30 April 2013

My Three Take-Aways from BNEF Summit 2013

Last week was the BNEF Summit (Bloomberg New Energy Finance), the annual gathering of the clean energy faithful curated by Michael Liebreich.

BNEF puts on a good show. Their analysts have a deep understanding of their particular focus area and they know how to present data, and the other panelists and presenters are always top-shelf.

Having been a part of the Summit two years in a row now, I see the value in getting such a group together for an annual sit-down to have a look under the cleantech/new energy hood.

Survey says, "It's the policy, stupid."
As one attendee, @electricityyoda, Tweeted during the event, "Yoda once said 'Always pass on what you have learned.'" Taking his advice, here are my three take-aways:

1.) Gas is now part of the "clean energy" mix.

Whether you like it or not, natural gas, specifically in the US, but increasingly elsewhere, is now part of the conversation.

Frack-water aside, gas has had a huge impact.  For some, gas is a bridge to cleaner technologies; for others it's a pier, and for still others, gas appears to be a destination.

It remains to be seen whether the impact on renewables will be net-negative or net-positive. If gas "hooks up" with solar, as NRG's David Crane suggested, it could dominate the future electricity supply in the US.

(On the subject of fracking, I think there are still plenty of opportunities and needs for technologies to address the fracking chemicals, clean up the water, and to capture the CO2 emissions generated from the process.)

2.) Policy (or lack thereof) still breeds uncertainty.

Seventy-nine percent of BNEF Summit participants answering an onsite poll said policy and regulation were the largest uncertainties for energy investment. (See photo.) And this doesn't show any signs of changing any time soon. Especially in the US, where very few expect major energy legislation.

Small wins will have to do for now, such as the legislation introduced by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Chris Coons (D-Delaware), that would extend the master limited partnership program to clean energy companies.

The program, which Murkowski indicated has bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House, allows companies to raise funds like acorporation and pay taxes as a partnership. Currently, the program provides favorable tax status only for oil and gas projects and other fossil fuel companies.

3.) Costs continue to come down, making renewables more affordable...but is the grid ready for it?

As BNEF reported, "the cost of installing a gigawatt of renewable energy capacity is now about 10 percent lower during the period through 2030 than it projected in 2011," but is the grid ready for it? We have an aging infrastructure and our delivery system is out of whack.

As NRG's Crane quipped, "the 21st Century economy should not be based on wooden [utility] poles."

For more on the BNEF Summit, and to see some of the speeches from the event, check out the Summit videos here.  

(Disclosure: my employer, Ernst & Young LLP is a sponsor of the BNEF Summit, through our Global Cleantech Center. Opinions mine.)