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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs > Releases > Remarks > 2004

International Conference for Renewable Energies

David K. Garman, Acting Under Secretary of Energy, and Assistant Secretary, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy
Keynote Address
Bonn, Germany
June 3, 2004

We are grateful to the Government of Germany for hosting this important conference, and I am pleased to be here among so many friends and colleagues who have worked to advance renewable energy to help meet our national and global energy challenges.

Fossil energy resources are finite. We don’t know when fossil fuel production will peak, but we expect it will eventually decline in the face of increasing demands for energy.

We also know that fossil fuel use has resulted in increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As we have recognized in the Framework Convention on Climate Change, there are limits to the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses that can be released into the atmosphere without inviting dangerous human interference with the climate system.

Thus, we live in a world with finite fossil fuel resources and a finite capacity to contend with the emissions resulting from their use. Therefore, we must look to emissions-free primary energy sources, including renewable energy.

The United States is the leading producer and consumer of renewable energy today. According to the International Energy Agency, the United States had over 116 gigawatts of installed renewable energy capacity in 2001. This is greater than the amount of renewable energy generation capacity in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom -- combined.

Moreover, many breakthrough renewable energy technologies such as solar photovoltaic energy cells were invented in the United States. And we are determined to accomplish much more.

Since its establishment as a National Laboratory in 1991, our National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, has been dedicated to the advancement of renewable energy. Today this lab and its 800 scientists, engineers and policy analysts pursue breakthroughs that increase the efficiency, lower the cost, and address the barriers hindering the deployment of renewable energy. And lowering the cost of renewable energy is the real key to our success.

To achieve our aspirations, renewable and other clean energy technologies must be more economically competitive to gain wide adoption in the marketplace -- particularly in developing nations.

There is a great deal of discussion and thought this week about policy measures and best practices to encourage the deployment of renewable energy resources. Yet at the end of the day, reducing the price to make renewables more cost-competitive will assure their widest possible use. Therefore, I am pleased to announce that the United States have submitted five actions for inclusion in the Action Program arising from this conference:

  • Four of the actions are specific market cost goals for our Solar PV, biomass, wind, and geothermal research and development programs. These are newly validiated goals with very specific program technology plans that describe specific research strategies for achieving the goals. All will be able to see and judge our progress against these goals.

  • The fifth action is an expansion and extension of a renewable energy production tax credit, which has lapsed, and which the President has called upon the U.S. Congress to extend.

Twenty-one months ago in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the World Summit for Sustainable Development, the United States joined the other countries of the world in agreeing to a comprehensive plan to increase access to modern energy services for purposes of economic, social and political development.

The Johannesburg Plan identifies the need for all countries to diversify their energy supplies, including expanding the use of renewable energy.

The United States takes the Johannesburg Plan and its commitments seriously. I am happy to share some of the ways in which we have demonstrated our resolve to increase the use of renewable energy in the United States and around the world:

  • President Bush’s National Energy Policy Plan is our guidebook in the pursuit of reliable, affordable, more environmentally sound energy for America’s future. The President’s plan contained 105 recommendations, and it is noteworthy that 54 of those recommendations pertain to energy efficiency or renewable energy.

  • Because most aspects of the U.S. retail electricity system are regulated at the state level, many states are adopting renewable portfolio standards requiring fixed percentages of electricity production to come from renewable resources. Thus far, 16 states have adopted renewable portfolio standards or similar instruments, and others are considering them as well. One of the most successful examples of such standards is in Texas, the result of a law signed by then Governor George W. Bush.

  • In addition, green power strategies are being tested in U.S. power markets. One hundred percent of the electricity I purchase for my own home is from renewable energy resources, and while I pay more for it, utilities and power providers are better understanding the price points at which consumers will respond to the opportunity to purchase electricity from renewable sources.

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also helping to build these markets by providing special recognition to those organizations that purchase significant amounts of renewable energy. To date, our Green Power Partnership has amassed more than one billion kilowatt hours of commitments to the purchase of new green power. Overall these voluntary markets have led to the development of 1,300 MW of new capacity over the last few years.

