Renewable Energy Gathers Steam

June 1, 2007

By Lewis Tagliaferre

Some experts predict that the electricity supply needed to meet economic growth in the United States could increase by up to 50 percent over the next 20 years. Where will it all come from? Coal is too dirty, nuclear power is expensive and poses centuries of waste storage issues, oil is too political and drilling on public land is forbidden, gas is too scarce and getting too expensive, wind towers mar the landscape, solar panels are ugly and too expensive, falling water is all used up, fuel cells lack a hydrogen supply and delivery infrastructure, and the electric transmission grid is rusty and overloaded, etc. Even the most ardent conservationists cannot squeeze enough savings out of existing resources to meet the expected growth in demand. So, now comes one of the most highly organized efforts ever seen by Washington to influence national energy policy. With all its power, it might just make some impact with its influence. It is the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). It's not often that you see so many different interest groups focusing on a single issue, so here is the digest of its latest report that could help improve your bottom line.

Founded in November 2001, ACORE "works to bring all forms of renewable energy into the mainstream of America's economy and lifestyle." Members of ACORE include renewable energy industries, associations, utilities, end-users, professional service firms, financial institutions, non-profit groups, universities and other educational organizations, and government agencies. ACORE serves as a forum through which these parties work together toward reaching their common goal of increasing electricity supplies from renewable forms of energy. Phase I of the ACORE effort focused on increasing support for research and development. The Phase II report calls for greater effort to develop working markets for economical growth of renewables; its impact will come down to how much your bottom line will dictate demand for more alternative resources.

In March 2007, ACORE released its new Phase II report, titled Joint Outlook on Renewable Energy in America. According to the authors, renewable energy could provide up to 635 gigawatts (GW) of new electricity-generating capacity by 2025. That is more than half of current production and potentially more than the nation's future need for new electric capacity forecasted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. ACORE says that this increased output could come from a wide array of new resources if the full range of emerging technologies is utilized as follows:

  • Wind power - 248 GW.
  • Solar power - 164 GW.
  • Water power - 23 GW.
  • Geothermal power - 100 GW.
  • Biomass energy, power, and fuels - 100 GW.

In addition, ACORE claims that renewable resources can serve a large portion of U.S. oil-consumption needs. It suggests that biofuels could supply 30 to 40 percent of U.S. petroleum products by 2030. But, under current policy, ethanol fuel production may reach only 11.5 billion gallons per year by the end of first-quarter 2009, which is a small step toward the approximately 135 billion gallons of gasoline we consume annually.

The ACORE report claims that America needs energy that is secure, reliable, improves public health, protects the environment, addresses climate change, creates jobs, and provides technological leadership. That is a tall order, which leads to more renewable energy. But, ACORE warns, if renewable energy is to be developed to its full potential, a new plan of coordinated actions is needed, including "sustained federal and state policies that expand renewable energy markets, promote and deploy new technology, and provide appropriate opportunities to encourage renewable energy use in all energy market sectors (wholesale and distributed electricity generation, thermal energy applications, and transportation)."

To make the transition to a sustainable energy future, ACORE proposes that public policy should be built on the following principles:

  • Act now with resolve and decisiveness in favor of renewable energy.
  • Build a comprehensive national renewable energy strategy that addresses the full range of technological and market issues.
  • Utilize the competitive market as the most powerful driver of change.
  • Create energy policies that address both the challenges of oil dependence and global warming in an integrated way.
  • Recognize that energy efficiency and renewable energy work together.
  • Provide long-term incentives for renewable power investments, modernizing transmission and distribution systems, and investing in the next generation of biofuel facilities and their needed infrastructure.
  • Scale up an accelerated national R&D program to return the United States to global leadership.
  • Implement long-term and stable policy commitments that allow industry, the financial sector, and individual consumers to make long-term decisions.

Business-As-Usual Forecast
In contrast to the ACORE scenario, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) presented the reference case from its Annual Energy Outlook for 2007, assuming that "all current standards, laws, and regulations remain as currently enacted." Under this federal scenario, total U.S. primary energy consumption is expected to increase from 100 quadrillion BTU (quads) in 2005 to 131 quads in 2030. During this period, the share of renewable electricity generation is forecast to remain constant at 9 percent while coal is expected to increase its share of electric-power generation from 50 percent in 2005 to 57 percent in 2030. Ethanol use is expected to increase from 4 billion gallons in 2005 to 14.6 billion gallons in 2030, or about 8 percent of total gasoline consumption by volume - far short of gaining independence from foreign oil. ACORE observed that, "even with currently available renewable energy technologies, this forecast is not consistent with an energy strategy that embraces sustainability, climate stabilization, and a healthier environment." This official base case clearly indicates that, without substantial change in policy, renewable energy is a long way from reaching its potential.

Achieving the high-potential scenarios for renewables will depend on progress made to advance each technology's performance, lower its cost, and overcome challenges of market acceptance at an economical scale, according to ACORE. None of the barriers to achieving the goals for renewables appear insurmountable if there is the political will to tackle these goals: That will must come from demands by educated consumers, such as readers of Buildings magazine, who realize it's in their personal interest to help move the federal and state polices in these directions. If the efforts by ACORE are not successful at increasing supplies of renewables, it goes without saying that increasing costs for building energy supplies cannot be used for investing in other amenities needed to maintain tenant satisfaction. If these matters appear to be above your pay grade, please consider that, if you don't help change energy demand patterns, you will continue getting what you are getting. To download the complete report, visit (

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