Washington D.C. [RenewableEnergyAccess.com] If one actionable priority could be distilled from the chorus of support expressed for renewables at last week’s conference of the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE), it’s that the time has come to shift the nation’s priorities from an era of research and development to one of major deployment. And the one mantra rising above the conference chatter that might create enough political muscle to kick-off that shift can be summed up in two words: National Security.
At the packed conference, 24 national leaders spoke to over 500 experts from industry and finance in the Cannon Caucus Room of the U.S. House of Representatives, sharing their experience, expertise, and hopes for the various renewable energy technologies that scatter the broad energy landscape. The conference was convened primarily to acknowledge that the past three decades of research and development in the U.S. have yielded positive results and that it’s time to move into a new phase — a broad and deliberate deployment phase.
“Back in the ’70s, we did not have the technologies,” said Michael Eckhart, President of ACORE. “Now it’s time to say we’ve done well, we have the technologies, some are commercialized and some are near, but we have succeeded and now it’s time to move into Phase II where we put those options to use.”
The real question for today’s renewable energy visionaries is how to get there. It was fitting then that the conference took place in the nation’s capitol where, decades ago, renewable energy technology was seen first and foremost as a means to address national security through energy independence.
It’s within the marbled halls of the nation’s capitol that many experts see the real potential for growth of renewable energy — growth they say has been largely untapped.
A Decades-Old Answer
The first comprehensive message on renewable energy was delivered by President Richard Nixon during a June 1971 speech, according to Jay Hakes, Director of the Carter Library, who spoke at the conference. Nixon’s speech stressed the need for national security through increased energy independence, and he specifically cited the development of a nuclear “breeder” reactor and renewable energy technologies as part of that solution. A 51-page report called “Project Independence” would eventually come out three years later acknowledging global warming for the first time and delving into the potential for the renewable energy technologies of solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydrogen fuel cells, biofuels and others.
The energy independence report was progressive for its time, but Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, questioned the country’s progress since then.
“Renewable energy is critical to national security,” Lash said. “Ever since Nixon pledged we would be free of oil, our national average has increased. Now it’s a regular drumbeat of information telling us that we are changing the world we live in.”
While much of the conference focused on pushing the federal government for more than its typically lackluster and inconsistent support for renewables, Lash highlighted the many legislative successes at the state level. Renewable energy benefit funds, renewable portfolio standards (now effective in 18 states), government purchases of green tags, and rebate programs have all served to foster regional and state-based renewable energy markets.
Many speakers acknowledged these successes at the state level, but stressed that energy security is a national imperative and only through the guidance of the federal government can renewable energy truly play its part for energy independence.
Policy, Military and Intelligence Leaders Speak Up
Some of the most poignant dialogue stressing the national security angle at the conference came from a panel with considerable experience in that realm. These speakers included R. James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence, Frank Gaffney and Bud McFarlane, former national security advisors to President Reagan, C. Boyden Gray, former White House Counsel to President G.H.W. Bush, and Adm. Dennis McGinn, USN (Ret.), former Deputy Chief of Naval Operations.
All were keen to focus in on Middle East regimes that assure our petroleum needs but, at most, only tacitly assure our national interests.
“We find ourselves dependent on imports from people who, by and large, are hostile to us,” Frank Gaffney said. “It makes (energy independence) a national security imperative.”
Gaffney cited the growing scarcity of resources in a world with burgeoning economies and populations, such as China as having the potential to create a “perfect storm.” Faced with a scenario of increasingly insatiable and expensive demands for energy, countries like the U.S. and China could find themselves at the brink of war.
“Situations like this have given rise to wars in the past, that is not to be precluded here,” Gaffney said.
Retired Admiral Dennis McGinn, former deputy chief of Naval Operations, knows a thing or two about war. Not only does McGinn see renewable energy technologies as a means to increase U.S. energy independence but also as a way to directly improve the effectiveness of the military itself.
“We need investment in new technologies for increasing the efficiency of the military,” McGinn said. “Speed and agility are the key successes so anything you do to make the military lighter, faster and less reliant on a huge liquid fuel infrastructure makes you more effective.”
McGinn came to this realization while orchestrating remote naval training exercises on small Pacific islands where fold-out, flexible, thin-film photovoltaic sheets and a hydrogen-powered fuel cell proved themselves indispensable for powering their electronic and communications systems.
R. James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency during the Clinton Administration said the U.S. is waging a war against three totalitarian movements: the Shiite and Sunni Islamists, and the ranks of Al Qaeda.
“I fear we’re going to be at war for decades, not years,” Woolsey said. “It will last a long time and it will have a major ideological component. Ultimately we will win it but one major component of that war is oil.”
Woolsey, who drives a hybrid-electric Toyota Prius and has his own solar PV system on his home, offered some suggestions to curbing U.S. oil dependence. They didn’t involve the much hyped hydrogen, either.
Two of the most promising renewable energy technologies, in Woolsey’s opinion, are cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel. Both could help provide a substantial amount of the energy requirements for transportation but they rely on existing technology available today. Furthermore, Woolsey pictured a future with these domestic fuels powering fuel efficient, hybrid electric vehicles. And if the cars were plug-in, hybrid-electrics, every MW of solar and wind added to the national grid could help charge up the nation’s cars.
“This all can help with rural development, it can help with the trade deficit, deny funds to Islamists and decrease our dependence on foreign oil,” Woolsey said.
Ultimately, any number of technologies and scenarios may be part of the solution and the framework of Phase II. This ACORE conference kicked off the shift to Phase II, from development to deployment, and the next conference in September 2005 will try to answer how to get there.
“We’re talking solutions, that’s Phase II,” said Michael Eckhart, President of ACORE. “What are the policies? We don’t know, which is why we need to get everyone thinking alike. No one person can think of it all. Everyone must come forward with their own philosophies.”
From The Wilderness posted the following commentary on this article :
[Former US officials in the planning elites at defense- and intelligence-related corporations are coming out in favor of renewable energy with fresh zeal. At a December conference of the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE), gradualist rhetoric yielded to crash-program urgency: “The conference was convened primarily to acknowledge that the past three decades of research and development in the U.S. have yielded positive results and that it’s time to move into a new phase – a broad and deliberate deployment phase.”
In other words, the energy problem is so critical at this moment that we must start using what we’ve got now, whether it’s perfected or not: whether it is sustainable or not. If we don’t, then we lose everything anyway. At least this will start buying us a little time.
After the debacle of Centcom’s 2004 experience, the military is interested too — not because energy independence will make it less necessary to kill and die, but because the war machine will be more flexible and enduring if they can run it on biodiesel.
We now have a growing list of elites who are personally moving to renewables and alt energy sources. This confirms Peak Oil in a whole new dimension: the people who have the power to respond to it on their own behalf are doing so, rapidly and with a dark new seriousness. – FTW]