Skip to main content

Global Wind Ambassador Visits the National Wind Technology Center

December 2, 2013

Photo of Brian Smith, Dave Simms, and Stever Sawyer atop a turbine at the NWTC. The men are holding onto the railings and wearing hardhats, with partial turbine blades and clouds in the background.

Left to right: NWTC Lab Program Manager Brian Smith, NWTC Testing and Operations Group Manager Dave Simms, and GWEC Secretary General Steve Sawyer stand atop one of the NWTC's research turbines. Photo by Lee Jay Fingersh, NREL 26750

Steve Sawyer has been a pillar of the environment and energy field since 1978, with a focus on climate change and renewable energy since 1988. His awareness of the cost of energy and its impacts began when he was 16. By perusing the family utility bill, Sawyer started to question certain charges requiring ratepayers to help pay for a new power plant in a neighboring town. It was that inquisitiveness and ongoing concern for the environment that would lead him to one day become a global ambassador for the renewable wind energy industry.

Now Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), Sawyer engaged with staff at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and shared his rich industry knowledge during his first visit to the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) in Boulder, Colorado, this past summer. GWEC represents major wind energy associations in the global industry including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Europe, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Spain, the United States, and the United Kingdom. At GWEC, Sawyer is an advocate for wind power as a viable energy option and his duties include kick-starting new wind energy markets in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, as well as interacting with leading intergovernmental organizations such as the Asian Development Bank, International Energy Agency, International Finance Corporation, International Renewable Energy Agency, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

During his visit, Sawyer presented GWEC’s Global Wind Energy Outlook 2012 and Annual Market Update reports. Also, Sawyer sat down with an NREL writer to provide his perspective on his first visit to the laboratory, what he feels are the main catalysts for the growth of the renewable wind industry, and what motivates him to continually encourage the acceptance and adoption of wind energy on an international scale.

NREL: What is your impression of your first visit to NREL?

Sawyer: It’s been good to be here, to see more of the practical hands-on stuff that NREL is doing as well as the theoretical stuff. I hope we can work together to continue building an international collaboration.

NREL: In your experience, what have been the major catalysts for the growth of the renewable wind industry?

Sawyer: Climate change was a major driver for developing the renewables in Europe; also, the continent has very limited fossil-fuel resources. Germany and Spain had no significant resources other than coal, which they weren’t going to burn for a host of reasons. Energy security, developing new industries, reindustrialization of their economies - all those different drivers exist in different mixes in different countries/regions. Climate was not the main reason in China, but it was also not insignificant. I would say it’s more local air pollution and energy independence. In China, parts of the United States, and Australia, there are demographic concerns as well to create long-term, viable economic activity in rural areas.

NREL: Compared to other renewable energies, why use wind?

Sawyer: Wind matured more quickly, was a competitive source in other countries earlier, and is really geared much more toward the utility-scale type that is needed to address climate change. Also, none of the other technologies have a global organization--yet. Rooftop PV is growing here and worldwide. Having wind and PV integrated together is great, because both are cost-competitive. Wind is often the cheapest way to add new utility-scale power to the grid.

NREL: What is your favorite part of the job?

Sawyer: It’s not flying in airplanes or making speeches (laughs). When I’m interacting with a new market, a government, or institution, it’s the moment when I see the light switch on in somebody’s eyes, when they finally get it. On a larger scale that would be when, in an individual market that has been struggling for years, the industry first starts to take off. Those ‘aha’ moments, whether it be with individuals or institutions. They don’t happen all that often, but when they do, it makes a difference…and makes the hard work worth it.