Foreign Policy Blogs

Renewable Energy

I've been looking at renewable energy , we used to call it alternative energy , for a long time. When I went, as a high schooler, to the first Earth Day in 1970, I said, "Yeah, great. This is the future." When I read Barry Commoner's The Politics of Energy, published in 1979, I said "Of course, why not?" to the thesis that the federal government should be invested in making the transition to a non-carbon economy. When ten leading environmental groups came out with An Environmental Agenda for the Future in 1985, I said "Okay, now we're really getting into gear." When Al Gore became Vice President in 1992, I thought this was an important development. Unfortunately, as I've learned, things move slowly. When industrial economies have been burning coal, oil and natural gas for 150 years, you don't jump right into the energy future. But so slowly? 

Maybe we're making up for a lot of lost time now. Now we appear to really be on the cusp of a new way of doing business. As noted in my post below on "The Business of Green", venture capitalists are jumping in with both feet. Wind power and solar power are becoming very big business.

Energy efficiency and green building are both integrally connected to the burgeoning new energy economy, and I will have a good bit to say about these as we go on through the year, but I want to just highlight renewables for the moment. Biofuels and nuclear seem to me to be in a different category too from pure renewable energy. Wind, solar, geothermal, fuel cells, hydro, and even ocean and tidal power. These are the technologies that have fascinated me since the first Earth Day. I think the genie is finally out of the bottle. It's not a little exciting for me to see all this incredible activity. It should also be exciting for anyone who's concerned about climate change.

So here are some interesting morsels. "Abu Dhabi eyes renewable energy future" from the FT. The Masdar Initiative aims to " manage the implementation of a significant renewable and alternative energy initiative in Abu Dhabi." Similarly, in Singapore, the launch of a new solar and fuel cell initiative was recently announced. See this from Reuters. According to the Singapore Economic Development Board:  "The Singapore government aims to develop Singapore as a global Clean Energy hub which will generate S$1.7 billion of value-added and 7,000 jobs by 2015." In Portugal, they just opened the world's largest solar power plant , 11 MW. See this story, and this for the bigger picture:  Portugal plans investments of €8.1 billion (US$10.8 billion) in renewable energy projects over the next five years.

This is a great overview of the state of the solar energy business from "The Economist" , "Bright prospects" from March 10. Here's some refreshing news about wave power from Environment & Energy Publishing:  "The New Wave , Grid Power from the Sea." There are some wonderful video and other links in this special report. However, there's always some fly in the ointment or other. In the case of one ambitious project in Cornwall, it appears that "Surfers Make Waves in British Battle of the Breaks." On geothermal, in January a major new report found enormous " potential for geothermal energy within the United States" and " that mining the huge amounts of heat that reside as stored thermal energy in the Earth's hard rock crust could supply a substantial portion of the electricity the United States will need in the future, probably at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact." See this from the M.I.T. news service and the report itself. (Big file , 14.5 mb!)  That's the good news. The bad news is "White House seeks to cut geothermal research funds." Natch. On wind power, on one ambitious and highly promising front, there's the Cape Wind project which promises that "Average expected production will be 170 megawatts which is almost 75% of the 230 megawatt average electricity demand for Cape Cod and the Islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket." Now don't let anybody tell you that I think Republicans are the ones who always spoil the party. See this for instance:  "Ted out to blow down windmills." To be fair, let Sen. Kennedy give you his perspective.

Well anyway, I must say I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle sometimes. There's just such an enormous amount of forward movement on renewable energy these days. We're jumping from quanta to quanta. (Forgive me physicists among you for the no-doubt hugely liberal use of the term.)  I was beginning to think I'd never wake up to the sound of renewable energy bursting into the world's consciousness and becoming an accepted, even preferred source of power. Much more to come. Stay tuned. 



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change