Blogs, Wind Power

AWEA Conference: Balancing Enthusiasm with Reality

It’s amazing to see how renewable energy conferences have evolved.

Many of these shows started off as one-room events in small road-side motels. Today, they can feel more like rock concerts or religious gatherings than business-to-business events.

I never thought I’d need earplugs at a conference. ::continue::

Every year, the AWEA opening session seems to get louder, flashier and more intense. This morning’s session beat out all previous events the organization has held.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar sounded like a rock star as he pumped up the crowd about building new transmission.

AWEA CEO Denise Bode spoke about political action with such intensity, it felt like she was staring each person right in the face and and giving them a personal pep-talk.

“Call your senators now and tell them to say ‘yes’ to a Renewable Electricity Standard,” Bode demanded.

She meant it. She stopped talking so people could call right then and there.

So, I did it. I took out my phone and called my Senator. How could I not? Bode surely would have reached out of the jumbo-tron, grabbed me by the collar and shaken me until I did.

Obviously feeling the same sense of passion and uneasiness, most of the people around me did the same thing.

This ability to command attention and action is a sign of where wind is today. Despite the economic doom and gloom, the wind industry is finally in a strong position to influence public perception and public policy. They’re especially aggressive and upbeat these days, which certainly showed in the opening session.

But is there too much enthusiasm? Not according to some analysts at the show.

There will be “blood on the tracks” this year, said Emerging Energy Research analyst Joshua Magee in an interview shortly after the session. “It’s going to be rough for a lot of companies. But we think that as stimulus funds are deployed and project finance opens up, the problems we’re facing today will be a blip on the map.”

How soon stimulus packages start to impact the industry is still unknown. Everyone is taking a wait-and-see approach. Once the ball starts rolling though, the market is sure to steamroll forward.

Emerging Energy Research predicts that the U.S. can put 12 GW of wind capacity online each year from 2010 to 2020. As for 2009? It might be closer to 6 GW. That’s still pretty good, considering 2007 capacity additions were 5.2 GW.

Finally, public policy will continue to drive the industry in the mid to long-term.

A recent poll commissioned by AWEA found that 75% of Americans support a 25% RES. Of course, wind will play a prominent role in that target. With increasing political support for a number of bills addressing feed-in tariffs, carbon cap and trade and a RES, companies in the industry (the well-positioned ones, at least) are feeling very bullish about the market in the U.S.

“Wind is not just about doing the right thing, it’s a strategic market for us,” said Steve Trenholm, COO of E.ON Climate and Renewables North America. “We see the U.S. as an especially promising market. Of course, we’re experiencing a drop in activity as well, but that may end up helping the industry down the road.”

It would seem that all the pomp and circumstance is well-deserved, despite the current hiccup.