A Day Of Contrasts

Energy Ocean 2010 Conference, Ft. Lauderdale – Our first blog at Scaling Green, and we start with a pretty big energy industry contrast. This small conference of early players in the nascent ocean energy business fits in just two hotel conference rooms, including the exhibition floor. Participants are as likely to be from academia and government than they are from private sector players, a big difference with other shows I’ve attended.

It’s clear this is an industry in the making, but its early development stage presents the opportunity to scale a low-impact, very clean energy source the right way.

That came through clearly in a smart overview of the industry’s opportunity and needs delivered by lead-off presenter Alejandro Moreno, technology lead for DOE on water power, energy efficiency and renewable. He, along with NREL’s Dr. Rick Driscoll, made a case for scaling ocean energy smart, efficiently and fast.

Their points:

  • The country needed the industry to scale fast. It doesn’t have the 20-30 years to scale that the wind industry did, despite a more constrained regulatory environment. “We’ve got to get machines in the water quickly,” Driscoll said.
  • No one in the room can go to commercial scale by themselves
  • Data sharing with federal experts (aggregated to keep intellectual capital and IP safe) was key.
  • There had to be a tolerance for structured trial and error on equipment that computer modeling can’t replace.
  • No one player had much to lose in this approach, because there really weren’t any profit-making industry players yet: Moreno, quoting another industry player: “No one has a market share yet.”

My takeaway: For the nation and investors, this is an enormous opportunity, that will draw the predictable “not ready” and “subsidy dependence” derision that the fossil fuel industries are increasingly directing at clean energy sources. Though predictable, those criticisms are ringing more and more hollow with the tar balls, toxins and oil sheens lapping up on the other coast of the Florida peninsula. The BP Gulf disaster was enabled by a catastrophic combination of arrogance, lies and corruption, delivered by an industry that enjoys much of the $550B in subsidies the International Energy Agency estimates is being shoveled by national governments at fossil fuel companies each year.  No doubt the U.S. tops the list, raising the question why some of the most profitable companies on earth, such as BP, ExxonMobil and Chip Blankenship’s Massey Energy, get any of our tax money, or why they deserve to get more in the climate bill before the U.S. Senate.