for a renewable energy economy
Vice Adm. Dennis V. McGinn, USN (retired)
As President and CEO of the American Council On Renewable Energy
(ACORE), I recognize that America faces significant decisions regarding
all aspects of our energy economy going forward.
How much of that economy should be electrified, including
transportation, and what is the fuel portfolio that produces that
electricity? How do we wean ourselves off the dangerous dependence on
foreign oil and what does a sustainable home- grown biofuels industry
look like? What is the synergy between natural gas with the newfound
reserves and renewables? What infrastructure investments will we make
in the power and fueling sectors, based on the options noted? How much
should we seek to democratize the production and ownership of energy in
the aim of opportunity, security, and equity?
Politics invariably enter into the debate about America's energy
stance, and it's sometimes discouraging to see the tendency for a "go
it your own way" mentality within the renewables spectrum that can have
one industry competing in a less than useful way against another. The
fact of the matter is that we must absolutely broaden our fuel
portfolio using all sources of energy for a whole host of
reasons—national security, economic prosperity, and community
health and well-being to name just a key few. That fuel portfolio will
include all three fossil fuels for some time to come, as well as far
greater deployment of energy efficiency and renewable
The good news about our energy resources is that solid progress has
been forged in the U.S. on the deployment of renewable energy over the
past decade. Examples include the 15 GW of new wind installed in the
past two years, 250 MW of new solar installed in the first quarter of
this year alone, and over 800 MW of geothermal and biomass projects in
advanced stages of development. In 2010, renewables represented 10.3
percent of this country's electricity generation. That means, of
course, we have tremendous room for growth.
The bad news that too often complicates the national debate about what
our energy policy should be is actually not "news," but a lot of
misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding the renewables
industry. The myths include notions like, "Renewable energy is too
expensive and far from reaching grid parity," to the misperception that
renewables haven't been proven at sufficient scale and can't provide
more than a small fraction of our overall power, to the belief that all
renewables need baseload back-up power (Begging the question, "So why
build the renewables at all?").
This same energy illiteracy helps direct consumer behavior as noted in
a recent report issued by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that
consumers are now less likely to buy renewable energy than before.
As an industry, all the renewable sectors need to come together to help
educate the American public about the benefits of renewable energy.
There are many success stories that we could share about the jobs
created, the economy turned around, and families benefitting from the
deployment of renewable energy projects in communities around
America—but those stories aren't getting told. Or are lost
behind the big-budget marketing efforts of fossil fuel advocates.
While all of us can probably pretty easily recall the last ad we saw
touting the importance of the coal, oil, and natural gas industries as
job creators and security providers, we probably can't recall the last
ad we saw touting renewable energy resources or technologies, much less
the job creation and national security benefits they bring. The
renewables industry is still in its infancy and while there are many
great stories emerging, it is an industry still focused on development,
and not one that has a large budget for public information campaigns,
much less expensive advertising campaigns.
Along with education outreach, developing a policy platform that
supports renewable energy is an extraordinarily important mechanism
that can help make or break our industry's success. In the absence of
action at the federal level, states have stepped up to the challenge
and passed policies like renewable portfolio standards that have
provided market certainty for both the producers and buyers of
renewables projects. Additional laws such as net metering aid and abet
a more decentralized and secure energy system, while still benefiting
A feed-in tariff law in Germany has resulted in solar capacity nearly
eight-times what it is in the U.S. While these policies are in effect
in a few places in the U.S., the opportunity exists to expand that
number. To do so, the renewable energy community needs to come together
to speak more strongly with a more unified voice. And now several U.S.
states and locales have, or are considering, an Americanized version of
this same rate structure.
The whole of the renewables industry will advance more surely and
swiftly if all oars in the water are pulling in the same direction. The
whole array of renewable energy technologies—whether a
geothermal project, a biofuels plant, or a wind or solar
farm—are the victory gardens of our time. Only by
coming together as an industry across all these technologies will our
voice be loud and clear enough to be heard by the American public. The
development of a united industry voice that tells the stories of the
benefits of renewable energy is what we aim for at ACORE, and we invite
all sectors of the industry to join with us to help make that goal a
Vice Adm. Dennis V. McGinn, USN
(retired) is the president of the American Council On Renewable Energy
(ACORE), a 501(c)(3) membership non-profit organization dedicated to
bringing renewable energy into the mainstream of the U.S. economy and
lifestyle through finance, market, and policy research and educational
Visit www.acore.org for more information about ACORE.