Mainly business at a smaller Sustain

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Business rather than politics was the order of the day at Sustain 2001, the third World Sustainable Energy Exhibition and Conference. The event was more valuable for its networking opportunities than for the quality of its conference, while several of the big players in wind power gave Sustain a miss, with the exhibition floor being mainly filled with other renewable energy technologies, cogeneration companies, and non-renewable members of the energy industry such as fuel cells and microturbines

The three 2.5 kW wind turbines mounted on 14 metre towers outside Amsterdam's RAI conference centre in the Netherlands from May 8-10 said it all. Designed by Dutch manufacturer Lagerwey specifically for urban environments, the miniature turbines were the perfect symbol of SUSTAIN 2001: a compact low noise unit for a compact low noise edition of "the world's biggest sustainable energy exhibition and conference."

Organised for the first time by the RAI itself and sponsored by Dutch government energy and environment agency NOVEM, Sustain 3 had shrunk to half the size of its two predecessors, co-produced with European Media and Marketing. Where Sustain 2 had sprawled over two giant halls, Sustain 3's two hundred exhibitors could be contained comfortably on one floor and only NEG Micon with its NM 64C-1500 had brought a megawatt class turbine to the party.

NEG Micon's Anne Burgers was disappointed by the size of the exhibition. "Ours was one of only two nacelles on display," she pointed out. Indeed, several major wind companies chose not to attend, including Germany's Enercon, the just floated Nordex, and Bonus from Denmark. But Burgers thought the quality of visitor was good. "They were real renewables people who visited our stand," she said. For some smaller exhibitors, such as Arizona-based Southwest Windpower, the reduced scale of the event, combined with the increased prices for space rental, proved a disappointment. "We will probably not be coming to a future edition," said one representative. "There's not enough visitors and the RAI just hasn't publicised it enough."

According to the organisers, however, 7000 visitors passed through Sustain 3 -- a 10% increase on the last edition if that number is to be believed -- and elsewhere on the floor the mood was more positive. Belgian wind turbine manufacturer Turbowinds, the only other company displaying a turbine nacelle, reported that the trip north from Hasselt had been "very worthwhile." The new Turbowinds T 600-48, "Got attention from all the right sorts of people," according to director Wilfried van Melckebeke.

Dutch company Prowin, a late entry to Sustain and supplier of rooftop wind turbine systems, also did good business, finding six new dealers, closing 12 contracts with municipal authorities for the installation of test systems, and winning a further 30 orders.

Trading credits as a business

Exhibition newcomers EcoSecurities, a company specialising in arranging innovative finance for environmental projects, including structures using greenhouse gas emission credits, with bases in the UK and in California, was also very satisfied with the exposure. "As a new organisation it's important for us to get ourselves known and we've been very satisfied with the level of interest and knowledge of the visitors," said Karin van Lotringen of the newly established Dutch office.

A fifty-strong delegation from China whose pavilion dominated the exhibition entrance were also very pleased with the event. Although primarily in attendance to learn about market opportunities and to look for European partners, the members of the recently constituted Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association (CREIA) also managed to sell the solar boiler systems they had brought for display purposes.

Another stand hard to miss was that of Shell Renewables, which made a determined play for attention at Sustain, particularly on the offshore wind power front. This was in stark contrast to Shell's presence two years ago at the same event, when wind was no more than a footnote to their solar push.

Oddly for a conference dedicated to sustainable energy, both the exhibition and accompanying conferences and seminars gave space to fuel cell and microturbine technologies, which are neither renewable nor sustainable. Widespread use of these technologies to displace centralised generation will push emissions up rather than reduce them (Windpower Monthly, May 2001).

Lightweight conference

The compact format of Sustain 2001 also extended to the conference which took place under the slogan, "From Policy to Reality." The title was intended to indicate the spectacular growth of interest in renewables which has seen it move from the fringes to a central position within the energy sector, explained the conference flyer. In practice it meant a program that was light on big name key-note speakers and agenda-setting plenary sessions and heavy on specialist seminars and mini-conferences, stretching from combined heat and power (cogeneration) and energy saving in buildings, to an offshore wind power session.

The conference opening dealt with broader issues, however, before the detailed sessions took over. The urgent need to break the link between economic growth and increased emissions was reiterated by Pier Vellinga of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). With climate change now underway, "you can slow it down but you can't stop it," he said. The realistic objective should be to prevent a destabilisation of the climate system. If that happened, the world could expect rolling temperature swings five degrees above and below current averages, wreaking havoc on human and animal infrastructures. He advocated strong use of tax income now to fast track the use of sustainable energy technologies. "It will be ten years before a tradable emissions system is in place," he warned.

