Newsmakers: Ron Pernick and 'Clean Tech Nation' have ideas for the next president
By Christina Williams
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
Ron Pernick is the Portland-based co-author of "Clean Tech Nation." He'll be reading from the book at Powell's on Sept. 17.
When Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder published "The Clean Tech Revolution" in 2007 is was deemed by one reviewer as "required reading for any responsible citizen of this planet."
Now Pernick, who is based and Portland, and Wilder have published a follow-up: "Clean Tech Nation: How the U.S. can lead in the new global economy."
In this election season, the new tome should be required reading for any elected official.
In it the authors take a close look at how the U.S. is positioned in the clean economy and they offer an action plan to improve that positioning.
Clean Edge, Pernick's Portland-based research and advisory firm, publishes an annual Clean Energy Leadership Index, which tracks which states have the most activity in and policy support for clean energy, and an annual Clean Energy trends report that tracks the market for renewable energy.
Pernick will read from the book at Powell's next week — Monday, Sept. 17 at Powell's City of Books on West Burnside Street — but we caught up with him to ask a few questions about "Clean Tech Nation."
Sustainable Business Oregon: Your new book, “Clean Tech Nation,” follows up on “The Clean Tech Revolution” published in 2007. How has the landscape for clean energy changed since then?
Ron Pernick: A lot has changed in five years. From a scaling up/expansion perspective, there has been a lot of positive news. Between 2007 and today the price to install a solar PV system dropped in half, from around $7 per peak watt installed to less than $3.50 per peak watt installed globally. Renewables deployment has approximately doubled in the U.S., with wind now providing more than ten percent of electricity in 6 states, and around 20 percent in South Dakota and Iowa. Globally, Japan, Germany and China — all for different reasons — have embraced advanced clean-tech infrastructure build out. During the Great Recession, one of the few bright spots has been clean tech, and not just renewables but advanced transportation, green buildings, and energy intelligence. Indeed, clean tech isn’t shrinking; it’s starting to scale up to significant percentages for utilities, cities, states, and nations.
Against this backdrop of positive developments, however, clean tech has, of late, become highly politicized. Not so much at the city and state level, but at the national presidential level.
SBO: Why publish “Clean Tech Nation” now? Who is your target audience?
RP: This book, like our first, is targeted at anyone interested in technology, innovation, and competitiveness. If our first book is any indication of who will be interested in this book — it includes students, entrepreneurs, corporate executives, government officials, investors and nonprofit/foundation staff.
One big difference between this book and our first is that “Clean Tech Nation” focuses more on the current role of U.S. cities, states and individuals and offers up a plan for the U.S. to remain competitive. It’s very much an American innovation book.
We face a stark choice — we can return to the policies and practices of the polluting industries of old or we can build a future based on lighter, cleaner, more sustainable products and practices — a new industrial revolution if you will. All the research shows that the American people prefer the latter and we believe the innovative capacity of the U.S. has never been greater. We just need the determination, will and leadership. Luckily we have that in places like Oregon, California, and Massachusetts; in startups reinventing the electric vehicle, green buildings and solar power delivery; and in businesses — large and small — that are embracing more efficient and less polluting processes.
SBO: In a recent blog post you called out Mitt Romney for making punch lines out of topics like global warming and renewable energy, but the Democrats have also pulled back dramatically on their clean energy agenda. Why do you think that is?
RP: Well, clearly, I wasn’t the only one to call out Mr. Romney on his mockery of climate change and his seeming disdain for renewables. It lit up social media networks, albeit not as much as Clint Eastwood’s appearance. Personally, I don’t think it’s good for the public discourse to make a mockery of such important issues — and I’m hopeful that if we do see a Romney presidency he’ll change his tone. There are a lot of people in his own party who support the wind industry, for example, and believe he should support the extension of wind production tax credits.
I don’t think Democrats or Republicans at the city and state level have necessarily pulled back from clean tech, though the political rhetoric has certainly caused some to use or search for different language. But whatever you call it, clean tech, advanced energy, or new industrials, there’s clearly still a push to be more efficient and productive, create high-paying jobs, ensure cleaner air and water for our children, and embolden U.S. security.
SBO: Your proposed energy plan for the U.S. Includes the use of “responsible” natural gas. What does that involve?
RP: We believe that a U.S. energy future, void of “new” coal and nuclear power, is the preferred pathway. The best way to get there is to build an energy future that leverages efficiency, renewables and responsible natural gas. As we mention in the book, however, there’s a wildcat mentality right now for shale gas development and issues with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) that must be addressed. The industry, along with regulators, needs to be far more transparent in what chemicals they are using and in ensuring best practices. If they don’t, there will be serious ramifications for the natural gas industry.
But assuming responsible extraction and processing, natural gas offers a great energy source for the U.S. One thing we point out in the book is a new breed of natural gas power plants that complement solar and wind. These new plants can power up and down very quickly, making them a great companion to non-baseload (or intermittent) renewables.
SBO: The book provides a seven-point action energy action plan. What kind of feedback and support have you received for those ideas?
RP: The response has been very favorable. We’ve received support from a former president, governor and oil company CEO, as well as investors, environmental leaders and academics. We’ve been tracking the clean-energy sector for more than a decade, and we developed a plan that is both bipartisan and pragmatic. They include items that we believe both the left and the right can agree on once the political rhetoric of this election season cools down. The Action plan includes everything from enacting a national renewable electricity standard of 30 percent by 2030 to the phasing out of all energy subsidies, starting with oil, coal and natural gas subsidies now, followed by renewables and nuclear over 5-10 years.
If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.