Renewable and alternative generation
Utility groups wean renewables from government funding
Timothy b. demoss, associate editor
A couple of months ago in this column, I said the trend away from government-aided commercialization could not come at a worse time for renewables. The detrimental effects of exposure to “pure” market forces could cause irreparable damage to renewables` near-term future. What I failed to discuss was whether something besides government aid could make my doomsday predictions less pessimistic, if not moot. Certainly taxpayer monies help reduce risk for technology commercialization, but so can cost-sharing and cooperation within the industry, regardless of the product. Enter commercialization groups, of which I`d like to briefly discuss two.
The Utility PhotoVoltaic Group (UPVG), created in September 1992, exists to “accelerate the use of cost-effective, small-scale and emerging large-scale applications of photovoltaics (PV) for the benefit of electric utilities and their customers.” UPVG`s membership consists of electric utilities, independent power producers and utility organizations from around the world. So it is the buyers of PV systems who manage UPVG, not the technology manufacturers. This concept is simple and is copied by several similar groups, but it is very effective. Who is better equipped to determine a technology`s commercialization potential than its purchasers? This concept is also advantageous to equipment manufacturers who might otherwise stray down a dead-end commercialization path.
Currently, UPVG accomplishes much of its mission through its TEAM-UP program. TEAM-UP, which stands for building Technology Experience to Accelerate Markets in Utility Photovoltaics, uses money solicited via cost-share request-for-proposals in combination with Department of Energy funding to make volume purchases of PV systems, focusing on sustainable commercialization. UPVG hopes that by using early TEAM-UP projects to answer fundamental questions about markets, prices, partnerships and strategies, the program can evolve to target those commercialization strategies with the greatest likelihood of success. What is most important about the program in light of decreasing federal support is the UPVG`s goal to eventually wean PV commercialization off of federal funding.
Similar to UPVG, the United BioEnergy Commercialization Association (UBECA) was formed (in 1994) to encourage development of sustainable biomass resources and economically competitive biomass energy conversion technologies. Also like UPVG, UBECA`s members are the purchasers of the technology. The association does allow equipment manufacturers and other nonutility organizations to be association members, but these associate members may not serve on the board of directors or vote in board elections.
UBECA`s answer to the UPVG`s TEAM-UP is the Rural Energy and Agriculture Development Initiative. This national and international initiative also receives federal funding (50 percent) and will pay for demonstration projects, research and analysis.
It is probably too much to expect these groups and others like them to be independent of federal funding immediately, but their existence takes the sting out of the continuing decline in federally funded commercialization. If these groups experience continued success, all hope is not lost for renewables commercialization after all.
For more information about UPVG check out www.ttcorp.com/upvg. You can learn more about UBECA at www.ttcorp.com/ubeca.