Utility executives say US lacks proper energy policy

Photo by nicenecktie, Flickr

A poll of 700 United States utility executives held some surprising support for renewable energy advocates, saying that the US lacks a competitive edge in the arena.

ThinkProgress.org reports:

American utilities, long known for being slow to adopt new technologies, are expressing concerns that the U.S. is falling behind in development of renewable energy. A new survey of 700 utility leaders released by Black and Veatch finds that 67% of respondents believe the country “is at risk of losing its domestic design and construction skills, equipment manufacturing capabilities and global competitive position in utility technology.”

“The lack of a comprehensive and coherent energy policy has encouraged the industry to remain fragmented and stagnant. Having no policy actually is policy. As leaders, we must collaborate to move the industry forward,” said Roger Smith, president of Black and Veatch’s management consulting business.Can you guess which country utilities fear is the biggest threat to the U.S.? You probably guessed right: China.

Specifically, respondents believe U.S. solar, nuclear and wind industries are at some risk of losing their competitive positions. More than 80 percent of respondents believe China is the greatest threat to the United States’ overall energy competitiveness.

The utility executives surveyed said that the biggest problem in the U.S. was the lack of a long-term federal energy strategy that creates consistent incentives and more robust R&D programs.

So where do these executives think the industry is going? With increased penetration of renewables will come more investment in storage – more than 20% of those surveyed said they were integrating large-scale storage systems, “potentially indicating energy storage is already moving into a more mainstream segment,” according to Black and Veatch.

So does this mark a major transition by the utility sector into renewable energy? Not exactly. While these signs are certainly positive, there are plenty of other results that show a continued reliance on fossil resources.

For example, although 40% of respondents believe there will be a price on carbon in the next five years, over 77% believe that coal will still play a major role in the energy mix. And almost 50% of those surveyed strongly disagreed with the statement that renewable energy would be “unquestionably competitive with traditional sources.”

Finally, natural gas and nuclear are seen as the top “environmentally friendly” technologies – topping out solar, wind and hydropower.

It will be interesting to see how (and if) those perceptions change over the years, however. In the survey, the top environmental concerns among utilities were water supply and waste storage – two major factors that could make natural gas fracking and nuclear generation riskier and more costly.

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