Global Green Light for Renewable Energy

According to attendees and exhibitors at the Renewable Energy World Conference and Expo North America (formerly Power-Gen Renewable Energy and Fuels), entering the renewable energy marketplace is a business imperative that cannot be overlooked as renewables quickly become a solid part of the complete energy mix.

At the show, visitors and exhibitors echoed each other in their desire to either enter the market or to reposition their companies so that they can take advantage of the phenomenal growth that this industry has been experiencing. Attendees ranging from marketing consultants and headhunters to sheet metal fabrication shops represent the diverse industries that want to get a piece of the renewable energy action.

Don Albinger, Vice President of Renewable Energy Solutions and Building Efficiency at Johnson Controls, explained that his company’s interest in the renewable energy market stemmed from its customers’ demands.

“Our customers pulled us into this business. As we were finalizing or creating energy-efficiency projects, our customers were asking us how can they be more green, how can they be better stewards to the environment and a natural extension to that was adding renewable energies,” Albinger said.

Johnson Controls offers building efficiency and operational performance solutions for organizations, saving businesses money and lowering their impact on the environment. Now in the renewables space, Johnson Controls’ customers can use the savings realized from the efficiency upgrades to fund and install renewable energy projects, which the company is now ready and able to provide.

Currently, renewable energy makes up less than 5% of Johnson Controls’ overall business. But Albinger predicted that it could be 15-30% in 3-5 years and 30-50% in the next 15 years.

“We certainly believe that it’s not a dotcom, it is a sustainable business for us,” Albinger said. “Our mission here is to make this business mainstream.”

Renewable energy production has grown by over 20% over the past three years. Global solar photovoltaics (PV), for example has grown from 3.5 gigawatts (GW) in 2004 to 9 GW at the end of 2007, according to Brandon Owens, Program Manager for Strategic Analysis & Scenario Planning at GE Energy. Owens says that GE recognizes the tremendous business opportunity in renewables.

“Looking forward we believe that the combined global additions of wind and solar PV will increase to 34 GW by next year. In terms of dollars, this means that the market size will grow to $60 billion annually,” said Owens. That’s a figure that the company is not ignoring. “As we like to say at GE, ‘Green is Green,'” he said.

Renewables are not going to replace all energies, cautions Owens. The global energy demand is just too great for any current energy source to be replaced at all. Owens said that all energy providers — from renewables to the more traditional providers — have the same concerns. “The coal community is struggling with the same issues that we face here, namely how to provide secure, reliable and low-cost power while minimizing the impact of energy production,” he said.

PennWell Corporation’s Power-Gen International, one of the world’s largest exhibitions for power industry professionals, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Rich Baker, Vice President of the company’s Power Generation Group, has seen the participation of renewable energy companies increase substantially under has watch. Because of this growing interest in renewables from the traditional power sector, the 100 year-old PennWell company has moved decisively to increase its own presence in the clean energy market.  PennWell acquired Renewable Energy World Magazine in 2006 and recently announced a joint venture with RenewableEnergyAccess.com — as of last week, renamed RenewableEnergyWorld.com.

“We believe that the renewable energy market is becoming a viable part of the whole energy mix not just in the U.S., but worldwide,” said Baker.

With the magazine, website, and currently two worldwide events in North America and Europe, “PennWell is very serious about becoming a major player in the renewable energy market,” he said.

Jackie Jones, Chief Editor of Renewable Energy World Magazine, a publication that has been around for more than 10 years, thinks that big corporations entering the marketplace isn’t much of a story anymore. However, when that trend began “three, four, five years ago…it was a big confirmation for the industry as a whole that the big guys were taking it seriously,” she said.

According to Jones, the biggest change in her coverage of the renewable energy industry over the past 10 years “is the number of zeros on just about any number that we publish these days,” she said.

David Wagman is Managing Editor of Power Engineering magazine, another PennWell publication that focuses on fossil energies. Renewables have been steadily creeping in to his coverage, he said, as his audience recognizes how renewables are impacting the entire energy market.

Wagman sees the need for all industries to work together as the energy portfolio becomes more diversified.

“Anytime you talk about wind generation, you also need to look at natural gas generation especially with some of the large-scale deployment of wind because of the need to be able to support that load,” he said. “Natural gas is the fuel of choice for doing that.”

He said that traditional utilities are now tasked with learning how to deal with those issues. The big hallenge is integrating the fossil and renewable energy markets into one big pot called “energy.”

“That was one of the aspects that we saw [in the acquisition] is that we can bring the traditional folks together with the renewables marketplace,” said PennWell’s Rich Baker.

GE Energy’s Owens summed up the issues that all energy markets face: “We are now at a crossroads — one that is as great as that faced by GE’s founder Thomas Edison at the end of the nineteenth century — like Edison we are confronted with the need for a fundamental transformation in the way that we do business.”

Stephen Lacey contributed to this report. For more from the Renewable Energy World North America Conference and Expo, listen to this week’s podcast.

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on Renewable Energy World and POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com

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