The Energy Collective Roadmaps Renewables

The Energy Collective, an online blogging group, hosted a webinar Wednesday about developing a roadmap for large-scale installation of renewable energy sources.  The online seminar’s expert participants described Texas as a world leader in wind energy, yet at the same time focused on the U.S. as lagging behind many countries in wide scale renewable installation.

“The audience is primarily American and you may not want to hear this, but you guys are lagging behind,” said Tom Raftery, a sustainable industry analyst for Redmonk and Energy Collective blogger who is Irish, but recently moved to Spain.

“All the markets are very different . . .Ireland is at about 7 percent (of renewable power sources), Spain is at 10 percent.  The U.S. is at about 1 percent.  The U.S. needs to (increase renewables), and do it fast,” Raftery said.

One attendee asked webinar participant Scott Sklar, who is president of the Stella Group and a chair of the Sustainable Energy Coalition’s steering committee, whether Sklar supported selection of an American “Energy Czar”.

“Yes,” replied Sklar.  “Because most of what the Department (of Energy) does are wonderful things but in the end have nothing to do with our energy policy.  Renewables don’t get due attention outside of photo opportunities because they are such a small part of the agency’s agenda.  It needs to be a cabinet post.”

Sklar said that converging interests demand fast development in the energy sector. He said that presidential candidate John McCain cited renewable development as a necessity for improving national security; Barack Obama cited it as a source of job creation, and environmentalists cite the need for the planet’s health.

“The U.S., by not having resolved our energy policy and letting our policy be driven by energy price has really harmed our own standing within these technologies,” Sklar said.

He added that the U.S. is now importing wind and solar technologies from other countries and that American advancement in renewables is essential “to five or six of our important missions as a country and we just have to have the willpower to stick with it.”

Sklar and Raftery agreed that the U.S. has the potential catch up in the area of sustainable energy based on their separate observations that the renewables market has been relatively unphased by the current worldwide financial crisis.  They both described investment in renewable energy sources as fairly stable.

And while the two had diverging perspectives on biofuels, they agreed that the two biggest sleeper renewables warranting more research and development are geothermal and water.   Geothermal turns the power wheel using the heat naturally produced inside the earth, while water methods include using the force generated by the ocean’s waves and tides.

“Geothermal is a baseload technology that, once its up and running, will keep pumping out energy,” Raftery said.

“Water is 700 times more powerful than air, so we have technology to develop,’ Sklar said.  He added that presently the U.S. leads the world in installed geothermal power generation, mainly in California, and that researchers at MIT have shown we have the potential to produce about 9000 megawatts of power with geothermal.

Raftery said the biggest short-term winners in the renewables game will be energy grids that provide real-time pricing information in people’s homes.

“Cheaper electricity is green electricity,” Raftery said.  He gave an example of how driving his Toyota Prius that displays fuel consumption information causes him to make the most efficient driving choices. He said that when people are given real-time pricing and consumption information, they make more efficient choices.

Sklar and Raftery also pointed out that much of the work developing the renewables infrastructure will be up to state governments in the U.S.

According to the webinar, Texas led the nation in 2007 in wind farm installations and, along with Germany, is a world leader in wind energy which participating experts described as the world’s fastest growing renewable.  (Many thanks to Smitty and the Texas office of Public Citizen for working around the state and with the legislature to bring wind to Texas and make it a world leader).

Other interesting facts mentioned during the seminar included: The amount of water being heated by solar today on the planet is the equivalent of what could be done by 70 nuclear power plants.  Spain is presently building 5 concentrated solar power plants.

For more information, visit TheEnergyCollective.com.