I’m attending, and presenting at, the American Solar Energy Society’s World Renewable Energy Forum (WREF) in Denver, Colo. this week along with thousands of other renewable energy experts and enthusiasts — I’m definitely part of the latter group, not the former 😉
To get to WREF, I hopped on the Denver RTD light rail and zipped from the University of Denver, where I teach journalism and communication courses, to the Colorado Convention Center, which boasts a 300 kilowatt solar system which covers about 15 percent of its annual electric use.
As the light rail train sped northward from DU to downtown Denver on yet another beautiful, blue-sky perfect-for-solar Colorado day, we passed a long train going the other way pulling dozens and dozens of cars full of – you guessed it – coal.
Coal-powered light rail train Yes, there was more than a bit of irony in this fact, given that I was doing the right thing, environmentally speaking, by taking the light rail, but which was likely at that moment in time running on electricity generated primarily by the burning of coal.
While renewable energy is gaining ground against coal in the U.S., America, as a whole, it is losing ground against countries such as China, Germany, Italy and Spain, in the race to transform our world into a place increasingly powered by solar. That was one of the clear messages of a very interesting WREF forum I attended that focused on the question of whether U.S. renewable energy law and policy can catch up with that in countries such as Germany, Denmark and Spain.
Another important message from this WREF forum on U.S. renewable energy law and policy: The true costs of burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels must be calculated into the energy equation in order to level the playing field for renewable energy. True costs are the so-called “externalities” associated with using fossil fuels, including the high health and environmental costs incurred by these allegedly cheap energy forms.
“Cheap energy” That was the other key message of this particular WREF session on U.S. renewable energy law and policy and, more broadly, the basic behinded-ness of the U.S. on renewable energy: Nothing drives U.S. energy policy, and politics on energy, more than the principle of “cheap energy”. Of course, when you add in the “external costs” of using coal, oil and natural gas, they are anything but cheap.
The big question then is: How to transform the political, ideological and policy making landscape in the U.S. so that: a) people actually see and understand the external costs associated with fossil fuels; b) people accept that these costs are unacceptable.
Frankly, I’m not sure how to get America, or, for that matter, much of the rest of the world, to see and acknowledge these points. And, although the speakers at this WREF forum had some very interesting things to say, unfortunately they didn’t offer any answers on this either.
Anyone have suggestions on how to wake America, and the world, up to the true cost economic model of thinking?