Clean Power

Published on December 4th, 2012 | by Zachary Shahan


5 Things Obama Administration Needs To Do To Remain A Renewable Energy Leader

December 4th, 2012 by  

Below is a great piece by the excellent Chris Varrone (and his Riverview Consulting team). Chris passed the piece on to me after publishing it, with the hunch (which I think is 100% correct) that many of our readers would enjoy/appreciate it. The original title of the piece: Industry Update: U.S. Falling Behind in Renewable Energy. Here’s the full repost (or go ahead and read it on Riverview Consulting via the link above):

In the past couple of weeks, we have seen strong affirmation of support for renewable energy in the UK and China. What will the new Obama Administration do to keep up?

In the UK, greater clarity emerged on how Feed in Tariffs with Contracts for Difference (CfDs) will work to give firm prices to developers of wind and other renewable energy generators. Billions of pounds sterling have been set aside to make sure that the Gigawatts of planned generation (much of it in Offshore Wind) actually get built.

Meanwhile, in China, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are now set to take center stage as top Politburo Standing Committee members. Mr. Li in particular is expected to have a great deal of influence over China’s energy policies, and renewable energy advocates have confidence in his leadership. RECharge News quoted Jessica Ng, analyst at BNEF, “As vice-chairman, Li has already had significant influence on the country’s energy policy so there will unlikely be major policy shifts. However there is speculation that Li may be more ambitious on clean energy and climate change.”

Much of the innovation in wind, solar and other renewables – going back to the 1980s – has been done in the US, but the markets have moved to Europe and Asia. Nearly half the world’s new wind turbines this year will be erected in China alone. By contrast, the US wind industry expects to comprise less than 10% of the world market in the coming five years.

Of innovation going on now, the lion’s share of today’s startups have emerged and been venture-funded by groups in the US, especially California and Massachusetts. Yet the US government’s on-again/off-again policy – the wind Production Tax Credit that has lapsed three times, and is in danger of disappearing again in a month’s time – has scared away investors, forcing many of the startups to look abroad for sales and partners who can take them beyond the venture capital stage.

So what can the Obama Administration do to support renewables?

First, maintain the strong support of innovation that has been in place through the DOE, for example the ARPA-E and SBIR programs.

Second, continue the strong mandates for energy efficiency and renewable energy in the US Military.

Third, make sure that the Wind PTC gets renewed as part of the annual “tax extenders package.” The wind industry is prepared for a “phase-out” of the incentive over several years, but it needs to be in place for 2013, or we will go over our own “fiscal cliff” – the US wind industry will grind to a halt as developers focus elsewhere (e.g., Canada and Latin America), and 37,000 jobs will be lost by New Year’s Day (click here to read more about the impact of the PTC on the wind industry).

(One could also ask that polluting forms of energy – fossil fuels – be finally relieved of the completely unjustified subsidies they have been receiving for a century or more … but perhaps that would be asking for the impossible.)

Fourth, as part of a comprehensive package on electrical infrastructure, we need legislation that will help build transmission infrastructure. Some of this can be and will be done by the states, but backbone infrastructure is inherently interstate, and should be thought of as similar to the Interstate Highway System. If the Federal Government has jurisdiction over I-80 from coast to coast, then it surely must have jurisdiction over the power lines running alongside this road. The building of such modernized grid infrastructure will be a boon for jobs in the short term, and renewable energy in the medium-term, because one of the main obstacles to reaching “20% Wind Energy by 2030” (as outlined in the Bush-era report from the DOE) is insufficient transmission.

Fifth, we need to continue to deal with polluting forms of energy, notably coal, where several older plants will need to finally shut down after 50+ years of operation. The EPA has been doing a good job under Obama of progressing the laws that in some cases have been in place for over a decade, but just never quite got implemented.

But we also need new legislation that addresses the health impact of coal. A Harvard Medical School report recently estimated the health cost of coal at 18 cents/kWh – this is three times the cost of wind energy (click here to read the report)! So the next time you hear “coal is cheap,” say “coal is not cheap for the kids in cities with asthma.”

The health care costs are not borne by the coal industry or the electric utilities that burn coal. If they had to bear these costs, no one would ever build another coal plant in this country.

Finally, carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases or GHGs) are also a form of pollution. The country has been in deep denial about Climate Change for about a decade, but there are signs – based in part on the extreme weather events that we have been experiencing in the Northeast (Hurricane Sandy) and the Midwest (100-year droughts) – that public opinion is shifting. The Obama Administration should take advantage of this momentum, crystallized by statements from New York’s Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg, and propose legislation defining GHGs as pollution. This public dialogue will bring out the facts and the fantasies of the Climate Change “debate,” and once the American people see what that really looks like, they will be happy to levy taxes on the polluters – possibly using these proceeds to fund the Wind PTC and other incentive programs for clean energy.

If the new Obama Administration acts quickly and decisively, there is still time for the US to take its place among the global leaders in clean energy. But with Europe and China pressing forward as quickly as they are, time is running short.

