RETECH 2010 – The Post Copenhagen Environment

Washington DC

RETECH, the annual state-of-the-industry conference sponsored by the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE), provided session tracks covering everything from innovations and technologies through finance, government initiatives and international perspectives.  In the wake of the failure to form a binding consensus at the United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP15 Copenhagen, there were plenty of analyses to go around, nearly all interesting and provocative.

The high level story from the media is that the US and China didn’t come to an understanding, and, thereby, the ability of the conference as a whole to conclude a binding agreement was compromised.  While US-based critics of the conference have generally seen this as a positive development, they might rather be concerned that it has put the US at a disadvantage.

Consider this perspective.  The signatory countries to the Kyoto protocol, namely 187 countries including China, still have their framework which creates financially enabling mechanisms for renewable energy related projects.  And while China did not formally agree to the more stringent standards that the US (and others) had wanted, through the mechanism of state capitalism, they appear to be putting into place many of the types of industries and actions that one would have expected if they had formally made changes.  These include everything from cleaner power plants to the fact that China is now the number one producer of wind turbines and photovoltaic panels in the world.

The US is left however with an unintegrated patchwork of incentives, increasingly on state and regional levels, with uncertain status of federal regulation but with the Supreme Court having empowered the EPA to act on carbon emissions.  The net net then is that the US, while still the green innovation capital of the world, lacks a coherent financial environment with which to continuously incentivize the investment community to fund and scale these enterprises, which continues the old pattern of leaving national security of energy in the realm of a foreign resource base.

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