The United States is losing its lead in renewable energy to other nations, says the head of that country’s major solar laboratory.
LONDON, England, UK, 2001-05-22 <SolarAccess.com> “Strong industrial competitors like Germany and Japan are implementing environmental policies, tax and other incentives, export assistance, and other actions to create renewable energy businesses and markets at home and in developing countries,” says Richard Truly, head of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado. “Eight European countries now have higher percentage contributions from non-hydro renewables than the USA whereas, in 1990, only one country did.” “Not that many years ago, the USA was ahead in nearly all renewable energy technologies in terms of total domestic capacity installed, market share and number of companies involved,” he says in an opening presentation on the World Energy Council online conference, EnergyResource2001. “We are quickly falling behind in each of these measures and losing the leadership role in moving the world to a sustainable energy future.” The United States is facing an energy crisis that will bring “sharply rising energy costs, power shortages and the resulting human and financial hardship,” but he adds that this crisis offers a “new opportunity” to break from the status quo of avoiding “new and bold steps” to make renewable energy a “pivotal part” of national energy policy, with “another lost opportunity” similar to the 1970 oil crisis. “Or, we could recommit the country to a stable, long-term national R&D program and craft the policies necessary for energy efficiency and renewable energy to fulfil their promise – to help assure the nation and the world a future of clean, safe and inexhaustible energy,” he explains. “That’s the path we favour, and the one the scientists and engineers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are working hard to achieve.” Twenty-eight years ago, the OPEC crisis resulted in supply problems and the United States responded by introducing the premise that renewable energy “held the promise of an unlimited supply of affordable, clean, reliable and secure energy,” he says. “Expectations were high and the realization seemed near but, today, nearly three decades later, the promise of energy efficiency and renewable energy remains largely unfulfilled.” The U.S. depends on other countries for more than half its oil, at a cost of $60 billion every year, and this level will jump to 61 percent by 2010. Population growth and economic development around the world are increasing energy demand and total world energy use is expected to double by 2025 and quadruple by 2100. “This is the best opportunity we have had in nearly 30 years to define a new vision that balances in a more appropriate way the need for energy efficiency and renewable energy as part of a national energy policy,” he says of the current crisis. “The question is: are the technologies and markets ready, and are the policies in place, for renewable energy to fulfil its promise?” Truly says two prerequisites are needed to allow renewables to meet demand: “we must recommit the nation to a stable and long-term national energy R&D program, including renewable energy and energy efficiency, and second, we must create a pathway into the future for the adoption of these technologies with a consistent set of policy actions that build self-sustaining businesses and markets for the technologies.” “Renewable energy and energy efficiency are poised to play a big role in providing these new energy products and services and to help address a number of our nation’s pressing energy problems,” he adds. “”It has always taken many decades for technologies to develop, for markets to grow, and for policies to evolve for any new kind of energy to blossom.” Wind electricity is one of the “big renewable energy success stories of the past 30 years,” he explains, and now is the fastest growing energy in the world with cost reductions of 80 percent and a promise of 2.5c/kWh within two years. “Our chances of hitting that goal are seriously jeopardized if we don’t continue to make the necessary investment at this critical moment of the technology’s evolution,” he adds, noting the 1.5 MW turbines under development by Enron Wind and the 750 kW unit from the Wind Turbine Company. “Twenty years ago, PV was a curiosity confined to the privileged realm of astronauts and satellites; now, it is coming to earth with a vengeance, with the ability to power an unparalleled variety of electric power applications,” he says. More than 360 MW of solar panels will be shipped this year, an increase of 42 percent over last year, “but this is merely a drop in the bucket compared to what is coming.” “There is no question that markets are growing – and growing rapidly – for renewable energy, here in the United States and around the world,” he adds. “The transition to renewable energy is inevitable, not because fossil fuels will run out, but because the costs and risks of using these supplies will continue to increase relative to renewable energy.” “Every administration and Congress has had a different set of national goals, R&D investment levels and policy actions for developing these technologies,” he concludes. “This history of erratic R&D budgets and mixed, sometimes inconsistent, policy signals has prevented the very creation of self-sustaining renewable energy businesses and markets.” The EnergyResource2001 conference is sponsored by the World Energy Council, RMR of Britain and EUFORES (European Forum for Renewable Energy Sources), and will be staged exclusively on the Internet. Last year’s conference attracted 11,000 delegates from around the world. New presentations will be made every day until June 1, after which time the conference will then remain online for one year to allow delegates to review the papers.