Author Archives: Jackie Roberts

Clean Energy is Good Business for Iowa All Around

Jackie Roberts PhotoWhat do you do when a major new customer arrives in town asking for renewable energy?   You supply it.  Facebook’s decision to locate a new data center in Iowa and supply that data center with 100% wind energy is a great example of a company using its clout for good.  To show its seriousness of intent, Facebook simultaneously pursued development rights to two wind parcels, one in Iowa and Nebraska, alongside its traditional site evaluation for a new data center.  Iowa won the new data center, in no small part due to its leadership in the wind sector.

According to Vincent Van Son, Facebook’s Data Center Energy Manager, “When we settled on Altoona as the location for our fourth data center, one of the deciding factors was the opportunity to help develop a new wind project in the state. The project brings additional investment and jobs to the region, and in effect it makes it possible, on an annualized basis, for 100% of our energy needs to be met entirely with one of Iowa’s most abundant renewable resources.” Facebook worked with a local developer, RPM Access, and then at a key point, transferred ownership to a major utility, Mid-American.  This project enabled Facebook to announce last week that the new data center will be supplied by 100% renewable energy.

As we profiled last year with Collaborative Economics, Iowa views the wind sector as a powerful economic development driver.  As a result, it has emerged as an epicenter of wind in all facets – installations, innovation and manufacturing strength.  Iowa’s multi-pronged clean energy strategy continues to deliver economic wins in 2013.  Read More »

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Is The Glass Half Full Or Half Empty For Solar Power?

Jackie RobertsGE and First Solar announced earlier this week an important step towards consolidation of the solar industry that will result in the loss of a new solar manufacturing facility  in Colorado and, potentially 350 jobs.  Clearly the announcement is frustrating for Colorado, a state we featured in EDF’s Clean Energy Economic Development Series, which highlights key road maps for maximizing economic development from clean energy markets.

But, the announcement includes lots of good news – which is probably more significant for the U.S.’s long-term solar power play as well as overall economic opportunity and job creation.  In 2009, GE purchased PrimeStar Solar, a company first seeded at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL), located in Colorado.  PrimeStar Solar (renamed Arvada research center) made significant advances in the efficiency of cadmium-telluride (CdTe) thin film solar panels.  This lowered the cost of thin film solar panels overall and made them more competitive with traditional solar panels.

CdTe thin film solar panels require less material than alternative technologies – which lowers their cost – but their efficiency continues to lag behind traditional, silicon-based solar panels.  The deal gives GE a large stock position in First Solar in exchange for giving First Solar the new CdTe thin film solar technology – essentially creating a key strategic partnership between the two companies.

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Colorado: A Case Study In Clean Tech Planning And Execution

In a recent posts, we revisited the recent trio of reports of the clean energy clusters in Ohio, Iowa and Colorado and shared some insights on lessons learned from Iowa and Ohio.  In this post, we'll take a look at Colorado.

Colorado is the 12th windiest state in the U.S. and is currently 9th in installed wind capacity. It's one of only six states that have exceeded 10% of state generated electricity coming from wind.  For more than a decade, Colorado has been atop most lists for states vying for leadership in the clean energy economy.  It has research labs, a proactive state government, universities and active economic development efforts.  All of these have combined to help Colorado excel in the new energy landscape.

Consider that Golden, CO is home to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the only federal lab dedicated to research, development, commercialization and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technology.  For more than 30 years, NREL has been working on advancements in solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sources.  NREL, Colorado universities and private companies have leveraged the hometown lab to establish specialized research centers in several of these areas and contribute more than $700 million in the economic activity of Colorado each year.

The Denver-metro area, where our report focuses, has become a particularly popular place for cleantech startups and more mature companies.  In 2011, the region had about 1,500 companies and 18,000 employees in the cleantech industry, a 35% increase in direct employment growth from 2006. In terms of the entire Colorado workforce, cleantech employees account for 1%.  But that's twice the national average and generates more than a billion dollars in annual wages. Read More »

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30 Years Of Forward-Thinking Leaders Has Spurred Iowa's Clean Tech Growth

People who haven’t been following the renewable energy industry will be forgiven for their reaction when they’re told that Iowa is among the most advanced, opportunistic state in the cleantech economy.  “Iowa?  Isn’t that corn country?”

Well, yes.  But it’s also wind country.  And like few other states, Iowans have turned their constant breeze into a powerful economic force.

This is the last in a trio of posts highlighting the findings from EDF’s reports on the cleantech economies of Ohio, Colorado and Iowa (here is my last post on Ohio).  Today, I’ll focus on Iowa.

Despite its size, Iowa produces the second most wind power in the U.S. (Texas is #1 and California is #3) and is one of only two states that receives over 20% of its electricity from wind power.  More impressive has been the state’s ability to capture the economic — not just the environmental — benefit of that ranking.  According to the American Wind Energy Association, Iowa has attracted more major wind industry manufacturers than any other state.  It’s a great example of supply meeting demand.

