audience to contact their members of Congress and tell them how important it is to create a long-term, federal policy. The PTC has caused a "Stop. Go." problem in the wind industry, meaning that projects are built quickly when the PTC is in place, die down when the PTC expires or gets close to expiring, then ramps back up again after it's renewed. That's not good financial planning.

To those who argue that the government should stay out of energy policy and that the "free market" should be allowed to determine the best energies, Michael Polsky of Invenergy replied:
“We need policies because the free market isn’t going to solve this. The free market can execute, but it doesn’t work on long-term strategy. That’s where policy comes in.”
Despite the roadblocks and challenges of unstable policies and an economic recession, all of the companies represented were very confident that the U.S. wind market would continue expanding and that goals like 25 percent wind by 2025 can be reached. As Abate of GE put it, "[with the right policies] there's not a technical challenge we can't solve."

Conversation continued

Later this morning, the panelists, along with AWEA President Don Furman (also of Iberdrola Renewables), held a press conference.
Many of the same messages were repeated, but a few questions from the audience provided additional insight into the U.S. wind markets.

Answering the question of whether the wind industry can be competitive without government assistance, Abate of GE explained that his company and others are constantly researching how to make the manufacturing and operating processes more efficient. But as Engel of Vestas pointed out, it's hard to compare the government R&D money spent on wind with the other forms of energy that have received much larger amounts of money:
"...we're doing a lot with the little that's been given to us. We’re at the end of the beginning [of the wind industry]. The question is – how much further can we bring the cost per kilowatt hour down? CO2 also needs to be factored into the cost of energy and the cost of water associated with the generation [of other types of energy]. Wind is the only energy that doesn’t consume any water to make electricity."
When asked to respond to opponents who don't think a push for renewables is the right path to a better energy system, Polsky of Invenergy summed it up nicely:
"...with renewables, what you build produces energy forever. The fuel never runs out. When you have something [like renewable energy] that’s so good, plus so good for economic development, you have to do it."

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