NREL: Clean energy policies for renewables need time

By Luke Geiver | November 18, 2010

A National Renewable Energy Laboratory project aimed at quantifying the connection between state/local polices and clean energy has given a preview of a report due out in December. The early conclusions of the report by the Clean Energy Policy Analyses indicate that time is needed for clean energy initiatives and policies related to biomass use, solar or wind power to work. “The longer the policies are in place, the better they appear to be connected,” according to Elizabeth Doris, senior project leader for state and local policy at NREL. Doris, who spoke during a webinar titled, “State of the States: Quantifying the Impact of State Policies in Clean Energy Development,” said that her project team knew that it takes time get clean energy industries going. “It actually ends up being one of the biggest findings of this study,” she said.

To perform the study, CEPA combined a wide range of policies into a database and analyzed how they were affecting actual clean energy development. For renewable energy, the study used installed capacity as a starting point, and then weighed a policy’s effect on the generated renewable energy given a specific installation. “Two years ago we tested every policy against every type of renewable energy,” Doris said. “Over time we weren’t able to get very good results from that because there were so many variables. We’ve really tried to narrow down which policies target which types of resources. This year, we only tested policies against resources to which they are typically targeted at the state level.”

The policies the study used for testing ranged from energy-efficient resource standards to renewable portfolio standards, or mandates. Along with the policies, the study incorporated a number of nonpolicy-related issues that could potentially effect the development of clean energy. “Policy alone does not explain growth in clean energy development,” Doris said, “but what we did find is that results got better when we put in other variables, such as population, price, or the number of years a policy has been in place. When we incorporate those, we get better results, so we are trying to find the right mix of policies and other factors.”

In the end, the study was able to estimate the relation of policy to clean energy development at between 44 and 63 percent accuracy, Doris said. The study also noted that it is not just an individual policy that is having an effect, but rather “it’s when state policy makers and decision makers create an environment for the development of clean energy.” Along with broad clean energy development created through policy, Doris pointed out that sometimes the scalability of a policy creates a roadblock for an initiative to actually work. “A lot of renewable energy polices can apply to all technologies, but often times are not scaled correctly to do so. So, if you are trying to promote geothermal (which are often large-scale central generation stations, she said), you probably won’t get very far with a small rebate.”

While the report points out that ultimately time is needed to help policies work to create clean energy, Doris said this study will also get better with more years of data to draw from. “It really opens the door for policy options including specific policy directions.”