This Year in Clean Energy – What a Ride

The year 2009 started off with a bang for the clean energy industries — encompassing energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean distributed generation — for manufacturers, project developers, installers — the whole family of industries. President Obama assumed office in January ’09 and by February the Stimulus Bill (ARRA) was signed into law, extending the portfolio of clean energy tax credits, but also setting in motion billions of dollars of loan guarantees and grants.

President Obama has made clean technology and cleantech jobs a centerpiece of his Administration, and I attended one public meeting during the first week of December where Secretary of Interior Salazaar, VA Governor Kaine (also head of the Democratic National Committee), and Cathy Zoi, USDOE Assistant Secretary EE/RE, all waxed eloquently on why fast adoption and scale-up of clean technologies are essential in order to create jobs, supplant energy imports and reduce emissions.

Congressional leadership has driven both energy and climate legislation; and even allowing a temporary installation of two U.S.-made wind turbines (one by Mariah Power and the other by Southwest Windpower) to remain at the base of the U.S. Capitol on the grounds of the U.S. botanical gardens — clearly symbolic of the commitment to clean energy technologies.

While two long and complicated climate bills were introduced in both Houses of Congress, climate legislation has been stalled up to the International Climate meeting in Copenhagen. From Denmark, Dr. Ann Braudis of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, wrote,  “I think the most important thing that has happened is the deep seeing that we are truly engaged in systems change that involves the entire planet. The Climate Change work of the UNFCCC is an important, if limited, manifestation of the shift. The danger may be that as humans we are not yet skilled in addressing our issues in an interconnected way.”

Yes, this is the critical salient issue — we all should be aware that the carbon we seek to monetize impacts the strongest lobbies on the planet — petroleum, coal, electric utilities and transportation (vehicles, airlines, etc.) — hence the disconnect. And note, these are the very same groups financing the skeptics that tamper with public opinion.

But the tampering of public opinion notwithstanding, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in December announced that it intends to name carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions “harmful,” which is the first step in exercising regulation of greenhouse gases under the auspices of the Clean Air Act. And President Obama is engaging with other world leaders, most importantly working with our sister country mega greenhouse gas emitters — Brazil, China, India and Russia — to see if there can be a step taken towards some kind of meaningful near-future legally-binding agreement.

Even though some of the headline news this year showed multinational companies closing their U.S. plants (GE Solar in Delaware and BP Solar in Maryland) and wholly US-owned PV manufacturers such as UniSolar shedding employees in Michigan, clean energy industries are growing.

According to Energy Efficiency Markets Newsletter, “To say 2009 was a banner year for the energy efficiency industry is an understatement. Under Obama’s watch, the federal government has channeled $20 billion in stimulus dollars to energy efficiency and now promises more from bailout funds returned by banks.”

Yes, overall the cleantech industries are booming and have surmounted the global mega-economic meltdown. According to research firm DisplaySearch’s Quarterly PV Cell Capacity Database & Trends Report for Q3 2009 solar cell manufacturing capacity is expected to grow 56% in 2009 to 17 gigawatts (GW) and ramped capacity, which was only 2.3 GW in 2005, is forecast to grow at a compound annual rate of 49% to more than 42 GW in 2013. Between January 2008 and July 2009, approximately 11.4 GW of new solar cell capacity was installed in facilities around the world. Most of these were previous investment commitments, and that is the reason that capacity is continuing to grow 56% in 2009 despite falling demand.

Emerging Energy Research (EER) released a new study analyzing global geothermal markets — Global Geothermal Markets & Strategies, 2009-2020 — which is available for download on EER’s website.  The report says that the U.S. — the world’s leading geothermal market — has a pipeline of more than 4,400 MW of confirmed projects and is poised to more than double existing capacity over the next five years.  Further, the global geothermal pipeline now exceeds 9,000 MW of projects under development — which, if executed to completion, will nearly double the installed global geothermal capacity of 10,500 MW built up over the past 30 years. Currently, there are over 215 commercial geothermal projects operating in 24 countries. (Editor’s note: for more on geothermal power, check out This Year in Geothermal, last week’s column by Karl Galwell and Leslie Blodgett.)

As of May 2009, eighty countries around the world are using wind power on a commercial basis. At the end of 2008, worldwide nameplate capacity of wind-powered generators was 121.2 gigawatts (GW), which is about 1.5% of worldwide electricity usage and is growing rapidly, having doubled in the three years between 2005 and 2008. Total capacity at the end of 2008 reached 25,170 MW with an annual growth rate of 49.6% and more than 85,000 U.S. jobs in wind.