-Chris Varrone and the Riverview Consulting Team

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • logicsd

    Hey Zachary, I appreciate the international competition perspective in this article. Too many people are unmotivated by environmental arguments for an energy revolution, but they sure as hell don’t want to get smoked by other countries developing faster than them, or losing money and jobs to foreign renewable energy companies. I hope to keep seeing this message in the future !

    • Definitely. This is one we note a lot. Though, maybe more so in the past than recently.

  • Edward Kerr

    IF and I say If…all of these things mentioned could happen it would still fall way short of the only goal that matters.”SAVING OURSELVES FROM EXTINCTION”. Personally I fear that we have already passed the point where applying the breaks as hard as possible won’t stop the “ship of souls” from going over the cliff. The problem is global and the atmosphere respects no ideology, no religion, no insanity…nothing. The earth will react without any remorse to our insults. Our own actions will make the planet unlivable. Blame the “evil industries” all you like but we are all guilty…(in defense of the poor man though we have few viable options as individuals to abandon coal oil and NG on a personal level…the rich could but don’t seem to care)

    But, if we (as a species) were to get serious and attack this problem with the urgency that it commands buy dumping all fossil fuels asap and pulling as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as possible (yes the technology exists) then we might have a fighting chance to see our progeny live into the future without this Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.

    You all know that it will require a lot more than PTC renewal or even the dropping of fossil subsidies or any other “bandage”. RADICAL SURGERY is the only answer and I don’t see anyone (or group) that has the power or stomach to make it happen.

    We the People, here in the good old US of A, have had our experiment in self government stolen away by the “elite” from whom we wrestled it, so looking to congress to DO ANYTHING is pure folly. The president, having been reduced to a titular figurehead can do little regardless of his sentiments.

    If you believe in a God perhaps now would be a good time to start praying with vigor, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  • yellowroz

    Clarification on the final point – USEPA already has the authority to regulate GHGs: “…On April 2, 2007, in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), the Supreme Court found that greenhouse gases are air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act.” New CAFE standards stem from this authority, as does some coal-fired power plant rules being applied. Look at for more.

  • Bill Leavens

    Somewhere at the top of the list should be undertaking primary R&D on thorium fission for electrical power generation. Solar and wind are important, but for the near term, thorium nuclear appears to be the answer.

    • i’m going to take that as a joke. solar and wind are cost competitive in many places now. they are only going to drop in price. we should be going ‘full steam ahead’ on deployment. thorium is essentially just an idea right now. if it really works as well as thorium cheerleaders claim, we’ll be lucky to have it in 10 years. thorium may be a long-term help, but the clear short-term answer is renewables. and my guess is that by the time thorium is ready, it simply won’t compete economically anyway. my 2c.

  • Spike Lewis

    Forgot one. Obama could lead by example and put solar panels back on the White House — like his administration promised to do by Spring 2011.

  • Sean

    like bob says, if you want it done, you need to go and lobby your senators and house representatives. call them, or better make it publicly known that you are organising a bunch of people on this issue and that it is important to a lot of people.

    you don’t necessarily need to get through to them direct, just media coverage will do.

  • Bob_Wallace

    “Third, make sure that the Wind PTC gets renewed”

    Force Congress to renew the wind PTC.

    “Fourth, as part of a comprehensive package on electrical infrastructure, we need legislation that will help build transmission infrastructure”

    Force Congress to create legislation that will build transmission.

    “Fifth … new legislation that addresses the health impact of coal.”

    Force Congress to create new legislation that addresses the health impact of coal.

    Just a reminder, the president of the United States is not in control of Congress.

    Voters are.

    If we want those things done the best way to go about it is to pressure present representatives and senators. And start working to replace the pro-fossil fuel ones in 2014.

  • Bruce

    The Royal Society did some calculations in their report of a few years ago and in it they said that if you could tap just 1/1000 of one percent of the energy that strikes the oceans surfaces you could replace all other forms of power 7 times over.

    What they did not add and what I discovered is that it is possible to extract that energy and if done offers the possibility of being cheaper than coal or oil. It can be accomplished because of the existing limits on coal and nuclear plants connected to the electrical grid. They only supply the amount of power demanded by their customers and no more.

    They adjust power output by the only control they have which is their fuel input. Capital cost and labor are largely fixed for them so to be efficient the constantly adjust their output to meet the demand.

    The energy extraction source for the oceans is the great currents if you are able to extract energy from that source you have a base load dispatchable power plant with no fuel cost. That is a totally different economic model.

    Traditional supply/demand curves for on grid power plants looks much like a bell shaped curve but if averaged it typically represents only 40 to 45% of the plants total capacity. If you operate a base load dispatchable renewable and pay off the labor and capital costs for with the 40 to 45% of the time you are on grid then anything other use you can get for the energy extracted can be near free.

    This allows energy for hydrogen extraction and also for carbon dioxide extraction from the sea waters. Combine those under the right heat and pressure, add the right catalyst and you can make carbon free gas, diesel fuel jet fuel and other oil base product.

    This is carbon neutral gasoline and it can be cost competitive with existing fossil base fuels. It can be cost competitive because you are running your capital at a rate of over 95% more than double the rate of existing on grid plants.

    This is an area of renewable that has the least funding but perhaps the most potential.

  • Hopefully he can get this all accomplished over the heads of the do nothing House of representatives

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