Bridging the Gap – A Power Gen Perspective

It seems like I’m always running off to attend some sort of renewable energy-only trade show event. But last week I decided to step into the trade show world of traditional power generation where 99 percent of the “other” kind of power is produced — Power Gen International.

While I was officially there to explore new marketing partnerships with companies participating with our online news publication, I was quickly drawn to making comparisons between renewables specific trade shows and this unfamiliar environment of gears, turbines, and big mechanical widgets. The comparison in show size, whether it matters or not, was obvious. Power Gen hosted 1,200 exhibitors and nearly 3,000 attendees. In contrast, the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) annual trade event — one of renewable energy’s largest in the U.S. — attracted 3,600 visitors last year with 225 exhibitors. The solar industry’s largest solar events might sign up 75 companies tops. Other technologies are even smaller. There was a “Renewable Energy Pavillion” and an AWEA Pavillion (well, pavilion might be kind of strong). Both were located in the far end of the Orange County Convention Center and were sparsely populated with about 15 companies total. Among the other exhibitor aisles, a few other RE companies were scattered about — Northern Power, Altair and most notably, GE Energy tucked in its solar and wind divisions among its other traditional energy products in a very flashy and not surprisingly, big display area. For those of us in the renewables community, I would have to admit the renewables industry turnout was disappointing. As an industry, renewable energy didn’t stretch much. PennWell, publishers of Power Engineering magazine, have extended their normal bounds and have tried to create an opening for renewables at Power Gen. In fact, they have created a separate, second annual Power Gen – Renewable Energy 2005 trade event on March 1-3, for all renewable technologies. Future attendance will challenge the renewables industry. And why? I couldn’t help but wonder if the renewables business community is not just a little intimidated and uncomfortable in these kinds unfamiliar, larger-in-scope, real world surroundings. I admit that I longed for those friendly faces of our own trade events. Regardless, the enthusiasm for renewable energy was obvious. More than just a curiosity, the four presentation sessions (out of 50 for the “other” energy) devoted to renewable energy were well attended. Presenter content was solid. These presentations by leaders in renewable energy painted a bright future for all the different technologies, from wind power to concentrating solar power to photovoltaics to biomass and biofuels. Growth is rapid and technology is improving, they said. And most importantly, costs are being reduced. RE technologies are coming into the mainstream of power generation and will be cost competitive with the proper policy support. The crowd at times seemed to give a collective, knowing nod. All technology presenters acknowledged the need for a stable policy environment with a predictable future. Echoing wind energy’s PTC roller coaster ride in the U.S., envious of a more stable EU model. As Leif Andersen, Sales Director of Vestas America, made the point, appropriately addressing the profitability mantra of traditional power purveyors, “The question may not be, ‘Can we afford renewable energy, but instead turn it around 180 degrees, ‘Can we afford not to do it?”

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