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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Winter 2004 :A New Era for Renewables

A New Era for Renewables
Congress links peoples, nations and hopes in a united effort to propel renewables into the mainstream.

Presented by BP

The Growing Role of Women
Attendance and popularity of the women in energy sessions was one of the pleasant surprises of the Congress, as seminars on two separate days drew packed rooms, described Bob Noun, deputy director of the NREL.

“Gender and energy is a long-standing subject of these Congresses that began in 1990 with a focus on the countries of the developing world—where so many have village settings and in which women are required to gather resources from the little they have,” said Noun. “These women are important—but overlooked decision-makers—and the Congress helps them develop the ability to use renewable energies such as photovoltaic and small wind turbines. The whole point is to create knowledge and awareness and educate them to use these technologies, and also find ways to finance their purchase.”

The World Renewable Energy Congress, said Noun, fills a void in that sense—and the workshops, including those on technology and policy making—help give a strong voice to women around the world.

“There is a huge discrepancy between the technology base among countries,” Noun said. “The congress helps reduces the
differences in technology and across the knowledge base.”

More than 1,000 delegates and dozens of exhibitors from 100 countries gathered in late summer in Denver, CO, for the Eighth World Renewable Energy Congress. Their common goal: to share information, advance the science and technology of renewable energy and push the bounds of its applications worldwide. Wind power, solar, hydrogen, biomass, lunar, hydro and others received their time in the spotlight—and a boost toward mainstream commercialization.

“Great things can result when great minds come together,” said Richard Truly, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and sponsor of the event. “The WREC provides us all with a place to share ideas among some of the world’s greatest thinkers about energy.”

The six-day event opened with welcoming remarks by Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who talked about the emerging potential of renewables, especially at a time when oil prices are bouncing between $40 and $50 a barrel. “Our heads are spinning with the potential of what the future can be,” Hickenlooper said. “It is great to see this transition. The new commercial realities will take place on a local basis, working with small business and government. I urge all here to take advantage of this unique point in our history—where energy prices are making the advances of renewable energy more practical—to seize the moment.”

In fact, many congress participants expressed high levels of optimism that the global renewable agenda was gaining traction and accelerating in the high-priced energy environment. “We are clearly in a transition phase now,” said David Ince, a photovoltaics engineer from the University of the West Indies in Barbados. “We are still a few years from getting into the mainstream—but I have a feeling we are just barely ‘pre-revolution’ right now.”

Ince noted that more companies seem to be directly involved in bringing renewable
technology to the forefront with improving economics, and recognized increasing progress and technological development in a number of nations. He was very pleased with the level of sharing of technology that was taking place.

“We are well along now on the spectrum of application with industrial and domestic
technologies,” commented Robyn Meerveld, a renewables research analyst with the Ontario regional government in Canada. “I am amazed at how many delegates understand the importance of renewable fuels in lifting their populations, and I am astounded at how close we may be to a hydrogen economy based on renewable fuels.”

“I find this gathering to be very eclectic and interesting in the diversity of the renewables
story,” said Ralph Overend, an NREL analyst. He singled out a presentation of the Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP) as a forum for policy, economics and civil society to advance the progressive energy agenda. Asked about GVEP as a vehicle to interact with a variety of non-governmental organizations, Overend said that where emotion can supplant reason, GVEP “can help take the passion out of the process and replace it with reason. Working at the local level for development is where progress is to be made.”


“If solar is to play a significant part in the lower carbon economy, it cannot be a cottage industry. Neither can it be a license to lose money in a good cause. The industry has to think big, make money and become hundreds of times larger than it is today.”

This candid assessment of the commercial potential of solar energy by John Mogford, BP group vice president-gas, power and renewables, was one of many global insights shared with attendees during the opening plenary entitled “Linking the World with Renewable Energy.” Additional speakers included Stephen Timms, the United Kingdom’s energy minister; David Garman, the undersecretary of energy for the U.S. Department of Energy; Rainer Hinrichs-Rahlwes, director general of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear; Ali Sayigh, WREC chairman; H.E. Altwaiji, Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; and Dr. l Osman Benchikh, UNESCO.

