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Assessing the Future of Energy in the New Year

December 26, 2008 02:03 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
President-elect Barack Obama has assembled a team to help guide energy policy during his administration. What will the new year hold as his appointees get to work?

President-elect Obama’s New Energy Team

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During his campaign, Barack Obama made several promises concerning future energy policies, and he has assembled a team to help him make good on his word.

According to The New York Times, presidential transition officials recently confirmed that Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., will be Obama’s interior secretary. Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics, will head the Energy Department.

Carol M. Browner, who was an Environmental Protection Agency administrator under President Clinton, will become the White House coordinator for energy and climate. Browner’s position is relatively new, and her responsibilities are still under discussion. Considered an “energy czar,” she will be entrusted with coordinating environmental and energy efforts throughout the government. Joining her will be Lisa P. Jackson as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Nancy Sutley as head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Some of the projects the team will likely undertake are the creation of a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in investments for “advanced energy technology.”

High energy prices, coupled with a growing concern over increasing carbon dioxide emissions have drawn attention to alternative energy resources.

“The idea of growing what you put in the tank of your car, rather than sucking it out of a hole in the ground, no longer looks like economic madness. Nor does the idea of throwing away the tank and plugging your car into an electric socket instead,” wrote The Economist.

Facing the Economy

Obama has given alternative energy leaders hope for the new year with his pledges to make the industry a central part of his plan to help the environment and rejuvenate the economy, reports USA Today.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Lyndon Rive, president of SolarCity, a company that designs solar power systems, said, “We could not ask for a president who’s more focused on energy independence and renewable power.”

But companies will have to face the economy first.

The financial crisis has reduced alternative energy companies’ access to capital. Though most people expect Obama to address the country’s economic woes before tackling alternative energy, some say the two issues go hand in hand. John Woolard, chief executive officer of BrightSource Energy, told the Chronicle, “If the issues are not linked, they should be. The build-out of infrastructure and power plans puts people to work.”

Some alternative energy companies are scaling back their projects, but others are moving ahead with their plans. For example, geothermal power company Raser Technologies plans to streamline the design and construction of a power plant so it can be built faster and use cooler water to generate power. The simplified project has been quite successful, according to company executives, but Raser says its project is working.

“I’ve seen projects studied to death,” Raser CEO Brent Cook told USA Today. “This gave us the business courage to say, ‘Let’s go ahead and do this project.’”

Projects in the Making

Researchers announced numerous alternative energy possibilities in 2008, including algae, tree fungus and landfill methane. Countries are pressing for further development of more “traditional” alternative energy as well.

In the solar energy market, the United States is trying to become more competitive by developing “thin-film” panels that are more efficient than traditional solar panels. To really do well in thin-film, however, companies need to be able to produce the technology faster, Nathan Furr of Greentech Media told Seeking Alpha. “It’s a wonderful thing to increase cell efficiency, but you’ve got to be able to do it in scale and ramp up.”

Related Topic: Oil demand

OPEC has reduced its projected oil demand for 2009 by 150,000 barrels per day, and indicated that the number could fall even more if global economic conditions get any worse. Most of the decline is likely to come from countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Economic Development, according to The Economic Times.
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