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Annual Public Lectures Series > Chris Powell

Scientists and Journalists:
Getting the Point Across
June 11-15, 2007

The Business of Climate Change: Alternative Energy Realities
Chris Powell, Energy Manager, Department of Facilities Management, Brown University, Moderator
   Cutler Cleveland, Professor, Department of Geography and Environment, Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Boston University
   Jeff Deyette, Senior Energy Analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists
   Dennis Duffy, Vice President, Cape Wind Associates and Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, Energy Management, Inc.
   Dan Valianti, Manager, Northeast Energy and Climate Program, Ceres
Summary of comments from June 15

"We know there are a lot of policies out there for renewables. We also know there's greenhouse gas initiatives ... then there's the voluntary efforts like ourselves. All of this is going to create quite a bit of momentum to getting alternative energy. Now it is, how do we actually make that happen?"

Chris Powell, energy manager for the Department of Facilities Management at Brown University, posed this question to a panel of environmental experts on Friday, June 15, 2007 when he moderated Metcalf Institute's fifth and final public lecture in a series on "Scientists and Journalists: Getting the Point Across" at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography. The panel discussion, entitled "The Business of Climate Change: Alternative Energy Realities," brought together the voices and opinions of three climate control experts as they discussed some of the economic realities of alternative energy.

One of the realities that all panel members agreed on was the need for a national federal policy on climate and carbon.

"Voluntary efforts and renewable portfolio standards are good and important, but they're not going to produce this massive shift that we think we now need in the energy system," said panelist Cutler Cleveland, professor in the department of geography and environment and Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Boston University. "So without direct government intervention and imposing some kind of tax on fuels based on their carbon content, we're probably not going to get where we need to be."

According to panelist Jeff Deyette, a senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, the United States has a large untapped reserve of clean energy resources that can be deployed today. "These technologies can get us quite a far distance along the road in terms of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions," he said. But, "a long-term existing policy of support is critical to making this transition to a more sustainable energy system."

In the absence of such a national federal policy, a number of businesses have taken it upon themselves to blaze the trail, according to Dan Valianti, manager of the Northeast Energy and Climate Program with Ceres, a "national network of investors, environmental organizations and other public interest groups working with companies and investors to address sustainability challenges such as global climate change."

"Diversity is strength," Valianti said. "Multiple perspectives can create more innovative and longer-lasting solutions."

According to Valianti, there are now 28 states with clean energy funds, renewable portfolio standards, fuel cells and hydrogen funds, and/or carbon trading.

Hydro power, wind power, solar energy, geothermal energy–all of these topics were discussed as energy options that we already have, and which need to be explored soon.

"There is so much untapped clean energy available from the Earth, I would dare say we are way behind where we should be right now," Valianti said.

And energy efficiency cannot be the only change. It must be done in combination with other renewable energy options, said Deyette.

But as with most things, cost is a factor.

"In theory, wind energy could supply several times over our current electricity needs," Deyette said. "The costs for producing wind power has dropped 80- to 90-percent over the past two decades, to the point where at the best sites, it is cost competitive with building a new coal power plant or natural gas facility."

Solar energy, Deyette continued, is possibly the best long-term clean energy solution available to us. "Solar PV (photovoltaic) alone could supply the entire United States' electrical power needs with just 0.3 percent of the land area in the U.S. if you covered it flat," he explained. "That's about the size of New Hampshire." And that amount of space, if spread out in bits across the country, is not only possible, it's probable. "It's still more expensive than most technologies, though it's dropped about 90-percent over the past two decades, and it's continuing to drop."

According to Deyette, industrialized nations like the United States need to begin today to reduce our carbon emissions by 60- to 80-percent of year 2000 levels by the year 2050. By the year 2030, he said, the existing technology that we have today can provide most of the 80-percent reductions in carbon emissions that we need.

"We know we have the resources and technology available to us. The question is, how do we get there?" he asked.

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December 4, 2007