“The foundations of tomorrow’s solar industry need to be built in the developed world,” Mogford continued, emphasizing that, “The U.S. should become more consistent and long-term in its thinking about solar energy if the sector is to gain the scale it needs to become profitable. If solar is to compete for mass energy markets beyond 2025, then it must break out of its current frame—predominantly determined by an unpredictable mix of state and private shareholder support.”

Mogford argued that solar manufacturing needs to be at a global scale, and to operate at that level it also needs some way of being consistently insured against market risk. At the same time, there has to be a local industry to service local markets and this, too, needs local consistency, he said.

“Success in establishing a free-standing solar market will depend on a common cause between public and private sectors,” he said. “Our vision is of a market in which the players from the private and public sectors have a unified strategic commitment and vision for renewable energy, including solar, and a coherent program to implement it.”


The DOE’s Garman encapsulated U.S. policy on renewable energy, and supported the case for a hydrogen economy. “The good news,” he said, “is that I can and do buy 100 percent of the electricity used in my home through a renewable energy ‘green’ power purchase program. The bad news is that I have to pay much more for the privilege of doing so,” he commented. “To make renewables the mainstream choice for mass markets, we have to change that, and we will.”

Garman noted that currently, through the work of NREL and at government and private industry labs around the world, the price of renewable energy is declining even as the prices of fossil fuels are rising.

“And when renewable energy is combined with the promise of hydrogen, an energy carrier that can, unlike electricity, be stored, the real potential of renewable energy becomes apparent.”

Garman said that thus far the DOE has announced $350 million in competitively selected hydrogen research projects, which will leverage a total $575 million when non-federal cost share is included. Much of this work is focused on tackling the storage problem and performing learning demonstrations on vehicles and the necessary hydrogen infrastructure to support them, he said.

Garman also announced a new round of competitive selections for cost-shared hydrogen research projects—$77 million in DOE funding for 36 research projects—when the non-federal cost share is included, the total amount exceeds $100 million.

“Our focus in this round is hydrogen production and delivery technologies,” he said.

Garman also tackled the question of clean versus non-renewable hydrogen sourcing, “because the methods employed to produce hydrogen is of particular interest to the renewable energy community,” he said.

“The charge has been leveled at us, unfairly I must add, that our interest in hydrogen is to promote so-called ‘dirty’ methods of making it. My response is merely to encourage you to look at the facts. Of the $59.3 million we are allocating toward hydrogen production in these awards, over $50 million is allocated to renewable hydrogen.

Garman called natural gas an “interim” on the route to renewable hydrogen. To those who opposed natural gas as a source of hydrogen, he pointed out that natural gas offers a 60 percent reduction in carbon dioxide, and said, “We cannot dismiss the good in search of the perfect and miss several decades of environmental improvement.”

Education and Outreach
Education was the specific focus of Tuesday’s events, and about 600 students and teachers visited the Energy Technology Expo, rubbed elbows with delegates and asked questions of renewables experts. BP, for example, utilized Education Day as an opportunity to introduce its “A+ for Energy” program that is being pioneered in California.

Dr. Cynthia Howell, director of the office of education programs for NREL, said that efforts such as Education Day were central to ongoing NREL efforts aimed at workforce development in the energy field and that the advent of renewable energy was helping generate new interest. “We have to create exposure to give children the opportunity to know what is available. If you reach a kid, you can change a life with one experience—and you reach their family. If you reach a teacher, you reach the kids. It is exponential in nature.”

Representatives of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) shared Howell’s perspective that education and outreach are vital for the industry’s future. Paul White, AABE director and an NREL engineer and patent attorney, is among other NREL employees who staff the AABE. “We are here for the exposure and to get our messages out,” he said. The AABE argues that high energy costs and environmental problems fall disproportionately on “everyday people, the poor and the underclass,” according to White. “Our objectives are to influence energy policies, provide scholarships to minority students to help create more minority engineers and scientists, and serve the educational needs of our members and the public.”

White describes AABE’s members in 33 chapters as consisting of a cross-section of “every ethnic group. Every chapter offers scholarships and we strive to go beyond politics, working toward policies that are good for America in terms of energy security, environmental improvement and the development of our talent.

Sheila Terry, also an NREL employee and AABE representative, said that the increasing awareness of renewables was creating new interest among youth in energy, and that she saw a “greater basic earth consciousness” in students at the expo. NREL’s Janice Brown said “students are very aware of their own use of energy, and are concerned about the future, the environment. They are interested in solutions, and what they see here helps make it fun.”

