Renewable energy is not that different from any other business when it comes to site selection. Generation is most likely to happen in the places where the raw materials are the most abundant.
Therefore, the prime places to generate wind power, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, are the places with the best supply of predictable, steady wind: Alaska, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, and Montana. Solar power is most feasible in places with lots of uninterrupted sunlight, particularly Arizona, New Mexico, California, Nevada, and Texas.
As for geothermal power, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory finds positive prospects in states led by Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and California, while top biomass states include Iowa, North Dakota, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina.
Still, there are pockets of opportunity all over the place. For example, Indiana is far from the windiest state, yet it has a number of places where the wind is dependable enough to attract multiple wind farms. And Oklahoma is promoting itself as a prime spot for solar power generation, noting that its solar gain is competitive with California, Texas, and Florida, while its cost of doing business is lower.
Here's just a sampling of other clean energy activities and opportunities:
- There's nothing new about generating energy through the power of water, but the boom in clean energy is fueling a comeback in hydropower. That doesn't mean development of new dams, but refurbishing of existing hydro facilities as well as the addition of hydroelectric generation capacity at existing dams and locks.
Already there are more than 75 such retrofits in the works across the country, including refurbishment of three powerhouses along the Columbia River by the Chelan County (Washington) Public Utilities District. The district recently became the first hydropower producer to qualify as a provider of carbon offsets for the Chicago Climate Exchange, which is a voluntary program for trading greenhouse gas credits. There's plenty of room for more such developments - the country has tens of thousands of dams, and only a small percentage have hydropower capabilities.
- Georgia is positioning itself as a center of bio-energy. The state produces all kinds of biomass materials, including traditional feedstocks such as corn, soybeans, and canola, as well as less traditional products such as sweet sorghum and switchgrass. Add in its 24 million acres of forests and the state generates more than 18 million tons of byproduct biomass every year. Oglethorpe Power Co. plans to take advantage of the supply - the company has announced plans to build up to two dozen 100-megawatt power plants using woody biomass as fuel.
- California is a hotbed for solar power activity, with everything from residential rooftop installation to huge commercial installations. In Big Sur, the Post Ranch Inn recently flipped the switch on a 990-panel solar installation, the state's biggest hotel solar project and one of the largest in the country. Making it happen was a deal with Recurrent Energy, a distributed power company and a leading provider of on-site solar energy.
- Michigan's Great Lakes Bay region is well positioned as a player in solar - not because of the sun but because of the R&D and manufacturing capabilities in the area. Hemlock Semiconductor, the world's largest maker of super-pure polycrystalline silicon, key ingredient for solar panels, operates there, and the area is home to the world headquarters of Dow Corning and Dow Chemical, big players in the photovoltaic value chain. Hemlock Semiconductor is also establishing a facility in Clarksville, Tennessee.
- Oklahoma already has more than 700 megawatts of wind generation online, and is gearing up to be one of the top players in wind in the coming decades. That'll happen through the development of major wind farms, but also through smaller projects. One example is the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation's new research tower, which claims to be the first medical research facility to generate some of its power through wind. Its generation doubles as art - the 24 turbines on the roof are appropriately designed in the shape of DNA molecules.
- Dominion Development Partners is developing the Alternative Energy Industrial Park at Destiny, Florida. The goal is to create thousands of so-called "green collar" jobs through the creation of an R&D campus, technology incubator, as well as such activity as energy generation, ethanol and biodiesel processing, pyrolysis, gasification, and other waste-to-energy operations.
- ElectraTherm Inc. last year launched the ElectraTherm Green Machine, a generator that makes electricity from low-temperature, residual industrial heat that usually goes to waste. It's essentially a fuel-free, emissions-free generation system. The company is looking for a home for its new manufacturing facility, and has gotten economic development offers from about half of the American states thus far.
The important thing to remember is that this is just the beginning of a wave of clean energy development and investment. "I see the development of 20 to 30 gigawatts of renewable energy per year for the next 10-plus years," Filsinger predicts. "If we are able to move quickly with the green economy, with manufacturing, and make that manufacturing exportable, we build the green economy."
"We're not alone," says Oswald of SynGest. "There are a bunch of companies with really interesting technologies. The world's energy needs and supply are out of balance. We can't afford not to do this."