The Headwinds Hindering America’s Transition to Renewable Energy

Nations like Denmark are leading the world in producing renewable energy. But the transition to renewables doesn’t just amount to the number of solar panels or wind turbines that can be built, it takes a smart grid to maximize their potential.
June 21, 2012, 8am PDT | Andrew Gorden
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Denmark utilizes wind power for 22% of its energy sources, a number that can jump to 70% on the windiest of days. Compare that to a dismal 4% of U.S. production, even after nearly $100 billion in investment. According to Michael O'Sullivan, NextEra Energy Resources' Senior Vice President, to facilitate the country's shift to more renewables, the U.S. needs a substantial shift in the way such energy is distributed in this nation, rather than in the way it's produced.

Part of the problem may be, as O'Sullivan states, that the U.S. has a "mature regulatory environment" compared to other nations, namely China, which has ramped up production of wind power facilities. In the U.S., the process of proposing, permitting, and approving a single wind turbine can take upwards of five years, combined with upfront consulting fees that can easily go to waste if the project is rejected.

But what O'Sullivan views as the most probable cause of the nation's lack of wind power production is the lack of a "smart grid." He sees the lack of federal leadership and coordination as the greatest obstacle to building such a grid. Wildly divergent policies and regulations at the state level means that dealing with each of the 48 lower states can be like dealing with "48 separate countries." Additionally, within those states are around 500 separate utilities each owning "some piece of the grid".

If regulations stay the same, we may end up like China, which wastes 25-30% of its wind power due to the fact that a significant portion of the massive 50-100 mega watts it installs each year simply aren't connected to the grid, says O'Sullivan. "It's wind to nowhere."

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Published on Monday, June 18, 2012 in THE DIRT
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