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Great expectations

CLIFF EDGE or bright future? That’s the question on everyone’s mind right now, with fortunes at the mercy of election outcomes, as in the US, or long-term policy decisions facing yet further consultation, as in the UK. There’s no getting away from the fact that the renewables industry is at a critical point in its evolution. 

Navigant Consulting’s Paula Mints ponders this very point in her review of Solar Power International 2012 and SSX Ontario on page 30 of the September/October 2012 issue of Renewable Energy Focus, now out.

Looking at the prospects for both solar shows, as well as the industry at large, she – like Rhone Resch of the Solar Energy Industries Association and Denise Bode of the American Wind Energy Association - suggests the current state of play can be summed with one phrase: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Indeed, Charles Dickens’ infamous opening of A Tale of Two Cities is apt throughout, for so too the renewables industry has everything before us... nothing before us.

Everything before us?

Yes. Go back a few years and the sector was barely on any policy maker’s radar. Today, hardly any country is without it. Energy demand continues to rise - the need for sustainable sources of power generation is simply a non-negotiable fact.

Renewables spend is outpacing investment in fossil fuels (see page 10 of our current issue) – Not bad for an industry still deemed to be in its infancy. Employment in the sector has soared in recent years, with the industry forming vibrant parts of regional economies as in Hamburg (see page 48) and new markets opening up, as in South Korea, where green growth is seen as the new engine to drive economic stability while also satisfying an insatiable demand for energy (page 56).

And the industry itself continues to make technological breakthroughs on an almost daily basis to drive costs down and efficiency up in its bid to cement its position on the global energy stage - Joyce Laird’s report on the latest marvels in the world of solar R&Dstarting on page 32 of the September/October issue, is testimony to that.

And yet the prospect of nothing before us looms large.

Job losses are now mounting globally amidst the widespread climate of uncertainty. As Mints notes, the US solar sector is still unfairly haunted by the specter of Solyndra, with policy makers taking a critical stance on the industry as a whole. Meantime, as Felicity Carcus reports on page 4the US wind industry is also planning for the worst as it waits to see whether or not the production tax credit support system continues. And it’s not just solar and wind in the US. The biofuels sector is also suffering (see pages 8, 10, 40, and 46).

The sting in the tail is that investors are in fact keen to invest – see our report from the 14th annual Renewable Energy Finance Forum on page 20 or my interview with banker Adrian Reed from Altium on page 14. But while they are willing “to put money to work”, they are simply unable to, says a clearly frustrated Reed. Investors are “crying out for some sort of cohesive strategy” that “all political parties stand behind”. It’s a point echoed by Eco2’s David Williams on page 46“The simple fact is, the regulatory environment has made it an uphill struggle to secure finance”.

This needs to change. “The people who take the risks and spend the money up front...need to see that the market, by way of the legislation, is encouraging the development of future technologies,” says Reed.

I couldn’t agree more.

This is my Editorial Leader from the September/October 2012 issue of Renewable Energy Focus. To read the articles mentioned, subscribe now to ensure you get your copy of this and future issues of the magazine.

Check out more Renewable Energy Focus blogs, including guest posts, here.

 

Posted 16/10/2012 by Gail Rajgor

Tagged under: Renewable Energy Focus , Editorial Leader , contents , solar , PV , wind power , energy , biomass , investment , market , policy

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