What keeps a green energy guy up at night?

For John Calaway, head of Babcock & Brown’s U.S. wind power business, it’s cheap natural gas prices. At a gathering of about 100 renewable energy supporters in Houston last week Calaway said every time renewables have been on a roll, expanding rapidly, fossil-fuel energy prices crater, making renewables even less economical.
Many West Texas wind farms are shut-in and not spinning these days, he said, in part because of lower power demand but also because natural gas-fired power plants are proving less expensive to run with gas prices recently hitting 5-year-lows. When natural gas gets cheap consumers get lazy and care less about conservation and pollution issues.
For Jeff Chapman, an architect with the local office of Kirksey who specializes in energy efficient/eco-friendly design and construction, the big enemy is tile.
“Vinyl composite tile is the scourge of the industry,” said Chapman. It’s made out of all sorts of toxic chemicals and it’s cheap — $1 per square foot, installed.
In other words, being clean and green isn’t cheap, at least in terms of cash. The counter argument is that “cheap” oil/petroleum products have a cost that we don’t immediately see in our wallets (not yet) by way of environmental damage, social inequity, etc.
But the day of cost-competitive renewables may not be that far off, says John Berger, CEO of Standard Renewable Energy (who happens to be doing a damn good job of getting himself into high-profile events).
“Those who believe we need a breakthrough in technology for solar or wind to be cost-competitive are incorrect,” Berger said, noting how solar panel costs have dropped significantly just this year due to competition and that manufacturers are extending the length of warranties out to 30 years. In a few years the decades-old polysilicon solar panel may be cost competitive for many electricity projects.
Here’s the Memorial Examiner’s coverage of the event (including the largely sympathetic nature of the crowd), and a Channel 2 piece.
What’s interesting here is that the renewable energy business isn’t pretending there’s not a cost issue and they’re not pretending they don’t need federal subsidies to come close to being competitive. Most wind power executives seem eager to talk about the day they get their industry off subsidies. Will we ever see that day?

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