Renewable Energy Needs Comprehensive Policies, Says Stanford Scholar

by Antonio Pasolini on May 31, 2011

A new paper by Stanford lawyer Felix Mormann argues that pricing alone will not drive the transition to renewable energy, one of the key ingredients to a low-carbon economy necessary to mitigate the impacts of climate change. He identifies and analyzes the obstacles presently barring the rise of renewables, evaluates the role of the current policy favorite emission pricing, and offers design recommendations for a comprehensive U.S. renewables policy.

He argues that a comprehensive renewables policy is required to address each and every one of the existing barriers. So why is that not being done?

“Like every new technology, renewable energy technologies first have to prove themselves in the lab. Hence, the initial focus is on their scientific and engineering aspects. As lab results make way for demonstration projects, potential for commercialization triggers more economic analysis. Only once scaling and large-scale deployment appear within reach, do regulators tend to get involved”, he told Energy Refuge. “This rather reactive role of regulators is by no means unique to renewables, but applies to almost all transformative technologies. What’s special about renewables, however, is that the potpourri of financial support policies around the world appears to have distracted from regulatory barriers to their large-scale deployment. Simply put, public policy presently tends to compensate for these obstacles, rather than eliminate them.”

Mormann believes there is a whole plethora of technical, economic, regulatory, behavioral and other obstacles to overcome. “On the regulatory side, for instance, the permit process for renewable energy plants and its requirements deserve special attention – to streamline it but also to ensure that all relevant factors receive proper consideration. The entire electricity sector will require substantial regulatory reform to integrate a growing share of intermittent renewables like solar and wind, the smart grid, demand response, and distributed generation, to mention but a few of the changes to come”, he said.

And in order to make the transition to alternative energy, multidisciplinary action is required. The trick is how to get different sectors to work together on this massive project. Mormann offers an example on how this could work. “Sweden’s Advisory Council for the Promotion of Wind Power is an interesting example of a multidisciplinary policy forum. The council brings together the Ministry of Education, Research and Culture, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Industry, Employment and Communications, the Ministry of Sustainable Development, and the Ministry of Defense to collaborate for the common goal of large-scale deployment of wind turbines in Sweden”, he said.

He also believes that bottom-up action is essential. “In this context, education and outreach will be key. My work highlights the legal and regulatory challenges but there are many other factors in the renewables equation. The more we know about the benefits and risks of renewable energy technologies, the better each of us can determine whether and how to take action.”

Please follow the link to download the full paper.

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