SBI estimated in its new report, “The Wind Power Market: Turbine Components & Subcomponents and Demand in the U.S. and the World,” that the total wind energy market in the U.S. is valued at $151.3 billion.  Frost and Sullivan reported, “due to the strong growth and placement of wind turbine orders in 2008 and the lead time between placing the orders and shipping them out to customers, the top line for wind turbine manufacturers in 2009 has been relatively unaffected.”

Berkeley Lab’s July 2009 wind study concluded a slower year was expected in 2009, in large part due to the global recession.  The lab said that projections among industry prognosticators ranged from 4,400 MW to 6,800 MW of wind likely to be installed in the U.S. in 2009. “After a slower 2009, most predictions show market resurgence in 2010 and continuing for the immediate future,” it concluded.

Today, more than 25 countries are involved in developing relevant conversion technologies for harnessing ocean renewable resources for electricity generation and/or other purposes, such as desalination, heating for aquaculture and other uses. More than $2 billion will be invested to build commercial river-hydrokinetic and ocean energy power facilities by 2015 with another $2 billion going towards research and development globally over the next six years.

According to Renewables Global Status 2009 Update, edited by Eric Martinot of REN21, “Biomass power generation (and cogeneration) continued to increase at both large and small scales, with an estimated 2 GW of power capacity added in 2008, bringing existing biomass power capacity to about 52 GW.  The Energy Information Administration stated that in 2009, “Generation from biomass, both dedicated and co-firing, [will] grow from 39 billion kilowatt-hours in 2007 (0.9 percent of the total) to 46.1 billion kilowatt-hours.”

The immediate future looks bullish. Sklar’s choice for the two best clean energy reports in 2009 are as follows:

  1. The Institute for Local Self reliance’s “States Energy Self Reliance Report,” which said that “all 36 states with either renewable energy goals or renewable energy mandates could meet them by relying on in-state renewable fuels.  Sixty-four percent could be self-sufficient in electricity from in-state renewables; another 14 percent could generate 75 percent of their electricity from homegrown fuels.”  The report also said that “the nation may be able to achieve a significant degree of energy independence by harnessing the most decentralized of all renewable resources: solar energy. More than 40 states plus the DC could generate 25 percent of their electricity just with rooftop PV.” In fact, these data may be conservative. The report does not, for example, estimate the potential for ground photovoltaic arrays — although it does estimate the amount of land needed in each state to be self-sufficient relying on solar — even though common sense suggests that this should dwarf the rooftop potential.

  2. The philanthropic arm of search giant, Google, in 2009 released a plan to move the U.S. to a clean-energy future, entitled, The Google vision. In 2030, electricity will be generated not from coal or oil but from wind, solar and geothermal power. Energy demand will be two-thirds what it is now, thanks to stringent energy-efficiency measures. Ninety percent of new vehicle sales will be plug-in hybrids. Carbon dioxide emissions will be down 48 percent. Getting there will cost $4.4 trillion, according to the Google  plan — but will recoup $5.4 trillion in savings. The Clean Energy 2030 plan would require ambitious national policies, a huge boost to renewables, increased transmission capacity, a smart electricity grid and much higher fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles.

So the big news is that in 2009 the world maintained investment in renewable energy. According to “Advanced Materials and Devices for Renewable Energy” from BCC Research, the global market for advanced materials and devices for renewable energy is estimated to be worth $11.6 billion in 2009 and is expected to increase to $16.9 billion in 2014.

So for those of you disheartened by global climate political machinations abroad and inside the beltway of Washington politics, don’t despair!  The inevitable march of clean energy and water technologies is unstoppable. I know sometimes it seems like water torture and there are challenges ahead, but cleantech has just begun to scale at unimaginable proportions. I can’t wait for 2010!

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Scott, founder and president of The Stella Group, Ltd., in Washington, DC, is the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and serves on the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and The Solar Foundation. The Stella Group, Ltd., a strategic marketing and policy firm for clean distributed energy users and companies using renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage. Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University teaching two unique interdisciplinary courses on sustainable energy, and is an Affiliated Professor of CATIE, the graduate university based in Costa Rica. . On June 19, 2014, Scott Sklar was awarded the prestigious The Charles Greely Abbot Award by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and on April 26, 2014 was awarded the Green Patriot Award by George Mason University in Virginia.

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