Friday, December 5, 2008

The future looks bright - Renewable Energy Under the New Administration

Okay, I will really geek out on you right about now. I have always been fascinated by renewable energy and the opportunties to integrate power generation with building architecture. Ergo, I am also really fascinated by energy policy and how renewable energy will be advanced in the marketplace. So yesterday I went to the ACORE conference on the Hill, in the Canon building caucus room, where members of the House often meet (it is a gorgeous room). The conference theme was Renewable Energy under the New Administration. If you’re insanely jealous that you weren’t there you can download the speakers slides and watch the whole thing at your leisure. Yup, they webcast it. I heart technology. Tom Friedman of Hot, Flat and Crowded fame (and The World is Flat, if you’re behind on your reading) was the keynote. You can watch him too. It was an AMAZING day.

The thing that impressed me the most, besides the dazling array of really amazing and SMART speakers, was a) the overwhelming sense of optimism and b) that the presenters had not coordinated beforehand but all had very similar things to say about where we are going and how we are going to get to a transformed future. The best story was probably told by Dan Arvizu who recounted a story where he was contacted by the Make A WIsh Foundation on behalf of an 11 year old boy with Leukemia. The boy’s wish? Not to visit Disneyland, but to visit NREL. The future looks bright.

The key issues were divided up into transportation, electric power and finance. My take:

Transportation: we need every car make and model to be BOTH a flex fuel vehicle AND a plug-in hybrid electric. Everyone should be able to choose from anything and everything that is available.

Electric Power: we need better infrastructure, i.e. an improved grid - a smart grid - and STORAGE for intermittant power supplies from wind and solar. We also need a NATIONAL renewable energy portfolio standard (only about 30 states have one right now).

inance: we love the (expansion of) Production and Investment Tax Credits but they aren’t very useful if no one is making money and therefore not paying taxes. Ergo PTCs and ITCs need to be REFUNDABLE tax credits.

The future is a CHOICE, not FATE. To despair is to sin. We have EXACTLY ENOUGH TIME… STARTING RIGHT NOW.


There were some really AMAZING speakers that were both funny and serious, inspiring and sobering, extremely knowledgeable on a technical level, visionary and insightful. Some of my favorite thoughts and paraphrased quotes follow brief speaker bios:

· Dan Arvizu, former Chief Technology Officer of CH2M Hill Companies Ltd., current Director National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL) (also on Obama transition team) – the new Administration loves green technology and though it won’t be easy or quick, does envision significant sustainable transformation of the nation happening within 4 years. The next generation is ahead of us, they see what’s coming and they are smarter than we are.

· John Cavalier, former Vice Chairman of Credit Suisse’s Investment Banking Div., current Managing Partner of Hudson Capital – the key drivers of renewable energy are 1) demand: per capita energy use if up in developing countries, 2) the environment: see climate change, 3) security: we need to source our energy locally. The U.S. borrows $700 billion a year to bring oil to the U.S., 4) cost: the cost of renewables has been dropping rapidly. We are now at grid parity. 40% of electric generation capacity additions to the U.S grid in 2007 were from WIND. What the new Administration needs to do: 1) eliminate the legislative expiry if renewable energy tax credits, 2) make renewable energy tax credits refundable, 3) extend the Production tax Credit (PTC) carryback period to 10 years, 4) allow PTCs to apply to lease financing, and 5) provide incentives for domestic manufacture of renewable energy equipment.

· Aimee Christensen, former World bank (Legal Dept.) and Department of Energy (Latin American Energy Policy, current Founder and CEO Christensen Global Strategies (Clean Tech for Obama, Clinton Global Initiative, Global Green, Swiss Re, United Nations) – How do we value nature’s services beyond carbon? how do we include nature’s services in our GDP? Studies show that weatherization and retrofits to existing buildings can save 30% of utility bills – NO cap and trade program we’re discussing will cost anything near 30% of our utility bills

· Governor Chet Culver of Iowa , former high school teacher and coach, former Iowa Secretary of State – we need five things: 1) a better grid and better transmission capacity, 2) a five year extension on wind production tax credits, 3) a NATIONAL Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), 4) we need to work with automakers to make flex fuel AND hybrid electric vehicles – combine technologies, and 5) a NATIONAL plan for energy independence that starts with R&D.

· Senator Tom Daschle – if we managed our land like the Europeans we could double our production of fuel from biomass while beautifying the landscape; we need plug-in flex fuel hybrids; we need to focus on crops that provide all of these things at once: FOOD, FEED, FUEL, and FIBER.

