Study Tour on Renewable Energy
Study Tour

The World Order and Globalization Hub welcomed its eighteenth delegation of experts in May for an eight-day-long study tour focusing on renewable energy and the energy transition. The Hub hosted a delegation of seven participants representing Malaysia, India, Bulgaria, South Africa, Guatemala, Italy, and Germany for the program, which took place in Washington, DC and Portland, Oregon. During the week, the delegation held meetings with experts and practitioners in the field of renewable energy.

The meeting partners in Washington, DC included George Washington University, the House Climate and Grid Security Subcommittee, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Alliance to Save Energy, the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Dentons law firm, and the Global Energy Center of the Atlantic Council.

On Sunday, the delegation met with FNF North America Regional Director Claus Gramckow. During the lunch discussion, Mr. Gramckow discussed the recent history of American politics, the relationships between the states and the federal government, and the outlook for the 2024 U.S. presidential elections. He also took the time to answer questions from the participants, including ones about the 2024 presidential election and U.S. foreign policy more broadly.

The discussion in Washington, DC opened with the current state of renewable energy in the participants’ home countries and regions. The participants presented on the range of projects undertaken to support the transition to renewable energy, as well as the various challenges facing each country. A common theme was the politicization of renewable energy projects and the methods of de-politicizing them and diffusing conflicts by focusing on how renewable energy creates more jobs and improves the local economies. Another desirable policy goal was to establish a common carbon pricing system between the U.S. and Europe.

The program in Washington, DC began with a visit to net-zero homes in Arlington, Virginia constructed and maintained by Professor Scott Sklar of George Washington University. This site visit provided a worthwhile opportunity to examine how innovative renewable energy ideas can be translated into tangible solutions. A common theme in the meetings in Washington, DC was the ongoing transformation of supply chains and the volatile market for critical minerals due to geopolitical rivalries. Smaller-scale renewables projects are sometimes preferable, as they can diffuse political issues. By embracing Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), countries can leverage decentralized energy systems that are less susceptible to geopolitical challenges, while also contributing to de-carbonization efforts.

Speakers also focused on the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) as an energy security bill, as it provided tax incentives for renewable power, nuclear, and hydrogen. The integration of climate security risk indexes into renewables highlights the importance of international collaboration and developing a foreign policy vision for climate security. Addressing security threats, such as military resource protection and flooding of installations, while securing supply chains, becomes imperative. Additionally, carbon capture technologies can play a crucial role in mitigating emissions and achieving climate goals.

The second half of the program took place in Portland, Oregon, a city chosen for the program for its ambitious goal to implement net-zero by 2030 and as a region, which funds and maintains successful renewables projects. The meeting partners in Portland, Oregon included the Oregon Department of Energy, Renewable Northwest, Avangrid Renewables, a staffer from the Oregon House of Representatives, Oregon Consensus, Portland State University, the Portland Clean Energy Fund, and the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

Factors that have influenced the renewables market include mandates, the introduction of incentive tax credits, and regulations. One of the main drivers of renewable energy developments has been the requirements that are imposed on the state level. However, challenges persist in expanding the grid and managing community opposition to renewable energy projects in the Pacific Northwest region. Both speakers and participants discussed the “not in my backyard” or “NIMBY” tendencies found both in the U.S. and abroad, and how to address this opposition. One researcher found that the distance from a planned renewables project was not a significant factor in the survey respondent’s approval or disapproval of the project, but that even those respondents not living near the project disapproved.

Legislation has passed to fund and support renewable energy projects in the region, and renewables have been shown to be economically viable. One notable law passed in Portland is the Portland Clean Energy Fund, which provides up to $60 million a year for clean energy projects in the city. However, several speakers in Portland observed that there remains a gap between the passing of legislation and putting the ideas into practice. The energy transition requires a skilled workforce equipped with the knowledge to drive technological advancements. Consequently, workforce upskilling challenges will need to be addressed to meet these demands.

During the group’s final evaluation meeting, the participants discussed the general themes and takeaways from the week’s meetings. Participants found the access to perspectives from the state and local government representatives in Oregon to be especially valuable, noting that they would not have learned about these local perspectives, as media in their regions usually focus on the U.S policies at the federal level. Several participants mentioned that they were inspired to continue their work in renewable energy by the visit to the net-zero homes in Arlington, Virginia and by the community engagement strategies discussed in Portland, Oregon. Promoting active involvement and collaboration with local communities can foster a sense of ownership and support for the renewable energy transition efforts.

The participants expressed sincere gratitude for the opportunity to take part in this study tour. Many participants emphasized the value of the personal relationships they had made with their fellow participants, as well as the value of the conversations they had with the numerous expert speakers during the week. The contrast between the speakers in Washington, DC, and Portland, Oregon was also a highlight for the participants, with several participants mentioning how the week featured a vast range of speakers from different backgrounds whose approaches to the renewable energy transition they found inspiring for their own work. The World Order and Globalization Hub would like to thank all of the participants for their engagement and insightful contributions throughout the program.