NEBC Executive Director Robert Grott’s Opening Remarks
at the 2013 Washington Future Energy Conference, Oct. 30, Seattle
Welcome to the fourth annual Washington Future Energy Conference. I’ve
worked in and around the energy industry for over 25 years now, and it seems
that things are turbulent as they’ve ever been. The heck of it is that the future keeps changing. Just think back
over the past half-dozen years when:
- Carbon legislation was considered a certainty.
- Peak oil was just around the corner.
- Biofuels plants were being planned in all corners of the state.
- No one imagined that we’d have too much wind power for the system to absorb.
- And when natural gas wasn’t even mentioned at a clean energy conference.
Despite all that, what we are trying to achieve remains the same. Our clean energy goals are still to
- Maximize the acquisition of low-cost efficiency.
- Create a diverse, robust, and low carbon energy mix.
- Create a more efficient and lower carbon transportation system.
I want to reflect for a moment on what we need in order to get there. There
is a tendency – especially in this innovative state – to focus on technology. Technology
is great. New technology is exciting and reflects our incredible ingenuity. But
technology won’t get us there. Clean energy technology is necessary – but not
So what will it take to reach our clean energy goals? In my view it’s
all about MARKETS. I believe that creating market demand involves a cycle with
three major nodes: Government Policy, Motivated Buyers, and Technology Advances.
First of all, we
need government policy to jump-starts markets. Whether on a
federal, state, or local level, assistance is needed to give new technologies
and new approaches a competitive chance against the status quo. Thus we have
mechanisms such as:
- Financial & tax incentives for clean energy investments.
- Power purchase mandates such as the Renewable Energy Standards.
- Efficiency standards and codes for motors, buildings, & vehicles.
Critics may call it market meddling, but that’s exacting the point. That’s
exactly how we built the transcontinental railway, this nation’s airports, and
the oil & gas industry.
Second, we need Motivated
Buyers. This is the hardest part. We have learned that price by itself isn’t
enough to change behavior – especially in a region with historically low-cost
power. Whether purchasing a light bulb or a building HVAC system, it is a person who decides how much attention to
give to efficiency. When it comes to signing up for a utility green power
program or installing solar panels on a warehouse rooftop, it is a person who chooses to make clean energy –
or climate change – a value that influences their decision. This takes education
and cultural messaging. Changing old values and creating new ones is tough, but
it can be done. However, values by themselves aren’t enough either. But values
coupled with the right price IS a winning formula – and once behavior patterns
change it can create a multiplying effect, with Motivated Buyers now pushing
for government policy changes.
The third node on
the circle is technology. Technology advancement comes in two flavors: first
is the exciting stuff of leap-frogging innovations that change our thinking
about what we can do. Then there is crucial day-to-day progress of driving
costs out of products and processes. This is called business building, and it creates
a path to move the clean energy industry away from government supported
incentives – as lower costs lead to sales, and sales volumes lead to lower
costs. And we are seeing this today with large-scale wind and solar moving towards
grid parity, and the availability of cost effective energy efficiency measures.
And the circle turns. Policy creates the platform, Technology creates the means, and Buyers create an ongoing self-sustaining market. And it just so happens that this conference embraces all aspects of this circle. Those of you in this room are all playing your part. So thank you for that.
As for government policy, as most of you know, on Monday the governors
of California, Washington, and Oregon, joined with the Premier of British
Columbia to sign a Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy. This is an
important and critical step towards regional collaboration, acknowledging as it
does that energy markets and climate are not contained within political
boundaries, and that we are much better served on these issues if we work
together as a combined market.
In that light I want to note that we have about 40 conference attendees
here today from British Columbia. They are joining us to learn from us – and
from my perspective to teach us – and to see how to do business together. Join
me in giving them a special welcome.