Let’s say that Worldwatch’s Low-Carbon Energy Roadmaps help convince key decision makers in target countries to move away from fossil fuel dependency and toward a more renewable energy portfolio. And let’s assume that Central and South American countries decide that they all want to have 50 percent of their energy needs met by renewable sources by 2050. While we’re at it, let’s suppose that governments also have the political will to bring these ideas to life and sign a binding agreement that they are all in this together. One question remains: Who is going to pick up the check?

Last week, Euromoney Energy Events, the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE), and the Latin American and Caribbean Council On Renewable Energy (LAC-CORE) helped answer that question by hosting the first Renewable Energy Finance Forum focused on Latin America and the Caribbean, also known as REFF-LAC. For two days, financiers, developers, policy professionals, and multilateral banks explored the challenges present in today’s global markets, including uncertainty due to risk, legislative initiatives, and a credit crisis. Similar to its sister event, REFF-Wall Street, REFF-LAC was an opportunity for participants to learn how to start addressing these challenges and move the industry forward. It was also the perfect forum for assessing the changing role of governments, multilateral banks, and commercial lenders.

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ACORE, developing countries, emerging markets, euromoney energy events, lac-core, low-carbon, reff-lac, renewable energy, renewable energy finance, renewable energy investment

To use an analogy from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, renewable energy in the United States will be confronted by the ghosts of past, present, and future. When the Republican Party took control of the U.S. House of Representatives last month, many renewable energy advocates assumed that any progressive energy legislation would be tabled for at least the next two years. But a growing camp now believes that a Republican majority in Congress may actually increase the likelihood of passing meaningful federal energy policy.

Cannon House Office Building

Cannon House Office Building, where ACORE holds its annual Phase II conference - Flickr Creative Commons / cliff1066™

It was with this new optimism that the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) held its eighth annual Phase II National Policy Forum on December 9 in Washington, D.C.  Phase II denotes the period (2000–2025) for implementing the new energy technologies that were researched, developed, and demonstrated during Phase I (1975-2000).

At the conference, a strong emphasis was placed on bipartisan collaboration. Many Democratic lawmakers had taken for granted that a significant U.S. climate and energy bill would be passed when President Obama took office in early 2009. Speakers at Phase II agreed that Democrats now have to rid themselves of their defeatist attitudes and concentrate on working productively with Republicans.

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Part 1 of this post compared current U.S. state-level policy, investment, and development for renewable energy and energy efficiency, using data from recent reports by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE). When reading the two reports, however, it is difficult to ascertain the specific synergies of renewables and efficiency. The answer lies in part in a joint report released by these two organizations in 2007, The Twin Pillars of Sustainable Energy: Synergies between Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Technology and Policy.

Aerial Image of Sheridan, Oregon

Aerial Image of Sheridan, Oregon - Flickr Creative Commons / Sam Beebe

This report makes a strong case for why renewable energy and energy efficiency should be pursued in tandem. Efficiency measures can greatly decrease the United States’ total energy load so that renewable energy generation can more significantly reduce national dependence on fossil fuels. Efficiency provides primarily short-term and medium-term benefits through energy savings, while renewables provide a more far-reaching, longer-term solution to a sustainable energy future. Without decreasing energy use, renewables will chase elusive production targets. Similarly, rising energy demand will quickly counteract any curtailment of carbon emissions from efficiency measures if low-carbon, renewable energy technologies have not begun to be rapidly deployed.

The report uses the example of a strategic energy development plan for 2020 that encompasses 10 states in the Midwest, where efficiency initiatives could reduce electricity consumption by 28 percent and renewable energy development could account for 22 percent of the region’s electricity supply. This combined efficiency and renewables scenario could cut conventional energy generation by 44 percent in comparison to the business-as-usual forecast. An older collaborative study from the U.S. national energy laboratories, Scenarios for a Clean Energy Future, estimated that a coordinated approach with efficiency measures and renewables could reduce greenhouse gas emissions 47 percent below the reference case by 2020.

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With the climate and energy bills stalling in the U.S. Congress, it seems that America’s energy future will depend increasingly on the success (or failure) of policy, investment, and development at the state level. In October, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released its yearly report that ranks all 50 states based on their efficiency measures. The report dovetails nicely with the 2010 update of states’ renewable energy efforts from the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) that was released in September. The studies share common themes, such as discussions on energy resource standards and public benefits funds. For this reason, it is a good exercise to look at them together.

The United States From Space

Satellite Image of the United States - NASA/Reto Stöckli (Flickr)

The usual suspects top both lists. California continues to be the model for renewable energy and energy efficiency in the United States—as well as an international sustainable energy leader. It has a diverse portfolio of renewable energy with the following installed capacities: 2.7 gigawatts (GW) of wind power, 2.6 GW of geothermal power, 1.1 GW of grid-connected solar power, and 705 megawatts (MW) of biomass power. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, California’s diverse portfolio provides over 20 percent of the nation’s renewable electricity generation.

California also tops ACEEE’s list, a title that it has held for the last four years. California leads the United States in government and utility efficiency investments (nearly $1 billion annually), progressive public transportation policies (despite Los Angeles’s gridlocked streets and highways), and stringent building code and appliance standards (contrasting the many ostentatious and wasteful homes in Hollywood). Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington also stand out as states that have shown great commitment to both renewables and efficiency.

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ACEEE, ACORE, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, American Council On Renewable Energy, California, EERS, energy efficiency, energy efficiency resource standard, renewable energy, renewable portfolio standard, RPS, United States