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As of 2/25, the largest annual conference of cleantech investors and businesses is going on in San Francisco, at the Cleantech Forum XXI. With 800 of the world's leaders in the sector representing over $3 trillion in capital meeting to work on green jobs, renewable energy, climate change and resource scarcity, visions are being laid out and deals are being made.
On the other coast, the PowerShift '09 conference will get under way on Friday, where 10,000 young people will meet in Washington D.C. to push for bold action on an energy plan that addresses climate change. An array of elected officials and activists will appear at the conference and offer workshops on lobbying and organizing.
On Monday of this week, another major summit meeting was held in D.C., as the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hosted a forum entitled "National Clean Energy Project: Building the New Economy." Featuring comments by President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Jeff Bingaman, Representative Ed Markey, and energy baron T. Boone Pickens, it made clear that our leaders are deeply committed to a clean energy future, and that they aren't letting the opposition slow them down.
Pickens and Gore offered some political anecdotes about how some people always resist change, but then appreciate it when it comes. Similarly, at the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference earlier this month green auto pioneer Shai Agassi (of Better Place) derided arguments against getting transportation off oil as comparable to arguments against "getting off slavery" in 1800s Britain.
Also on Monday of this week, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal to a lower court ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency acted improperly under the Bush administration in attempting to except coal-fired power plants from the requirements of the Clean Air Act. In essence, the dismissal paves the way for the EPA to regulate the emissions of mercury, lead, arsenic and other pollutants from coal plants.
For his part, the President made it clear in his address to Congress on Tuesday night that carbon will soon come with a price, calling for "market-based carbon" caps and renewable energy.
All of this in just one week. This isn't just a cleantech wave; it's a tsunami.
At the Cleantech Forum XXI, Chuck McDermott of RockPort Capital quipped "Washington has made the pitch, now you have to figure out the catch." Dispersing hundreds of billions of dollars quickly will be a challenge for the federal government, and rounding up matching capital from the private sector may remain a challenge for investors and businesses.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu is working hard on his end of the deal. One week ago, he announced a reorganization to streamline the government's process for dispersing and guaranteeing loans for energy and climate change projects. The reforms will simplify the application process, speed up review, defer application fees and amortize up-front costs, and evangelize within the cleantech industry to try to attract and shepherd projects through the process.
Industry is working hard too. Solar darling First Solar reported yesterday that it had finally broken the $1-a-watt barrier for manufacturing solar panels. At that price, solar can be competitive with coal-fired grid power, and has been long considered a critical milestone in making widespread solar economical
Geothermal energy is still just barely on the radar of most, even though it's one of the cheapest, at about five cents per kWh (about half the average price of grid power). It's also one of the cleanest, and most abundant. According to the US Department of Energy, there is enough recoverable geothermal energy under American soil to meet our annual energy consumption 140,000 times over! For the last several years, the geothermal industry has been in a land-grab phase, securing leases for the best geothermal sources. Now they're beginning to develop the projects.
The technology we needed for a renewable energy revolution is now here. We now have solar, wind, and geothermal technology that can go head-to-head with fossil fuels on price. All we need now is willing capital, a smarter and beefier grid, and some vehicle-to-grid technology or other storage systems—all of which we seem certain to have within just a few years. When that happens, the sector is going to take off like a rocket, and never look back.
2/26/2009, 8:21 pm Link to this post   Blog

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