Panelists cite keys for renewable energy
Whether it's buying an electric car or converting a gas-powered car to run on electricity, or participating in an Xcel pilot program to save energy and money, consumers want to pay the same or less for renewable energy, according to participants Tuesday morning at the Boulder County Business Report's CEO Roundtable on Smart Grids & Alternative Transportation.
For example, many Xcel Energy customers were disappointed to find out that they saved just 75 cents to $1.50 while participating in a pilot program to save energy, said Andre Gouin, Xcel Energy Inc.'s business technology consultant managing the company's Electric Vehicle and Smart Grid pilots. Customers who participated in the pilot program in Denver agreed to measures including having their air conditioners or refrigerators cycle less frequently during peak power demand time.
"Customers are willing to change their behavior when given a price (goal)," Gouin said. "But there's only so much we can adjust the price. There's not enough room to make a dramatic impact."
One positive example of cost savings, several participants said, is that electric-car buyers seem to be willing to pay more for their new cars, knowing that they will pay less for the electricity it takes to drive the cars than they would for the same amount of gasoline.
Alfalfa's Market grocery store in Boulder offers a free electric-car charging station for example, said John Gartner, research director at Navigant Consulting Inc. (NYSE: NCI) in Boulder, formerly Pike Research LLC. Electric cars, which make up 1 percent of all cars in the United States, can "charge up" for free at about 200 free charging stations around the state, most paid for with federal and state grants, Gartner said.
On the negative side of the incentive equation, a $7,500 government rebate to convert gas-powered cars to electricity ended Dec. 31, said Paul Guzyk, owner of Boulder Hybrid Conversions LLC in Boulder. The company went from about 23 car conversions in one month to zero the next month, Guzyk said.
Volatility of government-incentive dollars continues to have a negative effect on companies across the renewable-energy industry, said Andy Paliszewski, director of wind research and development a Siemens Energy Inc.'s office in Boulder. A wind-energy tax credit expired at the end of 2012, putting people out of work across the nation, Paliszewski said.
"Wind is approaching (price) parity with fossil fuels," he said. "But what we need is a predictive legislative climate."
Zam Energy LLC in Longmont looks for the chance to use feed-in tariffs on projects, said Erin Geegan Sharp, founder and chief executive of the renewable-energy development company. Feed-in tariffs, another government incentive, are designed to support investment in renewable-energy projects. As such incentives support more electric-vehicle charging stations and other related projects, American consumers will change their habits, Geegan Sharp said.
"It's the culture of 'charging' that America is going to start to experience," he said. "It's the adaptation of charging in a public environment."
In addition, retailers can benefit in the future by offering charging stations, said Charlie Olness, sales director at eGauge Systems LLC in Boulder, a company that manufactures meters that provide more information about power usage.
"It's a new behavior," he said. "The companies that get it and can provide it will attract business."
Homer Energy LLC in Boulder looks for places where renewable-energy projects can make money without government incentives - usually developing countries and islands, said Peter Lilienthal, chief executive of the company. Homer Energy's software can help make wind power and other renewable-energy sources operate more efficiently with an existing power grid to save money, Lilienthal said.
Places that burn oil to make electricity, such as a native village in Alaska where two wind turbines were installed in a Homer Energy project, usually are good candidates for the software, Lilienthal said.
"These odd places in the world are places where the renewables are going to be 60 to 70 percent of the grid. It's possible with smart-grid technologies, but it ... changes the way the systems operate," Lilienthal said.
Law firm Berg Hill Greenleaf & Ruscitti LLP in Boulder and certified public accounting firm EKS&H PC's Boulder office sponsor the CEO Roundtables.
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