Lagging Behind on Energy Innovation

Orre PhotoI recently attended a public hearing about the 2014 New York State Energy Plan. Governor Cuomo has said that he wants New York to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by the year 2050 from 1990 levels, and achieve a 50 percent cut by 2030. The plan includes several initiatives that will make this goal feasible. However, most of the testimonies at the hearing were about what was missing in the plan. They urged the governor to aim attention at renewable energy such as wind, solar, hydroelectricity and geothermal power. Most of them also talked about how far ahead Europe is when it comes to energy innovation. The hearing caused me to think a great deal about differences in energy policies in Europe and the US, and the role of renewable energy.

The US gets 85% of their energy from fossil fuels like petroleum, coal and natural gas, and is one of the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gases. While the US has focused on strategies to secure more oil and gas, Europe has been leading the way when it comes to transitioning from fossil fuel to clean, renewable energy. Several European countries demonstrate that it is possible to implement policies and offer incentives that are effective in encouraging investment in renewable energy sources. In Europe the energy policies seems to be environmentally based, while in the US energy policies are economically based. Americans are still in denial about the causes and effects of climate change. They set climate protection against economic growth, and of course nothing is more sacred than economic growth. American policy makers endorse quick fixes that ignore the actual market and technology for renewable energy that is available. European countries have simply been better at using government policies and the private sector to make clean energy accessible for businesses and consumers. The results are windmill farms, tidal turbines and solar panels all over the European landscape. Incorporation of green policies can also be seen in people’s day-to-day life. Being a resident of a European country myself, I can attest to the different attitudes to the benefits of living green. My parents recently installed a geothermal heat pump in their house, which has reduced their energy bill and made the temperature of the house more comfortable throughout the year. The design takes advantage of the moderate temperatures in the ground to boost efficiency and reduce the operational costs of heating and cooling systems. My home country Norway is an oil rich country, but also a large producer of renewable energy. We have made use of our copious resources in hydropower, wind power and bio-energy from wood. Despite the fact that our wealth stems from oil, the government promotes policies that favor the use of renewable energy, which in turn prompts citizens to take on the challenges of climate change.

There is no doubt that we will one day extract the last of the planet’s reserves of oil and gas. Thus we all have to look towards the future at other energy sources that in principle will never cease to exist. The sun will shine, the trees will grow, the wind will blow and the waves will slosh. Governor Cuomo and New York needs to take a leading role transforming the energy system to focus on clean energy technologies. Long Island is a place where you can clearly see the devastating effects of climate change, for example with the super storms Irene and Sandy. You can also see Long Island’s potential to be a center for production of clean energy. New York’s energy future should not be about the extraction of fossil fuels, but about looking generations ahead and establishing a cleaner and safer environment right now.