This certainly was the experience at the BP booth, where Ron Tovella and Dan Larson fielded numerous questions from the students in attendance. Larson said many questions centered around why a primarily fossil fuels company is exploring renewable energy. “Many were surprised to learn that we intend to be providing our customers worldwide with many forms of energy in the future, and that we could even be retailers of hydrogen fuel in a few decades,” he said.

Timms, the British energy minister, provided an expansive, and statistic laden overview of the UK’s position on and commitment to renewable energy. In tandem with the remarks provided by the German Director-General of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, the UK-German counterpoints were perhaps a prelude to what a more prescriptive U.S. renewables program might be like.

Timms said that his government agrees there’s a need for action. The U.K. recognizes that there is strong scientific evidence that climate change is real, Timms said, acknowledging, however, that “dealing with climate change won’t be easy.” Reasons for expanding use of renewables, he noted, included reducing pollution and health costs.

Renewable energy also can make a great contribution to increasing the U.K.’s shifting energy mix as the country moves from net exporter to importer, Timms said. In describing the renewable measures of his government, he explained the Renewable Obligation, a regime in which electrical suppliers must gradually shift their mix and show evidence of it or pay economic penalties. On the basis of his government’s renewable policies, he noted “signs of growing investor confidence,” and said “renewables offer fantastic opportunities for investors.”

German Minister Hinrichs-Rahlwes’ version of the Renewables Obligation is the Feed-In—Renewable Energy Sources Act. The legislative initiative provides a reliable “framework for investors and has transformed renewables into a booming industry employing more than 120,000 people with revenue over $12.3 billion annually,” he said.

According to Hinrich-Rahlwes, state money does not support the Feed-in Law. Costs, and apparently “degressive” returns, are shared by “all consumers.”

What is critical to increase traction in the long-term, noted many congress participants and speakers, is consistent support on the part of policy-makers at both the global and the local level.

“That’s what we need if we are to have the confidence to build infrastructure, achieve scale and sustain employment,” advocated BP’s Mogford. “Consistency will nurture this industry, but boom and bust will finish it off. And, of course, we need this support to be widespread. We need more states to commit strongly to the future of renewables.”

Timms echoed Mogford’s sentiments. “Technology development is a vital component in helping to mitigate and adapt to climate change, but it will not occur in isolation. Supporting policies are needed not just to develop and implement technology, but also to engage the public and to ensure that change happens in the most cost-effective way possible. We need to think innovatively; flexible mechanisms like emissions trading will help to ensure that least cost options are taken up.”

Congress participants also agreed there is a sense of urgency.

“Awareness of the challenges of human beings on the planet to be environmentally responsible and to advance human civilization—literally to save the planet,” is what Abbas Elmualim of the University of Reading School of Construction Management and Engineering in the U.K. said he is taking away from the congress. “The challenges are social, economic and environmental, and now there is the issue of security as well. Our solutions must cross cultural, national and religious boundaries. Multi-national companies particularly have a very important responsibility to keep it moving. The dialogue is very important, and the contacts made here will continue this outreach.”

Policy Precendents in Bonn
The Bonn Conference on the Environment, held in June 2004, set policy precedents for all nations in moving the renewable agenda forward, according to Rainer Hinrichs-Rahlwes of the German Ministry of Environment, Nature, Conservation and Nuclear Safety. The Bonn conference, he said, “set in motion an ambitious action program for the global increase in the use of renewable energies. To this end, governments, international organizations, industry, academia and decision-makers from the local level submitted 194 concrete actions and commitments.”

According to Hinrich-Rahlwes, a number of countries formulated ambitious targets to increase the use of renewable energies. These include:
* By 2010, China aims to obtain 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar, small hydro and wind.
* The Philippines aims to double its share of renewable energies by 2013 to more than 40 percent, making it a world leader in geothermal energy.
* Egypt intends to obtain 14 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
* Germany aims to generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020, a target that is now legally binding according to terms of that country’s Renewable Energy Sources Act.
* Likewise, in the United States, California and New Mexico recently announced new targets to increase share of renewable energy and to boost energy efficiency—at least 30,000 MW of clean energy by 2015 and a 20 percent increase in energy efficiency by 2020.


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