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Windpower 2005 - Banquet Keynote Speech

Dr. Dan E. Arvizu, Director, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
May 17, 2005


Thank you [Sam] for the kind introduction.

First, I want to congratulate all of the honorees of this year's AWEA national awards. We all owe you our sincere thanks for the important contributions and tremendous impact you all have made to the advancement of wind energy.

I am absolutely delighted to be here tonight in my capacity as the eighth director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Being the director of NREL at this point in time is truly inspiring and energizing (and even intimidating).

Although I've only been here a short time, I've had enough time at NREL that I can assure you that the leadership and staff at NREL and I are all deeply committed to making the mission of a nation powered by clean and sustainable renewable energy a reality.

Well, it's quite fitting that one of my first major addresses to the renewable energy industry (and the first one without a PowerPoint presentation), is to this segment of the community, an assembly of the best and brightest representing the wind industry enterprise.

As some of you may know, I have stayed in contact with the wind community over the past few years through my role on DOE's wind program peer review committee for Peter Goldman and Bob Thresher. I also find it interesting that upon appointment to my new position as lab director, Bob was quick to fire me from that job! I mused that the staff at NREL were sure empowered! ... Bob does a great job for us!

I would like to talk with you tonight about our energy future from the perspective of some people very important to me — my children.

I recently had the mixed emotions of the marriage of my first of four daughters. Like all young couples, my newly married daughter and her husband are now faced with the challenges of building a life together — balancing careers, starting a family, and finding the means to buy the things they want and need now, and also saving for the future.

Like many young couples, they are getting bombarded with credit card solicitations. But they also must soon make important decisions about how to save for their family's longer-term needs and their retirement. It is these decisions that I believe offer an appropriate analogy to today's national energy predicament.

The credit cards being offered to these kids are really tempting. They can provide the instantaneous means to purchase what they want today, but with the prospect of ever-increasing debt and an interest rate on those purchases that will continue to grow over time.

On the other hand, investing for the future — say in a 401(k) plan for retirement — will require forgoing some immediate gratification in return for a much greater measure of financial security later in life. It would also enable them to diversify their portfolio from time to time, thereby reducing the risks that come from putting all their assets in one type of investment.

Now for the analogy. I believe that continuing to deploy our existing, unsustainable technologies to meet our national energy requirements is the equivalent of borrowing on that credit card to satisfy near-term needs. We must realize that the interest rate, or price of energy — as determined by falling supplies to meet rising world demand — is going to increase dramatically as we forge ahead.

We now live in a world in which global economic growth — particularly the growing energy demand in developing countries — will contribute to a 50% increase in worldwide energy consumption by 2025. Stated in Terawatts, from 12+TW to 18+TW.

By 2050, the world will be struggling to find an additional 20 terawatts of energy and the U.S. will be competing along with countries such as China and India to satisfy our growing energy needs. Unfortunately, CO2 emissions will continue to grow along with energy consumption. Credible projections indicate a 40% increased in CO2 emissions by 2050, which will give rise to significant global warming concerns.

And I don't think there is any question about how credible these concerns are given recent NASA data that helps to validate climate models that have projected serious consequences if CO2 atmospheric concentrations are left unchecked.

How will we meet these enormous challenges?

As I've grown accustomed to saying, there is no silver bullet that will solve our global energy problems.

The only practical answer lies in a diverse energy portfolio and to accelerate the development and use of new energy technologies. As Carl Weinberg has put it, what we really need is "silver buckshot."

First in this portfolio, I believe, must be energy efficiency — there's so much we can do by simply using energy more intelligently. We need to be able to capture a large fraction of that almost 1/3 of our energy economy that is not put to useful work.

But we also need to bring on new supplies from renewable energy, non-polluting transportation fuels, decarbonized fossil technologies that capture and sequester CO2, advanced nuclear fission and fusion technologies, as well as development of clean energy carriers like electricity and hydrogen.

All of which brings me to the AWEA conference this week.

