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Outgunned by coal and nuclear -- Wind at PowerGen

Wind was not totally forgotten at the American power industry's biggest show of the year, but it was thoroughly outgunned by the nuclear and clean coal lobby. Over 15,000 members of the power industry and 1100 exhibitors were attracted to the annual PowerGen event in Orlando in late November. From the opening keynote speech, they heard how nuclear, coal and gas should play an important role, in tandem with renewables, to solve energy problems.

"No single fuel, policy or technology is going to solve the fact that energy demand will double by 2030," said GE Energy's Steve Bolze. "It will take a broad spectrum of diverse solutions such as nuclear, oil, gas, coal, wind and biomass." He laid out how the US needs to add 22 GW a year, which he believes will be provided from four principle sources: gas/oil (30%), new coal plants (20%), renewables (15%) and nuclear (16%).

Bolze pointed out that 146 GW must be added to the world total each year for the next 25 years to keep up with anticipated needs. Wind is adding 10 GW a year. Wind, he feels, must work on factors such as scale, availability and cost. "If the industry is to meet President Bush's target of twenty percent of US energy from wind, we would have to manufacture one wind turbine every 15 minutes between now and 2025," said Bolze. That is around 35,000 annually, compared to a lot less than ten thousand today.

Bolze says that despite high prices, over 1000 GW of gas plants will be added by 2030. Meanwhile, nuclear and a litany of clean coal technologies have stepped up to the plate and are making a major bid to be the resources relied upon to make up the difference. "Twenty-eight nuclear plants are currently being constructed worldwide," said David Wagman, chairman of the PowerGen conference planning committee. "Twenty-four more are under discussion in the US alone."

The number of nuclear and coal sessions at PowerGen dwarfed those allocated to wind. Much was made of the environmentally friendly side of both technologies. Coal, in particular, is pushing an aggressive program to lower emissions via Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC), pulverized coal (PC) and other approaches that aim to clean-up coal's emissions. "Coal and nuclear are doing a very good job of PR," said Andy Lockhart, director of turbine sales for Composite Technology Corp (CTC) of Irvine, California, the new owners of the German line of DeWind turbines. CTC was one of the few wind companies at PowerGen.

Despite serious problems with the long term viability of IGCC, its virtues were being extolled from the rooftops. The fact that US wind has experienced its second record year of growth in a row did not, apparently, merit a mention.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) ran one session on wind -- a dull affair about interconnects and siting permission. Nobody attacked the nuclear/coal "environmentally friendly" message. AWEA manned a decent-sized booth, which appeared to be focused primarily on inviting people to its annual wind power conference, to be held in Los Angeles this year. But it looked embarrassingly alone under a huge Renewable Energy Pavilion banner.

Wind absent

"The show's Renewable Energy Pavilion doesn't really exist," said CTC's Lockhart. "The organisers prefer to market a separate [Las] Vegas PowerGen Renewable show, whereas in Europe both shows are merged which is a better way to do it." Wind exhibitors at the American PowerGen show have dwindled in recent years, from four or five wind booths in the pavilion to none. German Repower, has attended in recent history and Vestas went last year. Both were absent this time. No one else took their place.

"CTC worked from our booth this year and will have their own next year," countered Lori Rugh, marketing manager for AWEA. "Clipper Windpower also plans on attending." Rugh pointed out that GE and Mitsubishi had wind displays in their booths. These, though, were small wind turbine models and displays that were relatively hard to spot within a much larger space. Rugh, however, said that most people she talked to were very aware of the current success of wind.

Lockhart expressed the same sentiment. "We picked up plenty of interest from academics as well as developers," he said. "But it's sad that there is little renewable presence here. Wind companies have to be represented well at PowerGen as a vital part of moving wind into the mainstream."

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