Renewable energy growth is dramatic with cumulative investment of more than $1 trillion globally. Worldwide renewable energy capacity is now 480 gigawatts or nearly one half a terawatt using mainstream technology according to Dr. Dan Arvizu, Director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and speaker at the RENEW Wisconsin Energy Policy Summit January 10, 2014. The renewable energy industry supports American jobs including 143,000 people in solar-related industries in 2012 and 75,000 full-time workers in the wind industry including 30,000 manufacturing facilities throughout the country. In the US, renewable energy provides 13% of electricity and is increasing rapidly. In Wisconsin however, the increase in renewables has not kept up with the rest of the country in the last two years. State by state mandates called renewable portfolio standards (RPS), now in 29 states and D.C., are driving that number up.
Wisconsin’s first RPS in 1999 required utilities to obtain 2.2% of renewables by 2011 and then this was increased in 2005, requiring utilities to obtain 10% of their energy generation from renewable sources by 2015. While in Wisconsin all utilities have reached that target, the mandated RPS number has not been increased as much as in surrounding states. Minnesota’s adjusted RPS for example is 25% by 2025 and they are about to meet that early. Iowa already produced 24.5% of its electricity from wind alone in 2012, enough to power 1.3 million average Iowa homes.
Nationally, 2012 was the best wind year ever uplifting US wind to 29% of the world market. The upper Midwest hosts 7% of the world wind market (in the four states that border Wisconsin). In 2012, Minnesota installed as much wind as Wisconsin has total. Iowa has 24.5% wind compared with Wisconsin at 2.4% of energy generation. Wisconsin was ranked 20th in wind in 2013 at 648 MW. Wind makes up only 3.5% of US energy however yet supports 80,000 full time jobs. 22 facilities in Wisconsin manufacture wind components supporting 2,000 – 3,000 jobs. Wind energy nationally now is cost competitive with natural gas.
The price of solar cells dropped 99% since 1977. When we first sent man into space, which was powered by solar, solar panels cost $76 per watt. Now the panels cost $3.00 per watt. The price of solar dropped 60% by 2011 and 80% over the last 5 years. It is predicted that solar power will be cheaper than any other way to make energy in 10 years. Wisconsin ranked 24th nationally in solar production at 14 MW of solar.
SunVest Solar, a Wisconsin solar electric installation company co-owned by Matt Neumann (the son of former US Rep.(R) Mark Neumann) stated that of the 213 solar installations by his company in 2013, only one system was installed in Wisconsin. He expects that his business will grow by 50% next year and would like to do more business in his own state. He calculates the simple payback on a 5 KW residential solar system is now 7 years. If financed over 20 years at 5%, it will generate an immediate positive cash flow.
Wisconsin is the market leader nationally in biodigesters with 34 farms hosting systems and approximately 150 digesters at farms, industry, municipal wastewater treatment facilities, and landfills. As of 2013 there are 220 digesters on US farms. Germany has 7,000 digesters by comparison. According to Melissa Van Ornum of DVO, a US market leader in anaerobic digesters based in Chilton, WI, the country could support 8,000 systems. She, like SunVest, would like to do more business in Wisconsin. She predicts more Wisconsin digesters will close down when power purchase agreements with utilities, for the price of the energy they generate, expire and utilities reduce the price to below what farmers can afford to operate them.
Wisconsin has the second highest electric rates in the Midwest, reports Gary Radloff of the Wisconsin Energy Institute, but adoption of more renewable energy has the potential to reduce further increases because renewables have no or low fuel costs As conventional fuel cost continue to escalate, renewables will continue to become the better economic alternative. Wisconsin has a vast potential from renewable energy to invigorate Wisconsin’s economy and help it compete for new business ventures, while stimulating job growth and protecting the environment.