Tuesday, February 5, 2013--The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) organized a briefing about the important and growing role that renewable energy plays in the American energy mix. Renewable energy resources – including water, wind, biomass, geothermal, and solar – are abundant and geographically diverse across the United States, and are used to generate electricity, provide thermal energy, fuel industrial processes, and produce transportation fuels. The deployment of renewable energy technologies has grown rapidly in recent years as their costs have decreased substantially and as the nation looks to meet growing demand, diversify its energy supply, promote energy security, and reduce carbon emissions.

Renewable electricity generation has grown 62 percent since 2001, and in 2011 represented 12.7 percent of total U.S. electricity generation. Furthermore, 12,956 megawatts of renewable energy capacity was installed in 2012, accounting for 49.1 percent of all new electrical generating capacity in the United States. The briefing provided an overview of renewable energy technologies, domestic and international deployment trends, and exciting market and economic conditions.

  • Renewable energy is good for the environment and good for the economy. By developing a diverse and balanced range of sources, the United States can have a resilient and secure energy portfolio.
  • Renewables are no longer an alternative, but are very much part of the mainstream, representing almost half of the new electricity generating capacity brought on-line in 2012. In addition, prices are falling close to, and in some cases are competitive with, those of fossil fuels.
  • Renewable electricity generation has grown 62 percent since 2001, and in 2011 represented 12.7 percent of total U.S. electricity generation.
  • The renewable energy industry needs stable government policy to continue its rapid growth.
  • Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, President of the American Council on Renewable Energy, said the United States faces three major challenges: energy security, economic security, and environmental security, all of which can be addressed by renewable energy.
  • He emphasized that strong policy is needed to sustain the rapid deployment of renewable energy.
  • Vice Admiral McGinn also encouraged use of the website, a new resource for separating renewable energy myth from renewable energy reality.
  • Steve Chalk, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, described the ongoing research and development into wind, solar, geothermal, water, biofuels, and fuel cells at the DOE.
  • Mr. Chalk noted that the DOE is working to reduce the cost of renewable energy technologies through investment in research, development and deployment.
  • In 2008, the DOE set a target of reaching 20 percent of U.S. electricity generation from wind power by 2030. So far, the United States is on track to exceed this goal.
  • To continue this high achievement level, the DOE is funding further research into onshore and offshore wind, including 42 research projects in 2011 aimed at offshore wind technology development and market barrier removal.
  • The DOE created the SunShot Initiative with the goal that solar energy will be cost competitive with other forms of energy by 2020. Current priorities include reducing the “soft costs” of solar, such as permitting.
  • Shirley Neff, Senior Advisor at the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), spoke about the EIA’s predictions for domestic growth and noted that the rate of renewable energy growth is currently much faster than fossil fuel growth (natural gas included).
  • In 2011, nine percent of U.S. primary energy consumption came from renewable sources. These include hydro, wood, biofuels/biomass, wind, waste, geothermal, and solar.
  • Although hydroelectric power has been the leading source of renewable energy in the past, the other sources are all growing and expected to make up the majority of renewable energy within the next 30 years.
  • Generation from wind power is projected to see significant increases by 2040. Already in 2012, installation of wind generation capacity outpaced that of natural gas.
  • Ms. Neff suggested that viewers should visit the EIA website and check out their “Today in Energy” articles to keep up with the latest news.
  • Providing the private sector view was Mark Fulton, former Managing Director of Deutsche Bank Asset Management. He said the finance industry can provide securitization of debt for renewable energy, which would help bring down the cost of capital.
  • Mr. Fulton explained that the renewable market needs “TLC”: Transparency, Longevity, and Certainty. He said the current U.S. market has transparency and longevity, but there is a lack of certainty about upcoming policy, and that issue needs to be addressed. He suggested that, if renewable energy is to move forward in the market place, the United States needs to have a policy framework to support it.
  • Dr. Robert Ichord, Jr., Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of State, closed off the panel by providing an international perspective. He described the role of the Bureau of Energy Resources which seeks to create an energy transformation towards cleaner and more efficient systems, and ensure safe governance and energy access for people around the world.