Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Daschle, Industry Leaders: Global Warming Will Increasingly Push Wind Power Industry

The wind power industry can become a key contributor to the electricity resource mix, but it’s going to take stable and long-term policy to get there, said a lineup of WINDPOWER 2007 Conference & Exhibition panelists that included top industry executives along with former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Speaking at a general session on expanding the wind industry, the panel—verbalizing the overall buzz at WINDPOWER 2007, which surpassed 6,500 attendees on its first full day—said that wind and renewables stand poised for major breakthroughs in terms of growth and penetration. Daschle said the renewables industry has the potential to have the “same economic impact as the dot-com revolution.” He called for a long-term extension of the production tax credit and a federal renewable portfolio standard—two specific policies that will likely be taken up in Congress in the coming weeks and months.

The panel consensus was that, as Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council, said, “Climate change will increasingly be the determining factor” in terms of policy affecting wind energy. The public, panelists said, is coming to understand the necessity of addressing global warming and the importance of renewables; however, members of the panel said, the industry needs to do even more in communicating this message. “I think one of our priorities has to be to make this case to the public,” said Robert Lukefahr, president, Power Americas at BP Alternative Energy.

As an executive with BP, Lukefahr offered a perspective of the broader energy industry, saying that achieving 20% wind penetration seems “nearly impossible” but that it actually is achievable, especially when considering the energy industry’s history of reaching large-scale goals. One example: in the mid 1970s, the oil industry was limited to drilling in water depths of 500 feet; now it drills approximately five miles down.

Regarding global warming and greenhouse gas emissions, Steven Chalk, deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the U.S. Department of Energy, said it is imperative that the nation scale up in wind power and other renewables. “Energy efficiency is not going to get us to our goals,” he said. Agreeing with Chalk, Lukefahr illustrated the point by saying that if all the automobiles in the world ran on hydrogen, greenhouse gas emissions would still rise because of the huge role power plants play in contributing to the problem.

On the technology side, GE Energy Vice President of Renewable Energy Vic Abate said that ramping up to 20% wind will involve a “multi-generational product plan.” He projects a 15% increase in capacity factor on new turbines, although the overall fleet of turbines in use in the U.S. naturally will vary in technology because of their varying ages. That’s a natural evolution, he said, likening it to advances in fossil-fuel plants between the 1950s and now.

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