While renewable energy installations have grown rapidly in recent years, and prices have fallen, barriers still exist to the uptake of renewables in the U.S. In a new podcast, Lori Bird, the new director of the U.S. Energy program and the Polsky Chair for Renewable Energy, talks with Lawrence MacDonald, vice president for communications, about underlying trends, growing customer demand, and challenges to renewables deployment.
Bird comes to WRI from the Policy and Markets group at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, where she worked on state and federal renewable energy policy, voluntary purchase markets, regulatory barriers to the deployment of renewables and grid integration of clean energy.
As Bird points out, states have been achieving renewables targets faster than expected in recent years, with uptake accelerated by falling prices. In some cases, renewables are already cheaper than conventional generation. However, policy hurdles remain. Action on renewables is uneven across the country. But even in places where there are fewer policies to support renewables, like the Southeast, some utilities are pursuing large-scale solar.
Rooftop solar is also an option available to consumers, although barriers to distributed generation exist in some regions. As Bird explains, rooftop solar can be very affordable and cost-effective depending on the location; in fact, some customers can pay less than what they would otherwise pay to the utility.
At WRI, she sees an opportunity to make an impact on the ground, where she has “the ability to work directly with utilities and large buyers to make a change.” She will be leading work with cities who have set aggressive renewable energy goals, through the American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator—a two-year program designed to provide procurement assistance to cities and facilitate peer exchange.
She will also work with the Special Clean Power Council, a WRI-led project which brings large buyers and utilities together to find innovative solutions to issues like emissions accounting, integrating customer demand into utility planning, and determining how electric vehicles fit in to an evolving grid.
“The rate of change in the industry right now is so fast. With electric vehicles coming and storage prices dropping, renewables prices dropping, distributed generation on the grid—all these things are fascinating. We’re at a very interesting time where we can transform the electric sector,” says Bird.