Head REFF-West, young man
Top financiers in renewable energy gathered in San Francisco this week for the fourth annual Renewable Energy Finance Forum – West (REFF-West), hosted by Washington, D.C., nonprofit ACORE (American Council on Renewable Energy) and London, U.K.’s Euromoney Energy Events.
The two-day conference, which in a reflection of the energy industry offers panels and networking with an overwhelmingly white male crowd, rendered more than a few analyses of the downfall of Solyndra, as well as discussions about economic uncertainty and the inconsistency of U.S. government policy. The latter is such a chronic issue for renewable energy development in America that many perspectives about it (such as a call for more lobbying efforts and increased bipartisanship) sounded a bit tired.
It was not lost on many of the expert panelists that China, meanwhile, is eating our lunch.
This is particularly true of the solar industry, said Stephan Dolezalek, managing director at VantagePoint Capital Partners, in a panel titled “Emerging Commercial Technologies.”
“It’s pretty dire,” said F. William Capp, president and CEO of Beacon Power, when asked how U.S. renewables development would fare without subsidies. “…I think the market would shrink dramatically.”
Further panel talk about approaching legislators with a “This is the last time we’ll ask for it” angle to subsidies (assuming cost-competitiveness with dirty energy sources in a few years – aka as Vinod Kholsa’s focus) seemed to bypass discussion of how subsidies, loopholes and lobbying offer Big Oil and Big Coal spectacular U.S. market dominance.
There’s good reason to try and crack the chronic policy problem. Renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydropower could fulfill almost 80 percent of the world's energy demand by 2050 with the right policies, according to a 26-page report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change approved by several government delegates in Abu Shabi in May.
For the first time, REFF–West smartly addressed challenges facing smaller-scale projects in the $9 million to $25 million range.
And the theme of economic uncertainty remained constant at the conference, which concludes today at The Four Seasons.
“Although investors are particularly interested in late-stage renewables companies, they’re providing 44 percent less funding than in the previous years,” said Dennis McGinnis, president of ACORE, adding that this year’s event was even more critical for clean energy funding.
PHOTO CREDIT: Slideshow image of San Francisco skyline, Flickr Commons photo by Larry Eiring.