The wind community is to be applauded. Wind energy is one of the great energy success stories over the past 30 years. I can recall my first exposure to wind turbine demos at Sandia in the late 70s, early 80s when the rotor diameter of prototype turbines was 1.5 meters! Today, wind is poised to play a pivotal role in the world's energy future.

We all know that wind power is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the world. But to claim a chapter in tomorrow's history books, the greater renewable energy community must step up to the challenge of satisfying a major portion of that future 20 terawatt clean energy shortfall that is expected by 2050.

The trail is being blazed by wind today but must soon be followed by other renewable technologies, like PV, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy. If wind falters, the path for less mature renewable technologies will be more difficult and we run the risk that the vision of a diverse and secure national energy portfolio will remain just that — a vision.

At NREL, we are ready to support the wind industry and work with you to help meet marketplace needs to fulfill the promise of a clean and sustainable energy future.

For the past two decades, NREL has been working side by side with many of you in this room, to fulfill the promise of wind power. We worked with you in the wind farms of California during the 1980s, where the Lab supported industry's efforts to perform field tests to understand, model, and improve those first-generation wind turbines.

In the 1990s, as part of DOE's Advanced Wind Turbine Program, NREL played a major role in accelerating second-generation wind turbines.

Later, the National Wind Technology Center was created and a comprehensive testing and theoretical modeling capability was developed.

Today, NREL continues to provide leadership for DOE's Low Wind Speed Technologies Program, in close partnership with industry and other state agencies to further reduce the cost of wind energy. The DOE goal is to reduce the cost of wind generated electricity to 3 cents/kWh at 13 mph wind sites by 2012.

These new turbines will be deployable in lower wind speed regions that are generally much closer to major load centers. This will allow the economic use of wind turbines over a geographic area 20 times larger than the previous generation of turbines.

NREL researchers have been supporting the Clipper Windpower development team with their new 2.5 MW "Liberty" turbine.

And we will be working with GE Energy on the design of an advanced 2+ MW turbine concept for low-wind-speed land-based sites and a second project developing a brand new offshore turbine design.

We are also supporting the development of advanced small turbines for residential power generation, working with Southwest Windpower on their new 1.8 kW "Storm" prototype turbine.

Additionally, NREL is working with more than 20 wind companies to develop wind turbine components and advanced concepts.

And for new markets, NREL, on behalf of the DOE program, will be exploring the feasibility of offshore wind installations. The nation's offshore wind resource is at least as large as the on-shore resource and provides a great deal of promise.

Although not without controversy, our offshore resource analysis shows that there is at least 50 GW of capacity off the New England coast in shallow water.

Recently, Bob Thresher had the opportunity to testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and indicated that the research challenge is to enable commercial exploitation of this vast domestic offshore wind resource at a competitive cost.

This will require a significant R&D effort, over an extended period, to overcome today's depth limits, improve accessibility and reliability, develop new design methods, establish safety and environmental standards, and demonstrate the technology through testing and operational experience.

We are working with a number of groups exploring the use of wind power to clean and move water in arid regions of the west, and for supplying coastal communities with fresh water. New technologies that integrate wind with other energy technologies such as hydropower and hydrogen are also under study.

So, in closing, let me leave you with this parting thought. As the new director of a great research laboratory - and as the father of a bride with several more to go! — the mission we all must face together is daunting.

The nation and the world are approaching a huge — in excess of 20 TW — energy deficit. We have a choice that must be made NOW as to how we invest to meet that challenge: we can use our energy "credit card" to just keep buying what we need to get us by for the short-term, or we can invest in a national energy "401(k)" plan that will assure a diverse and secure energy supply when we need it - not only next year, or even by 2025 — but in the middle of this century for our kids and grand-kids.

So, as we meet here at this historic moment, the wind industry is ideally positioned to help fill this energy gap. Together, we can lead the way, and make it clear to all that wind energy is a smart and strategic investment for our nation's energy economy.

Again, I'll commit to you that the enormously talented men and women of NREL will be with you every step of the way.

Thank you.