What’s happening in the formerly climate change-sceptic US? Fast on the heels of President Obama’s Clean Energy Plan to reduce emissions from the power sector, and his forceful remarks on the already-here reality of climate change made at the site of retreating glacier in Alaska a couple of weeks ago, the President is now championing distributed energy; particularly the growth of small-scale solar energy.
Speaking at the National Energy Summit at the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino in Las Vegas last month, Obama talked up the progress made towards cleaner energy in the US in the six-and-a-half years since took office – America now generates 20 times as much solar power as it did in 2008. But he also pointed to a new push by the Department of Energy to deploy innovative distributed energy resources such as micro-grids and rooftop solar plants with battery storage.
It’s not so long ago that I witnessed electricity industry insiders attending a conference at a Las Vegas convention centre lapping up presentations that questioned the reality of climate change. But progress is being made – I see that the latest US casino complex, being built by Wynn Las Vegas offshoot Wynn Everett in Boston, Massachusetts, is to feature on-site solar and CHP generation technologies.
Obama went further, adding that, despite domestic PV rising from 20,000 to 600,000 installations over the last few years, the ‘real revolution’ is that people are starting to realise that they can take more control over their own energy. He said: ‘For decades, our energy system basically worked one way: utilities generated power, usually by burning fossil fuels... but in just a few short years, that’s begun to change in a profound way. Six years ago smart meters were pretty rare. Today 60 million consumers have access to detailed information about how much energy we use, how we use it, when we use it.’
The American power revolution is happening right now – and it’s like evolving from the telegraph to the smart phone in less than a decade, added Obama, who may or may not be reflecting the views of the mainstream US electricity industry.
His view on climate change – expressed in Alaska – is revealing: ‘We know that human activity is changing the climate. That is beyond dispute. Everything else is politics if people are denying the facts of climate change. We can have a legitimate debate about how we are going to address this problem; we cannot deny the science. We also know the devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue. That is not deniable.’