Who We’re Up Against
During the week when world leaders were debating how to solve global warming at the Copenhagen climate summit, the world’s largest power generation exposition and conference (known as Power-Gen International) was held at the opposite end of the globe, at viva Las Vegas. This was a huge conference with over 18,000 delegates from more than 25 countries. Attendees to this event were mostly professionals in the power generation eco system: from engineering and construction contactors to companies that sell valves and tools, from steam turbine manufacturers to nuclear equipment suppliers. The event’s main theme, not surprisingly, is about continuing to provide the most efficient and clean source of power to support the growing energy demand. However, with the majority of the world’s power still sourced from fossil based fuels, many of the Power-Gen participants were from the fossil fuel industry. In fact, on the show floor, the only renewable energy player I saw was Vestas, a wind turbine company. At the conference session, the agenda was aligned with the show theme, but still dominated by fossil fuel related topics such as carbon capture, gas turbine optimizations, modern coal plant designs etc. Renewable energy did make it to the agenda with a dedicated two hour session on wind, solar, and smart grid.
But, what surprised me the most was what happened in one of the keynote presentations. During opening remarks a natural gas company CEO rejected the notion of global warming and that green house gases don’t have any affect on the environment. He claimed that the science behind global warming is questionable (and indeed it could be as climate prediction is difficult, just think about the accuracy of the weekly weather forecasts we hear on the news). And, when he denounced global warming, half of the auditorium clapped and cheered to signal agreement! This CEO went on to say that the U.S. needs to accelerate our fossil fuel deployment in order not to deprive our future generation from their prosperity. What unimpressed me was when he started to use out-dated statistics on the cost of renewable energy to prove his point that renewables are never going to be mainstream. This got me thinking: often times we hang around people who are already supporters of clean tech and we think that’s the norm. But the reality is that there are plenty of people out there who are pro-fossil fuels, and, intentionally or unintentionally, are unaware of the latest facts on solar, wind, and other clean technology. And, these people are also trying to influence policy makers to ensure optimal business conditions for their companies. I also feel that we should not be pointing to global warming as the main reason for the call for more renewable energy sources; rather it should be about sustainability and energy security. Everyone wants to ensure we have enough fuels to last another millennium, and every one wants to be less dependent on the oil in the Middle East. Maybe these are stronger arguments than global warming and a better, less contentious common goal for the whole power generation industry.