In the shadows of the Congressional debate over extending renewable energy tax credits, hundreds of government and industry officials from around the world met last week in Washington, DC for the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC). At the conference, 3Tier, a Seattle based renewable energy consulting company, unveiled a new global wind energy map that will help utilities and governments decide which regions are most viable for wind energy projects. During today's OnPoint, Kenneth Westrick, CEO of 3Tier discusses the new online tool and how he hopes the wind map will help developing nations "leapfrog" over fossil fuels. He also gives his take on the renewable energy tax credit debate, saying the world is looking to the United States for leadership on renewable energy.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Kenneth Westrick, CEO of 3TIER, an independent provider of wind, solar, and hydro energy assessments. Ken, thanks for coming on the show.
Kenneth Westrick: Thanks for having me here.
Monica Trauzzi: Ken, your organization has just unveiled its REmapping the World initiative at the WIREC conference on renewable energy. It's marketed as the first and only online tool that allows you to choose renewable energy sites based on science, not luck. What used to take days in the field now takes 10 minutes at your desk. It almost sounds too good to be true, but tell me a little bit about what this initiative does, what you guys are all about.
Kenneth Westrick: Well, what we're trying to do with this particular initiative is we're trying to reduce the informational barrier. Right now one of the greatest obstacles to development of renewable energy, especially in developing countries is the lack of information, information on the resource. Where is the wind? When does it blow? Where's the solar potential? Once those informational gaps are breached we can get that information out to policymakers, developers, utilities, where they can really see the potential for renewable energy in the country or their region and really accelerate that process of moving renewable energy forward.
Monica Trauzzi: So, talk a bit about the science behind the findings and how exactly you assess these areas and the wind potential in these areas.
Kenneth Westrick: OK, well, good question. One of the things that we're very proud of at 3TIER is our scientific staff. We have a great deal of scientists and engineers on staff who are using some of the latest breaking technologies coming out of universities, supercomputing, to map these to meet these energies. And this information is going to be really the core of what we're putting together to present this renewable energy picture.
Monica Trauzzi: Is there a margin of error?
Kenneth Westrick: Sure.
Monica Trauzzi: You're taking into account weather and climate variabilities?
Kenneth Westrick: Yes.
Monica Trauzzi: OK.
Kenneth Westrick: There is error. One of the things that you'll find about any even observationally based techniques or modeling techniques, and we use both, but there's always a degree of uncertainty. And the most important thing is first of all to recognize that in any assessment there is a degree of uncertainty. That we're not going to completely remove that. But what we're trying to do is get the best possible information out there, based on the best science, and get it out there to as many people as we can to really scale the industry to allow a lot more people to get this information into their hands so they can make informed decisions about where to put projects. What are the implications of climate change in the future on a project? And really going all the way down to smaller scales, what happens in a village in Nepal, for example? Getting that information out to everyone so we can jump over that fossil fuel era, especially in the developing countries where they need it most.
Monica Trauzzi: Right and if you go to the Web site there are still some missing pieces, some areas that are not covered yet by this wind map. How are you deciding which countries to tackle first?
Kenneth Westrick: Well, what we did right now is we looked at several different variables. One of the things is where is the market right now? The second thing we looked at is where's the need? The third thing we looked at is where's 3TIER, our company's ability to provide those services? And the fourth thing we looked at were really some of the technological challenges. In some of these areas around the world the data is not quite yet available. But over the next 21 months, as we map the entire world for wind energy and the other energy resources, that information is going to become more available. So we looked at those four different variables to prioritize the world.
Monica Trauzzi: So, your target audience, corporations, government?
Kenneth Westrick: Well, it depends at which stage. Right now, the map that we unveiled today was based on one year of a wind assessment for the entire globe. So, this consistent wind methodology was applied for a particular year. And what that's really designed to do is get countries, in particular, excited about the potential of wind energy in particular right now with the wind map, the potential for wind energy in the countries. And then, over the next 20 months, to really rollout much more detailed information. More detailed information is really required by the developers, the financiers. Another level of information needs to come out, so we're going to working on that.
Monica Trauzzi: So, you're anticipating that this information will have an overall impact on the wind energy discussion?
