MILLIONS of Americans once wanted to smoke. Then they came to understand how deadly tobacco products were. Tragically, that understanding was long delayed because the tobacco industry worked for decades to hide the truth, promoting a message of scientific uncertainty instead. The same thing has happened with climate change, as Inside Climate News, a nonprofit news organization, has been reporting in a series of articles based on internal documents from Exxon Mobil dating from the 1970s and interviews with former company scientists and employees. Had Exxon been upfront at the time about the dangers of the greenhouse gases we were spewing into the atmosphere, we might have begun decades ago to develop a less carbon-intensive energy path to avert the worst impacts of a changing climate. Amazingly, politicians are still debating the reality of this threat, thanks in no small part to industry disinformation.
Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski likes to hold up a chart showing an eight-year period, from 1993 through 2000, when Europe’s offshore wind industry hardly existed. The point, says the chief executive in charge of building the first commercial offshore wind farm in the U.S., is that while Europe now dominates the global offshore wind market, with more than 10,300 MW of installed capacity and another 4,200 MW under construction, developers there faced the same slow, frustrating start that the U.S. is trying to overcome.
Texas is a “big success story” for the company, he said, but future projects are up in the air. “There’s no doubt the wind industry needs stability,” Burkhartsmeyer said. “We’re making 25-year commitments.”
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden this week laid off 15 solar energy researchers and notified its workforce of plans to reduce its staff by another 50 to 60 people via buyouts, officials confirmed Wednesday. The cuts — which would amount to less than 5 percent of NREL’s 1,600 person Colorado workforce — were triggered by the U.S. Department of Energy reducing funding and shifting the priorities of its solar research program, NREL spokesman George Douglas said. The employees laid off Monday were engaged in long-term fundamental research.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday over a federal rule requiring that electricity providers give financial incentives to customers who slash power use in times of high energy demand. The fight over the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s demand-response rule will likely be the year’s most important energy case. “The stakes are really, really high,” said David Goldberg, an attorney representing environmental groups that back the rule. “It’s part and parcel to very important changes that have happened in energy regulation and energy provision, and is very, very important to the future of our nation’s energy supply because this is a dynamic, flexible method.”
Energy storage is fast becoming the next step in the continuing transformation of the electric utility sector. In just a few years, executives have moved from a “we’re studying it” phase to figuring out how to make storage actually happen on a larger scale. What’s more, all three of these electric companies have significant or growing renewable energy operations outside their regulated utility territories, creating opportunities to use storage across the United States and elsewhere, analysts say.
The European Union is struggling to create what it calls its “energy union.” This is largely a refinement of existing policies aimed at improving energy security, accelerating the shift to a low-carbon economy and, on a political level, showing that the 28 European Union member states can pull off a new integration project at a time when they are deeply divided on monetary and immigration policy. Much of it, therefore, is inward-looking.
Surging interest in the U.S., Brazil and China offset a 48 percent plunge in funding for projects in Europe, long the leader in clean-energy technologies. The industry’s capital needs declined because of a drop in the cost of wind power plants, which in the U.K. and Germany are now competitive with fossil fuels even without subsidies. Industry executives will discuss the trends at a conference hosted by New Energy Finance in London next week.
Denton announced a lofty plan Tuesday that aims to make the North Texas city one of the cleanest energy providers in the state. Mayor Chris Watts announced a Denton Municipal Electric plan to have 70 percent of the city’s electricity generated from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2019, up from 40 percent. “The renewable Denton plan is our proposed answer to the citizens’ requests of how can we increase that number,” Watts said at a news conference Tuesday.
Energy industry experts here predict that the growth of renewable energy will challenge natural gas in the years to come, based purely on the economics. Reporting relative ease with garnering long-term renewable power contracts with electricity distributors, renewables investors were beaming with optimism at the annual South by Southwest Eco conference, which wrapped up yesterday.