Picking up from where we left off yesterday, WindPower 2011 revved into gear early this morning in Anaheim, California. Kicking off the official start of this week’s conference, the CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Denise Bode, rode onto the main stage of the convention center arena on a custom motorcycle designed as an aesthetic homage to wind turbines. The hype around the bike is actually quite substantial, despite the fact that it runs on gasoline, one of the fossil fuels taking a regular beating here at WindPower.
Ms. Bode’s address was enthusiastic and optimistic, backdropped by a slideshow that was equal parts wind turbines and American flags. She then invited Ted Turner onto the stage and treated us to a light and informal discussion of wind power and policy in the United States. Turner provided perhaps the broadest and most nuanced take on the American wind industry I’ve yet encountered this week, perhaps because he occupies exactly none of the specialized industry career paths gathered here. The conversation steered between politics and policy, technology and media, patriotism and commerce. And it got me wondering: what, exactly, is everybody doing here? How does this convention amplify the cross-sector relationships embodied by the wind industry?
I took to the showroom floor to find out. Not surprisingly, the booths predominantly feature component manufacturers, engineering and design firms, and wind technology distributors. Presentations and demonstrations abound. Siemens, for instance, hosted a well-publicized event in their prominent booth with Mary Fallin, the Republican governor of Oklahoma. Both parties were excited to announce a new project in Woodward, a testimony to the strong relationship between government and the wind industry. I chatted with Tim Holt, CEO of Siemens renewables services, who spoke to the value of local institutions when siting a project and how important it is for a project to be able to get a warehouse on the ground as fast as possible. This sense of industrial urgency is good news for people who don’t want wind power projects to progress over Cape Wind timeframes.
But industry giants like Siemens and GE aren’t the only ones populating the corridors here. Renewable energy publications like North American Wind Power Magazine come here to cover the seminars, summits and demonstrations. Paul McDonald, the Editor of a Vancouver-based magazine called enerG, told me about his focus on distinct and complete energy technology projects as a part of the larger narrative of policy, commerce and environment. There’s a documentary film crew here working on a movie called “Wind of Change,” a look at the wind industry in Texas (which, if it were a country, would have the sixth highest installed capacity in the world). And of course there’s me, tweeting my way through the sometimes overwhelming spectacle of turbine technology.
Government is well represented here as well. Governor Fallin, of course, came all this way because she values the partnership with Siemens. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Portland representative and long-time renewables advocate, gave a conference-wide address and headlined a press conference on a recent wind power story out of Sherman County. State government delegations dot the map of the convention floor, like theIowa Department of Economic Development, who come to WindPower year after year to attract investment and learn about new technology and industry. The Department of Energy is here, as are multiple DOE-funded labs like NREL and Argonne National Laboratory.
Organizations and institutions that depend on the industry, and in turn have industry depend on them, happily share floor space at the convention center. David Plumpton of Ecology & Environment Consulting, a national firm with 28 American offices, told me about consulting operations that prioritize environment and then tackle engineering concerns. The Port of San Diego has representatives here, as do various community colleges and national trade organizations. The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), for instance, comes here to nurture its relationship with American analog AWEA and develop new policy. I spoke to the director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a network of labs that have been refining weather prediction models for over fifty years, about how the wind industry reached out to them a few years ago when it became clear that better meteorological data was needed. As he put it, everyone here is working to “raise the tide for all” in the wind industry.
All told, it’s a pretty cool group. Everyone is eager to tell you about their organization’s achievements, but also about their relationships with other sectors and other member of the wind power community. Professionals here call it networking, but I like to think of it as interconnectedness. The growth of this vast web of industrialists, scientists, bureaucrats, journalists and developers makes me think of a world where that web reaches everyone, like the reach of ubiquitous fossil energy does now.
So that’s who I encountered here today. Tune in tomorrow to find out what’s missing at WindPower 2011, and what elements of the wind technology/policy arena I was surprised not to find.
Photo by prozac1.