When the Winds of Change Shift By JOEL GALLOB [posted 2.27.02]
Finally, America is feeling the winds of change in the industry that drives all others, electric power generation. Wind power, solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells are finally taking off, as oil and coal and nukes sputter in their senility. Maybe it was the Enron collapse; maybe the billion dollar rip-off of California consumers last summer; or maybe the exposure of Vice President Cheney's energy plan as a charade by his refusal to name its authors. But finally, we're getting some wind in our sails. And what is here just a squall, for most of the planet, is a hurricane.
The storm broke in May, 1997, when John Browne, CEO of British Petroleum, broke ranks with other oil company heads and quit the Global Climate Coalition (an industry operation dedicated to the idea there is no climate change) and moved BP into clean energy technology. A few weeks later, Royal Dutch Shell's CEO also quit the what-me-worry crowd, too, putting $500 million into new energy sources.
These guys did not get catch the spirit just because they want their kids to inherit a working planet; they saw green in the skies of blue. While the dinosaurs are fighting to dig holes in the distant, difficult deltas in Alaska and problematic places like the Persian Gulf, a few corporate visionaries bent their faces to the wind and got a whiff of the future.
Wind power is the planet's fastest growing energy source, in terms of newly added capacity. China, with six of the ten worst-air cities in the world, is working on wind in a big way. Mongolia has the most wind power capacity per person, because of its low population and high mountain plateaus. Costa Rica announced in 1997 that it plans to get all its energy from renewables by 2010. What about the big countries? Germany leads the world in the speed it is adding wind power. Denmark is up there, too, and so is India.
Here in the US, the Department of Energy says that the winds in the Great Plains states can not only blow Dorothy to Oz, but meet all the power demand in the country. The Bank of America last year listed small-scale, distributed wind turbines (for farm, ranch and rooftop) as one of its top ten growth industries for the decade. Even here in the laggard U.S., from 1981 through 1999, installed wind capacity has grown from 10 megawatts to 2,500, a 250-fold increase in less than 20 years. Nukes are nowhere, dams are declining, coal fired plants are burning out. No other power source comes close to that kind of acceleration.
Change is not only on the wind, but in our cells, too - hydrogen fuel cells. This technology may blast off into a mass market even before wind does. Ballard Power is one of the hottest stocks around, especially since it cut a $22 million deal last September to supply Ford with clean-car engines en masse by 2004. Ballard's fuel cell makes power without combustion, combining oxygen (available at the atom nearest you) and hydrogen, which comes not only from gasoline, but from methanol and clean burning natural gas. Say goodbye to the infernal combustion engine, and not a decade too soon.
This past December, ChevronTexaco announced a new subsidiary to put solar panels on rooftops across America. Coming to a subdivision near you. It blows me away.
The winds of change have burst their cages and are raging, around the world and even here in the oil addicted USA. If you haven't been told before, let me be the first to tell you: the future technologies are no longer "out there." They are here. They are cost efficient. They are clean. And they are blowing strong.