Politically, wind power has been supported by both parties for three decades.  It was the first state to pass a Renewable Portfolio Standard, under republican Governor Terry Branstad in 1983.  In 2005, democratic Governor Tom Vilsack signed a tax credit for renewable energy production.  And in 2007 democratic Governor Chet Culver created the Iowa Power Fund to invest in local renewable energy research and development projects.  This level of across-the-aisle cooperation is unique among states and has given Iowa a considerable advantage in competing against larger and richer states. Read More »

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We Cannot Afford To Undo Economic And Environmental Progress In Ohio

EDF is working with Ohio elected officials, the small business community and other stakeholders on adopting an on-bill repayment (OBR) program in Ohio.  As a private capital solution to financing energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energy (RE) projects, OBR enables building owners to access low-cost capital, with repayment on their utility bills.  Small businesses in particular have trouble accessing affordable financing for energy projects, as it is hard for lenders to assess small to medium-sized business (SMB) credit risk and SMB properties are likely rentals that experience high turnover rates.  OBR provides lenders with significant credit enhancement, since the repayment obligation is tied to the utility meter and survives changes in rental and ownership.  At the same time, utilities and customers can benefit from a well-designed OBR program – one that compensates utilities for their services and allows utilities to receive credit toward state mandates for the OBR-enabled EE and RE investments.

As we at EDF endeavor to increase demand for clean energy projects in Ohio, other parties, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have proposed rollbacks to Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standards.  The standards were established by SB 221 in 2008, with bi-partisan support,– and there is a strong effort underway to defend them.  EDF is working with other Ohio clean energy stakeholders to keep the existing standards in place.  As we actively participate in this dialogue, EDF vigorously supports the State’s commitment to investing in clean energy – a commitment that has resulted in environmental and economic progress from which we cannot afford to undo.

EDF’s clean energy economic development series documented progress made in Ohio to date, which is extremely promising:

Stimulating Demand

The 1992 Energy Policy Act seeded demand for renewable energy and energy efficiency through tax credits and other programs.  In Ohio, two important state efforts in 1999 expanded on this federal support.

The Advanced Energy Fund, created by the Ohio Electric Restructuring Act, provided funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.  The same bill introduced net metering, which allows homes and businesses that install alternative energy technology — solar, wind, biomass, hydro, etc. — to receive credit for the excess energy their systems generate.  Combined, these two efforts provided ways for individuals to reduce the cost of deploying "clean tech" or even turn it into a revenue generator.   Read More »

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Do We Need Breakthroughs Or A Simple “Carbon Diet?”

Over the weekend, The New Republic published an interview with President Obama, where he noted the following: "On climate change, it's a daunting task. But we know what releases carbon into the atmosphere, and we have tools right now that would start scaling that back, although we'd still need some big technological breakthrough."  How accurate is the call for breakthroughs and what do we really need?

First, let’s look at where we don’t need breakthroughs, but instead more deployment – energy efficiency, of course, being Exhibit A.  Creative financing, such as on-bill repayment (OBR), at scale can speed up deployment here.  Similarly, unlocking clean energy to reduce carbon emissions from the electricity sector hinges on affordability.  Wind energy is already competitive with fossil fuels, in large part because the cost of wind energy has come down around 65 percent in the last 20 years, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (yes, declining natural gas prices provide new competition, but EIA projects that natural gas prices will begin to increase in 2018, and wind power purchase agreements are signed for around 20 years at a fixed price).  Residential solar is verging on the tipping point for “grid parity,” or the point at which a source of power becomes cost competitive with other sources.  Bell Labs first introduced solar cells in the 1950s.  Environment California’s Research & Policy Center recently reported that they expect solar to reach grid parity in mid-2014 to 2016 at the outset. 

Of course, progress in lowering costs and increasing efficiency comes on the heels of many smaller innovations.  For example, innovations in materials science underlie many of the most promising technology evolutions, such as the role of carbon fiber as a basic raw material for wind turbine blades or the use of Gallium Arsenide wafers to reduce manufacturing costs for solar cells.  But, nonetheless, given our country’s strength in materials science (think of our leadership with companies like Dow, Dupont and 3M), such innovations seem imminently feasible and in my mind don’t require a major “breakthrough.” 

We’ve also delivered numerous hardware and software innovations to transform our electric grid into a more resilient, smart, “green” grid.  Even carbon capture and storage, to some a high stakes technology bet, is actually just a new configuration or application of engineering equipment we have installed and used for decades, such as heat exchangers, chillers, absorbers, pumps and compressors.

Where would I wave a wand for a breakthrough?  A cheap, reliable and efficient energy storage system wouldn’t hurt, one that replaces the clunky compressed air systems or the size limitations of batteries.  But, overall, the declining cost curves for clean energy solutions, due to innovations large and small, tell us an important story:  solving the climate crises is not unaffordable or necessarily a drag on our recovering economy as many fear.  It is certainly not infeasible nor hinging on that one great technological breakthrough. 

We need non-technological breakthroughs.  Like the new head of the World Bank, Dr. Jim Kim, who in Davos described wanting to make “everything the Bank does aligned with the effort to slow down climate change.”  And it is certainly cheaper than repeating the $50 billion recovery price tags that we might face time and again as Superstorm Sandy becomes the new normal. 

Americans love the quick technical fix.  But, today we have affordable answers right in front of us, it’s the willpower we may be lacking.  So, just as most of us believe that rather than wait for a dieting breakthrough, the best answer to weight loss is reduced consumption and more exercise – we need to go on a carbon diet.  Our economic and environmental health depend on it.

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