  • We are also exploring other deployment methods for specialized markets. For example, we provided $20 million just in the past year for the deployment of renewable energy technologies on farms and in rural areas of the United States. These funds leveraged an additional $80 million in additional private sector investments.

  • We are proposing to increase the production of liquid ethanol fuel from renewable feedstocks from current levels of around 3.1 billion gallons per year to a level of five billion gallons per year by 2012.

  • And of course, we are continuing to improve the performance of our renewable energy R&D program. Over the past 20 years the Department of Energy has invested billions for research, development and deployment of solar, wind, geothermal and biomass technologies. This year my office will spend $357 million for renewable energy research, development, demonstration, deployment and related activities. We are seeking $375 million from Congress for this work next year. But we are not content to judge our efforts solely by the amount of money we spend, but also by the results we achieve. And our results have been excellent:

    • Today, the cost of wind-generated electricity is around five cents per kilowatt-hour. In 1980, the cost was eighty cents, a factor of sixteen higher. By 2012, we expect to bring the price down to three cents per kilowatt-hour.

    • Today, the cost of a grid-connected residential solar system is around 25 cents per kilowatt-hour. In 1980, the cost was $2.00 per kilowatt hour, a factor of eight higher. By 2020, we expect to bring the price down to six cents per kilowatt-hour.

  • Finally, through the President’s FreedomCAR and Hydrogen Fuel Initiative and the International Partnership for a Hydrogen Economy, we will be developing new transportation systems and other consumer applications that can make use of hydrogen fuel derived from renewable energy resources. Again, the key to our success in gaining market share for these technologies is to succeed in driving down the cost of renewable energy.

Let me turn to our efforts to advance renewable energy in the developing world. Our emphasis is on the practical needs of the customer rather than on the technological preferences of the supplier.

For example, we start with the specific energy service need, such as water pumping, crop drying, electricity for lights or computers, and then determine what the most cost-effective, socially viable energy source is. In many cases, particularly in rural areas, renewable energy will be the best option; in other cases, perhaps not.

The United State launched the Clean Energy Initiative in Johannesburg with three components that address the different dimensions of the energy-development nexus through public-private partnerships.

  • First, our focus on access to energy services is embodied in the Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP). Our partners in that effort include over thirty countries, the World Bank, UNDP, and a host of NGOs, businesses and other multilateral and bilateral development agencies.

  • Second, since any effort to promote new energy services must be coupled with an effort to employ that energy more efficiently from generation to end use, we launched the Efficient Energy for Sustainable Development Program, led by the U.S. Department of Energy.

  • Finally, recognizing the impact of energy use on human health, we also launched Healthy Homes and Communities, a partnership led by our Environmental Protection Agency with a focus on pollution from vehicles and traditional cooking and heating practices.

In addition, we support other partnerships that address compelling needs in providing energy, alleviating poverty and ensuring environmental stewardship. The United States recently joined the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) that was organized by the United Kingdom.

Through these partnerships, we are pursuing concrete results. For example:

  • In the Philippines, USAID is developing off grid renewable energy systems in 160 remote rural communities in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, through the Alliance for Mindanao Off-Grid Renewable Energy Program.

  • In China, we are working to accelerate the deployment of grid-connected wind power under a “Wind Technology Partnership.” By providing technical assistance and capacity building support on regulatory and policy issues to facilitate wind energy development throughout China, we hope to supports China’s goal of 20 GW of wind power by 2020.

These are only a small sampling of our global efforts. When combined with the promise of the hydrogen energy economy, we begin to get a glimpse of what is possible.

Distributed energy resources coupled with hydrogen can “decentralize” and simplify the delivery of energy services. Instead of being dependent on a particular energy source or fuel that is extracted and refined in some distant part of the world, we can essentially “democratize” energy services by tapping into the solar, wind, geothermal, biomass or hydroelectric energy that nearly every community and every nation can access.

This vision is consistent with the Johannesburg Plan that we agreed to at the World Summit for Sustainable Development. We take the Johannesburg Plan and its commitments seriously, and reiterate the need for all countries to diversify their energy supplies, including expanding the use of renewable energy.

We look forward working with all of you in the months and years to come as we all strive to turn our words into concrete actions, both at home and across the globe.

Released on June 4, 2004

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