On June 21st, just a week and a smidge into my EESI internship, I put on my one formal business outfit and "metroed" over to the 15th Annual Congressional Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Expo and Policy Forum. Not sure what to expect, intimidated by the Cannon House Office Building security who asked in no uncertain terms that I kindly remove my shoes for inspection, and frazzled by a congressional intern who hissed "you can't use the Members' elevator" as I unassumingly stepped into the first one to open, I finally arrived.

Exhibitors were exhibiting, speakers were speaking; the expo had begun! I wandered the expo room looking at the different displays.

Though the exhibitors weren't there to win any favors with some fresh-faced intern like me, they happily shared what they were working on. I learned that the renewable energy potential of capturing waste industrial heat could power 10 million homes from Heat is Power. The Federal Performance Contracting Coalition filled me in on the $2 billion in energy savings work scheduled for federal buildings in the next two years. RE-Powering America's Land Initiative explained the potential of reusing some of the 22 million acres of contaminated lands as clean, renewable energy sites.

I spent most of the day going around to each exhibitor and asking them a few questions for our video interviews . It provided me with an opportunity to learn about the work going on behind the scenes in many of the green industries often in the news, introduced me to several industries about which I knew little, and turned out to be my favorite part about the expo. Through the interviews, I heard about how transparent insulation , daylighting , and LED lighting lead to much greater energy efficiency; learned about the amazing potential for hydro , solar , and wind power ; and cleared up my misconceptions about diesel and ethanol .

Executive branch speakers (l-r) Steve Chalk, Karen Atkinson, Dan Utech, and Beth Craig As people began to stream into the expo hall, I joined the standing-room crowd at the Policy Forum in time to catch the Q&A with the executive branch speakers, Dan Utech (from the White House's Domestic Policy Council), Karen Atkinson (Bureau of Indian Affairs), Beth Craig (EPA), and Steve Chalk (Dept. of Energy). Listening to these speakers talk about funding, dealing with consumer attitudes, and working with local jurisdictions humanized the people who work for the nameless-faceless government agencies we hear so much about. And hearing about the difficulties raised by audience members in their questions, and those brought up by the speakers in their answers, made me realize the similar struggles policymakers and industries face in advocating renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) highlighted many of these same points, calling on Congress to do more to support renewable energies. A theme that would become recurrent over the course of the expo, both with members of Congress and exhibitors, was the importance of extending production tax credits for the renewable energy industry.

What most struck me about the expo was the range of people who benefited from it. There were interns like me and policy experts in the field, all learning from the information presented in the Policy Forum. Exhibitors met investors and helped make connections to move their companies forward. One woman from Africa came to learn about sustainable agriculture while another man joined the crowd simply because he was in town.

I left the Cannon House Office Building with blisters on my feet from my not-broken-in formal shoes, pamphlets from the different exhibitors, and the feeling that real progress is being made.

Rebecca Kreutter is a rising sophomore at Princeton University with plans to study energy policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The expo was hosted by the Sustainable Energy Coalition , in cooperation with the House and Senate Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucuses and in partnership with:

  • Congressional Peak Oil Caucus
  • Defense Energy Security Caucus
  • High Performance Building Caucus
  • House Algae Energy Caucus
  • House Green Schools Caucus
  • Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Caucus
  • Oil and National Security Caucus
  • Sustainable Energy & Environ. Coalition

Read more at www.eesi.org/expo2012 .