You wouldn’t know it from the hoots of laughter emanating from the Intertubes over Energy Secretary Perry’s latest ridiculous gaffe, but all last week the US Department of Energy has been cranking out all the good news about renewable energy at an especially furious pace. The occasion was the 40th anniversary of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
To mark the event, NREL has been popping out a torrent of tweets about solar, wind and other clean tech accomplishments of US scientists spanning four decades. That’s pretty remarkable considering the pro-coal rhetoric emanating from the Trump Administration, and the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. So, what gives?
Renewable Energy, USA
So, while all that is playing out, let’s do some catching up.
One focus of all the attention is a long form article on the NREL website chronicling the lab’s renewable energy accomplishments, “It All Started With a Desire to Harness the Sun.”
The 1970s oil crisis was the spark that motivated the Carter Administration to begin the long task of transferring the pricey solar technology used for space operations into something marketable to the masses. Here’s President Carter cited in the article upon the launch of the renewable energy initiative SERI, which later became NREL.
“Nobody can embargo sunlight. No cartel controls the sun. Its energy will not run out.”
Check out the article for full details. For those of you on the go, it all boils down to one long group hug for US taxpayers including these notable highlights:
— Pumping silicon solar cell efficiency up from the 9% performance used in the 1958 Vanguard I satellite into orbit in 1958. That includes the 1984 creation of the first tandem-junction solar cell.
…CdTE solar panels now have the second-highest market adoption after silicon, which remains the dominant technology in the solar industry, and the United States maintains undisputed leadership in this PV technology.
— Funding for foundational research on high efficiency, third generation solar cells beginning in 1979. According to the article, the US was the only place where such “hot electron” research was being conducted for the first couple of years.
The article also points out that NREL’s indoor and outdoor test facilities were (and are) the key to demonstrating the durability of solar technology and play a critical role in bringing new technologies to market:
…PV technology may be a scientific marvel. But if solar devices, from cells to modules to systems, couldn’t withstand the rigors of normal operations and extreme weather, they would have remained a laboratory novelty rather than blossoming into today’s multi-billion-dollar industry…As new, lower-cost technologies are developed, it is essential to quickly identify whether these products will have adequate lifetimes.
That’s just a few snippets, but you get the idea.
NREL’s 40th anniversary celebration also included a heavy dose of wind energy news along with other renewables, capped by this tweet from @ENERGY on Thursday (that would be the same day as Perry’s now notorious coal plant visit btw):
— EIA (@EIAgov) July 6, 2017
Perry to Trump: Look! Squirrel!
All that good news about all those hard working scientists got buried when the Twitterverse began pointing and laughing at one man, Rick Perry. It’s part of a pattern that has gained force in recent weeks.
The emerging picture is that Perry is pacifying President Trump by playing the clown, advocating for “clean coal,” making room for climate “skeptics” and otherwise exposing himself to ridicule, all the while making a forcible case for Congress to preserve federal dollars for renewable energy programs (and energy efficiency programs, too).
Keep in mind that the President of the United States seems happiest when he commands the media spotlight, and happier still when no-one else can challenge his authority on any particular subject.
The President’s fondness for humiliating others in public has also received notice from political observers, so if you connect all these dots you get…an Energy Secretary with no science background who sometimes says things that make no sense.
The advantage for Perry is that the media narrative on his intellectual acumen was cemented long ago, so he doesn’t have to go all that far out on a limb to evoke ridicule.
The latest episode is a case in point. Last Thursday S&P reporter Taylor Kuykendall covered Rick Perry’s visit to a West Virginia coal power plant and tweeted thusly:
DOE Rick Perry at coal plant:"Here’s a little economics lesson: supply and demand. You put the supply out there and the demand will follow."
— ⚡Taylor Kuykendall (@taykuy) July 6, 2017
LOL right? Is that how supply and demand works?
Actually kind of, if Perry meant that in a “if you build it, they will come” sort of way.
For that matter, Kuykendall posted a whole series of tweets covering Perry’s visit, and at one point Perry channeled former President Obama’s “all of the above” policy:
DOEs Rick Perry: "I'm an all of the above energy person. " pic.twitter.com/ZpGS9zq6gO
— ⚡Taylor Kuykendall (@taykuy) July 6, 2017
Nevertheless, Twitter exploded into gales of laughter about the supply and demand thing, and practically nobody got to hear about NREL’s 40th anniversary celebration.
Just wait until the other shoe drops — back in mid-April, Perry ordered up a grid reliability study that appeared to be biased in favor of coal power plants even before it got under way.
Renewable energy stakeholders immediately weighed in with a storm of criticism, and even the American Petroleum Institute chipped in with its two cents (in case you’re wondering, the “P” in API encompasses the interests of the natural gas industry, which competes directly with coal for power generation in the US).
The grid study release date has already been pushed back a week so stay tuned for that.
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Photo: via National Renewable Energy Laboratory.