Kenneth Westrick: Oh, we think so, yeah. What we're hoping, by coming out with REmapping the World is to really show a leadership position and get this information. Right now, it's interesting, there's three real components to this REmapping the World. One is about the availability of data. Creating the fundamental data layers, the wind, the solar data layers at relatively high resolution. So that's availability, the creation of data. The second thing, if you create data and it just sits in a database and no one looks at it, it's worthless. So the second component is accessibility. We've got to make the information that we create accessible and we've chosen the Internet to get this information out. And the third thing is usability. We really want to shorten that process of getting the information and turning it into a responsible decision to make it as short as possible. And that's why you see the thing about get the information in 10 minutes.
Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned earlier the idea of having developing nations leapfrog over fossil fuels. Let's talk about China for a second. They're already using fossil fuels, a lot of coal there to produce their energy. How should China be looking at this map and the information that you're providing and using it in terms of implementing renewable energy in their country?
Kenneth Westrick: Well, first of all to look at the map and realize where the potential exists and to start looking, especially in those regions where there's not a lot of information available. But I think what's going to be more powerful as we roll out maps for other technologies, the synergistics, the synergism between solar and wind and hydro and to look at all of the different renewable resources in context with one another. So when they do develop projects, that they develop the most efficient projects. And that may mean co-locating a solar project with a wind project or a wind project with a small hydro project so that they can get more efficient power production.
Monica Trauzzi: And this isn't just for developing nations. The U.S. can use it all so. And something we've been dealing with a lot here is the NIMBY issue.
Kenneth Westrick: Right.
Monica Trauzzi: People don't want these windmills in their backyards. How should the U.S. be using this information and how much are other countries relying on the U.S. to provide sort of a blueprint of how to approach implementation of renewable energy?
Kenneth Westrick: Well, right now the U.S. has a real strong opportunity to really help advance renewable energies, not in the U.S., but overseas by providing this type of information to regain a leadership position in the country and in the world in renewable energies. And we really feel that it's essential that when you talk about the NIMBY issue, that when we start looking at the renewable energy and we start looking at some of the implications of developing renewable energy that we're looking at the resources. And one of the things that we think very strongly about is that in the future there is going to be a lot more distributed grid generation, which means smaller projects possibly providing additional power into the grid. And those NIMBY issues, although still being there, are going to be reduced because the impact is much smaller. And information like this, in getting it out to more and more people helps for people to embrace this as not something that should be looked upon antagonistically.
Monica Trauzzi: And the Senate is planning on taking up the issue of extending renewable energy tax incentives which are set to expire at the end of this year. The measure is likely to face hurdles. It passed through the House, but we might see some hurdles in the Senate because it focuses on repealing some oil company tax breaks. How important is it that something like this passes in order to further implement renewable energy?
Kenneth Westrick: Oh, this is crucial. As I mentioned, I just came back from a conference over in London yesterday and it was interesting to hear the perspective from the Europeans, people from Asia. And the talk was about the PTC in the United States. Right now the United States is one of the largest markets for renewable energy. And I think the rest of the world is looking to see what is the United States going to do right now? Are we going to go back to this boom and bust cycle with production tax credit? Or are we going to really take a leadership role, put this in place, and really show our commitment towards moving towards energy security and addressing some of these issues that are at hand? So it's crucial. I think if we stumble on this right now the implications are going to be felt for several years again.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, final question here. What's next for 3TIER? What do you have planned down the line?
Kenneth Westrick: Well, quite a bit. We're going to the developing a lot of new technologies. We're going to be continuing to grow quite rapidly. Again, with our focus of really trying to accelerate the adoption of renewable energies around the world, we're going to push very much forward on the development of offices overseas, helping out with the training and the education process that's required in a lot of developing nations. And technology, our company is really built around the science and the technology. And we're going to stay on the cutting edge of technology, continuing to hire the smart, bright people and the supercomputing capabilities to support those people so we can get this information out there.
Monica Trauzzi: All right. We're going to end it right there on that note. Thanks for coming on the show.
Kenneth Westrick: Thank you very much.
Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.
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