· Thomas Friedman, NY Times Columnist and author of The World Is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded – It isn’t a revolution until someone gets hurt – people don’t have to die, but businesses may have to fundamentally change the way they do business. We’re not having a green revolution right now, we’re having a green party. We’ll know the Green Revolution has been successful when we don’t call it that anymore, when there ceases to be ‘green buildings’ or ‘green energy’ and high performance and sustainability are built into our normal business as usual; I don’t want to charge my lifestyle on my daughters’ Visa card. We don’t need or want a ‘bailout’, but a build up to the next generation. America needs to get its groove back. We need an ET revolution the way we had an IT revolution (ET = Energy Technology). We say ‘no taxation without representation’. In other countries making a lot of money off of oil sales, they don’t need to tax. And without taxation, you don’t have to have representation. No representation without taxation. Welcome to Petro-Dictatorships. The world will never be flat until it’s GREEN. We’re entering a new age of Noah, where we’re trying to save the last two of every species. We can’t regulate our way out of our problems, we need to INNOVATE. The government needs to send a PRICE SIGNAL to accelerate the green revolution at the speed, scale and scope that we need. Young people who want to make a difference need to LEARN THE RULES and then rewrite them – but if it isn’t boring, it probably isn’t green. Everyone would like to be an ECOSTAR but you can’t. Get off of Facebook and into somebody’s face. Go where the rules are written and write them your own way – if it doesn’t happen you have only yourselves to blame. When it comes to the big three of Detroit, we should be talking about BAIL not a BAILOUT.

· Brad Gammons, former Captain in the U.S Air Force, current Vice President of IBM Global Energy and Utilities Industry – We need a SMART GRID that can address re-urbanization and modernization of the U.S. – a smart grid can monitor/manage not just electricity but water, waste, gas, communication, etc. We will then have a smarter planet.

· Andrew Lunquist, former Director of the National Energy Policy Group (Bush), current President of Blue Water Strategies – As Sherlock Holmes said, we need to eliminate the impossible and what remains must be the solution.

· Kevin Walsh, Managing Director of Renewable Energy at GE Financial Services – tax credits won’t help if people pay no taxes (because they aren’t making any money in this economy). Tax credits must be refundable, we need to broaden the investment pool and increase our investment in transmission.

· Michael Ware, Managing Director of Good Energies – we need both short and long term action. Short term: We need to unlock credit markets, accelerate DOE loans. Long term: 1) prepare the U.S. for a RE economy, 2) renew the EMPHASIS ON ENERGY EFFICIENCY, 3) policies should be designed to level the playing field (between RE and fossil fuels), 4) leverage public private partnerships so that the U.S. can regain LEADERSHIP position. Utilities can offer incentives for energy efficiency at the end user (i.e. reductions in demand).

· Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower Corporation – We will reduce the cost of solar generation installed by 50% between 2006 and 2012. Tax credits must be fungible; refundable. Distributed technology, i.e. rooftop generation, should be included in Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards. Renewable (including distributed/rooftop) generation should garner carbon credits that will have value in a carbon cap and trade system.

· Tracy Wolstencroft, current Managing Director of Goldman Sachs – A healthy environment is the foundation for sustainability in economic growth. We need a national renewable energy portfolio standard. The aging infrastructure is an opportunity to upgrade to a smarter grid.

· Pat Wood, former Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, current Principal of Wood3 Resources LLC – the problem is not with physics or the engineers, not with money – the problem (roadblock) is regulatory because there is no organized national grid. Renewable Energy needs to be planned and operated on a regional level to be effective. We will have to use Imminent Domain, which no one loves, but the state and federal regulators can handle it. STORAGE is critical. We may need to take a stick-painted-orange approach (as opposed to the carrot and the stick).We have to make the tax credit expansion work – even in this market.

· Jim Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence, current Venture Partner of Vantage Point Ventures – the Clean Air Act waivers that oil companies get serve as a $250 billion subsidy for oil. We need to balance that with subsidies for clean sources of energy. The government’s job is not to pick winners, but to break the oil monopoly and level the playing field. We need to destroy the strategic significance of fossil fuels the way we did so with SALT. Up until the last century or so, wars were still being fought over it. With the advent of coal, natural gas and oil and therefore refrigeration, we no longer need salt. We should be moving fossil fuels in this direction by focusing on resources that we already have in abundance and employing them in a way that does not exhaust them.


Leigh Stringer (aka Greenette) said...

I'm so jealous! This sounds like a fabulous and inspiring day.

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