More than 75 representatives from every sector of Nevada’s energy industry gathered at Reno’s Desert Research Institute last week to discuss energy challenges facing the Silver State, opportunities available and actions needed to lead the West and the nation in renewable energy generation, transmission and delivery.
“Our potential is unlimited,” said former Nevada Senator Randolph Townsend, who opened the event and projected a theme present throughout the day’s panel discussions, touting Nevada’s abundance of renewable energy resources and calling for much stronger collaboration between industry, education and government.
The Energy, Nevada and Economic Development Forum, sponsored by the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization (NIREC), was part of the DRI Research Foundation’s annual schedule of events.
The morning panel, moderated by Jason Geddes, City of Reno Environmental Services Administrator and Chairman of the Nevada System of Higher Education’s Board of Regents, included a robust discussion of where Nevada has been and where the state should be headed in the renewable energy revolution.
Panel members Keely Wachs, Senior Director of Corporate Communications for BrightSource Energy (a California-based company that designs, builds, finances and operates utility-scale solar power plants) and Joe Rowley, Vice President of Project Development for Sempra U.S. Gas & Power (a San Diego-based company which operates natural gas-fired power plants, pipelines and storage facilities) both described Nevada as a “great place to do business” and thanked the state for its “thoughtful approach to permitting.”
Mary Simmons, NV Energy’s Vice President of External Affairs, also on the morning panel, championed STEM education and explained the need for all sectors of the state’s renewable industry to work together with Nevada’s higher education system to “secure the next generation of workers into the energy business.”
Another morning panel member, Paul Thomsen, Ormat Technologies, Inc. Director of Policy and Business Development, echoed Simmons statement and reminded the audience that Truckee Meadows Community College’s Geothermal Plant Operators Program, designed to train geothermal technicians, is the only program of its kind in the nation.
Panel members also noted how each of their industries can meet only a certain level of demand in their current form with existing energy transmission methods and storage facilities. For Nevada to succeed, the panel agreed, the state has to have all forms of renewable energy at the table talking about increasing storage and streamlining transmission and delivery to customers.
Ian Rogoff, NIREC Chairman and well-known Nevada energy investor, led a stimulating discussion prior to the forum’s afternoon panel that highlighted why smart companies are investing in renewables. Rogoff reinforced the need for renewable energy education in Nevada and called for Nevada to set higher goals than the rest of the U.S. if “we want to make Nevada a technology powerhouse with respect to renewables.”
The afternoon panel, moderated by Don Soderberg, Southwest Gas Vice President of Pricing, narrowed in on the key players involved in Nevada’s renewable energy future and openly discussed the economic development initiatives needed to drive a renewable energy focused economy throughout the state.
Panel member Walt Borland, President and CEO of NIREC and Founder of Nevada’s Clean Energy Foundation, summed up the afternoon discussion when he called for a dramatic change in Nevada’s mindset.
“It’s time to fund the knowledge-based economy,” Borland said, “not the service-based one.”
Borland went on, “We have to make investments in our scientists, leverage our opportunities, commercialize our technologies and create high paying, desirable jobs that will inspire the next generation of Nevadans to stay here, live here and help build our economy.”
Wrapping up the day’s topics was Alan Gertler Ph.D., DRI’s Interim Executive Vice President for Research, who highlighted the institute’s current renewable energy work and explained how the institute’s Clean Technology and Renewable Energy Center in Reno is fostering research in emerging areas of renewable energy and assisting in the development and application of clean technologies in Nevada. Gertler outlined existing projects by DRI researchers including work on algal fuels, green-coal, second-generation biofuels, geothermal energy potential, and wind energy forecasting.
Gertler also showcased DRI’s GreenPower Program, which is educating teachers in more than 100 schools in 9 of Nevada’s 17 counties on renewable energy curriculum.
Dr. Stephen Wells, DRI President, closed the forum with a one-image slideshow of four, disconnected shiny new gears, perfectly illustrating the state’s strong need to collaborate more effectively and build a common voice around renewable energy.
“We’ve got to connect the gears between industry, investors, educators and those men and women on the ground,” said Dr. Wells, who also emphasized a strong connection with Nevada’s elected officials.
“This discussion on renewable energy has come at exactly the right time,” said Wells, who recently returned from Governor Brain Sandoval’s Trade Mission to China and South Korea. “Given the incredible effort that the Governor’s Office of Economic Development has recently taken on to help move the dial on key economic initiatives in our state, it’s time for the this kind of direct communication and this kind of unprecedented collaboration.”