June 7, 2011 | Leadership, Sustainability + Energy

Two of the many presentations and speeches at Windpower 2011 particularly caught my attention. Both speakers broke from the wind industry refrain of lamenting its current situation and constantly calling for long-term policies and pleading for extended tax credits as the solution.

The Refrain

Now I’m not implying in any way that I disagree that long-term U.S. public policies and extended tax credits are needed or that such changes would significantly advance the use of wind power— I’m simply recognizing something about myself, and I suspect many others: I respond better to positive messages.

The Maestro

Ted Turner put on quite a show the opening day of the conference. His was a classic pre-game rally speech intended to stir the ‘Wind Team’ into action. This was an entertaining opener full of good guy/bad guy, we-can-do-this tidbits. A sampling:

    • Media needs a good ass-kicking for playing up to the other fuels and not wind
    • Coal vs nuke — One might kill you and the other definitely will
    • Humanity is in the 7nth inning…haven’t lost yet…but we need to start doing the right things not the wrong ones…and we want to do right things. Wind is key to fighting climate change.

Google and Business Opportunity

In contrast, Tuesday’s keynoter Rick Needham, director of green business operations and strategy for technology giant Google, was all down-to-earth, practical business. He discussed the technology company’s commitment to renewable energy and to becoming carbon-neutral, despite its voracious energy needs. But it was his clear message about Google’s assessment of the opportunity in renewables that was so exciting. The company is making a major renewable energy business play.

“The transformation of energy form should not be seen as a problem, but as a challenge and a business opportunity.”

Here is a smattering of Needham’s supporting reasoning:

    • Energy drives business
    • To deliver (search) results fast requires a complicated infrastructure
    • Complicated infrastructure needs energy to run
    • Sustainability and efficiency are good business models
    • Google has invested over 1.1 billion in last year alone
    • They take a long-term view and are comfortable making a long-term investment
    • Want a clean energy future
    • Dedicated to renewable energy space
    • Makes good business sense
    • Wind is the only play you can as a utility sign a long-term, 20-year low cost contract
    • Great for consumers

Framing the Wind Opportunity

My flight home offered time to reflect on what I’d heard. A new frame is needed for the conversation on wind energy. Here is my initial proposal:

    1. Business opportunity is the key message
    1. A sustainable win-win for consumers and the environment is the key benefit to society, and should always be discussed
    1. The lack of stable public policy and tax credits are barriers to realizing these opportunities, but should not be discussed as the industry’s objective or vision for the future
    1. Extensive education is needed on the advantages and benefits of wind energy, and the impact of energy on our quality of life. All messages need to include resources for more information.

I am calling on colleagues in the industry to join me in this effort to reframe the discussion on wind energy. What is missing? What do you think I’ve overlooked?


Ted Turner at Windpower 2011 [brief video]

Google and the Cost of Wind Energy

Google and Green