Significantly, the Internal Energy Agency agreed that renewable energy should be advanced to become mainstream. The global organisation has traditionally been lukewarm on renewables, but is now clearly changing its mind. Echoing the words of IEA director Robert Priddle, speaking in London three months ago (Windpower Monthly, April 2001), director of energy efficiency and technology at the agency, Hans Jørgen Koch, said "the right incentives to encourage the right choice" are what is needed. He advocated a level playing field for energy technologies, a review of energy subsidies, voluntary agreements on emissions reduction between government and industry, government procurement schemes for power from renewable sources, more research and development, and international collaboration.

With the European Commission's report on its Campaign for Takeoff -- launched with much ceremony at Sustain 2 -- this year relegated to a perfunctory lunch time session, it was clear that Sustain 3 was keen to get down to business rather than endless discussions of government support initiatives. A series of sweltering seminar rooms provided the real opportunities to assess the state of the industry. Here it soon became apparent that interest in new technologies was being outstripped by new financial products.

Trade and emissions

In the wake of the Dutch government's purchase of four million tonnes of carbon credits in central and eastern Europe (Windpower Monthly, May 2001) and on the eve of the launch of its internal green certificate system, the different forms of trade in renewable energy was the hot topic in the seminar rooms.

Considering the possibilities opened up by the Kyoto protocol's flexible mechanisms, Adriaan Korthuis, manager of the Dutch carbon credit purchase tender scheme, ERUPT, outlined the finer points of international carbon emissions trading. Why was the Dutch government buying pieces of paper which would be worthless if Kyoto is not ratified? "Because we believe that there is a consensus that some form of emissions trading will emerge, and it will be too late to meet our targets if we wait for ratification," says Korthuis.

Dana Younger of the World Bank's International Financing Corporation (IFC) agreed. On a carbon market without a Kyoto agreement, he commented: "It will develop, but at a slower rate." The Dutch, however, are keen to force the pace. The next round of government Joint Implementation tenders is scheduled for October and plans for a tender program based on Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism are due in July, Korthuis announced. Selection of tender winners will go to the most cost effective projects and there will be no national bias, he added.

The value of a tonne of carbon was a key discussion point. Part of the problem with developing a carbon market, compared with trade in green certificates, is the lack of a measurable entity -- what type of fossil fuel is actually being replaced and what is its environmental cost? This is a serious obstacle says Shell Renewables' Robert Kleiburg. To give an abatement value to a tonne of carbon, standardised baselines for fuel replaced need to be calculated, thereby reducing the start-up costs of individual projects. Shell, which operates its own internal carbon trade, is currently working with the Dutch Energy Centre (ECN) on establishing these baselines.

Down to trading details

The development of a separate market for carbon credits poses a particular problem for any international trade in green certificates. If the carbon rights of a particular wind project have already been sold, what value do the green certificates for metered kilowatt hours have in another national system where there is no separate market for carbon credits?

To solve this problem, the industry organisation Renewable Energy Certificates (RECS), which is currently in the process of launching an international green certificate trading system, has introduced the concept of "a box of jewels," explained RECS secretary Peter Niermeijer. Green certificates when traded will be accompanied by a virtual box containing all the environmental benefits -- such as carbon credits -- relating to those kilowatt hours. The box will only be opened when the two governments concerned have reached an agreement on international trade.

Back to realism

For those dazzled by the level of abstraction at this point, not to mention suffering from lack of oxygen in the stiflingly hot and packed session rooms, Greenpeace's Karl Mallon offered a dose of realism. He set out a political agenda for the wind industry in the offshore seminar. Describing Greenpeace's "hard decision" to back offshore wind in the face of arguments from people concerned about their impact on the ecology and appearance of coastal scenes, Mallon said that renewables must be seen to exist, to work and to be a good thing. Wind delivers on the first two, he says. It now has to convince the public it is a good thing. This is where Greenpeace with its traditional strength in communication hopes to make its contribution. "The industry needs to be proactive and define a new debate," he says. Unless it lets people know why wind is necessary and why it is a good thing, public and political resistance will prevent it ever reaching its technical limitations.

By this time it was the technical limitations of another industry which were foremost in the minds of many delegates. As temperatures in the seminar rooms soared, the RAI's announcement that it was now connected with Amsterdam's combined heat and power system was a little inopportune. A compact format can have its drawbacks.

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