Plenary speakers included Ed Mazria of Architecture 2030, Julie Blunden of SunPower Corp., Chuck Kutscher of the National Renewable
Energy Laboratory and Ed DeMeo of Renewable Energy Consulting Services Inc.
Among the dozens of volunteers who made the conference run
smoothly, many were career-changing job seekers and business
founders — successful, educated people who see renewable energy as
the next big growth industry and want to get in near the ground floor.
About 300 people attended technical training sessions and workshops, learning to become installers or to improve their system design
skills. Over 150 students attended, from engineering, architecture and
business programs across the country.
The common theme among most speakers was this: Renewable
energy has emerged from the lab and become a profitable, industrial-scale technology. It can now be deployed rapidly enough to solve
the massive real-world problems of energy dependence and greenhouse gas pollution — if the nation, and other nations, make the necessary investment in job growth.
In January of 2007, the ASES report Tackling Climate Change in
the U.S. laid out specific achievable growth-rate goals for each of the
major renewable energy technologies — goals that would have to be
achieved to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.
At SOLAR 2008, we learned that renewable energy installations are
meeting and exceeding the required initial growth-rate goals. Based
on the rate of growth of renewable technologies, an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by electric utilities is in fact achievable, said Jigar Shah, chief strategy officer at SunEdison. That will
require the creation of 48 gigawatts of new carbon-neutral generating capacity each year. This can be done over 10 years with a combination of new wind, solar, geothermal and biomass capacity, along
with energy-efficiency improvements.
Plenary Speakers Urge Immediate Transition
Ed Mazria, AIA, founder of Architecture 2030, pointed out that
during the 11 years from 1973 to 1983 the United States reduced its
greenhouse gas emissions thanks largely to improved building efficiency and federally mandated mileage standards. “We did that with the
knowledge and technology we had in the ’70s and early ’80s,” he said.
“Imagine what we could do now.”
Mazria said that there is a silver bullet to save the climate: Simply
eliminate coal as an energy source. Petroleum and natural gas are now
Renewable energy has emerged
from the lab and become a profitable,
in such short supply that they cannot, he said, contribute much more
carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. But there’s enough coal left to
drive greenhouse gas pollution for several centuries, and no economically viable way to clean it.
Clean substitutes for coal include distributed and centralized solar
sources, wind farms, geothermal developments and ocean power.
Rather than depending on the construction of new power sources,
Mazria recommends eliminating the demand for coal power. He outlined “Blueprint 2030,” a road map for achieving zero-net building practices over the next 40 years. If the United States were to adopt zero-net
building codes nationally, it would cut electricity demand by more than
half. It would save roughly $215 billion per quad of delivered energy
and reduce building sector energy consumption by 5 quads annually.
It would save consumers about $128 billion, thus more than covering
the cost of conversion, and create more than 1 million permanent new
jobs. “You can’t outsource construction jobs,” he noted.
Moreover, Blueprint 2030 would lead to a global solution. “The EU
and Japan want to stop global warming,” Mazria said. “If we make common cause with them, between us we buy 78 percent of China’s industrial output. We have the economic leverage to drive change in China.”
Photovoltaics: Costs Near Parity
Achieving net-zero building practices requires investment in energy efficiency and in rooftop photovoltaic power. PV has now become
affordable, according to Julie Blunden, vice president for public policy and corporate communications at SunPower Corp. Through a
program of technology improvement and operating efficiencies, the
company has driven down the installed cost of its products to the point
where it’s a rational economic choice for California homeowners and
small businesses, and soon will be in states with lower electric rates and
thinner incentives than California offers. The company expects to cut