In the view of Brian Ward, the chief risk officer of GE Energy Financial Services, the industry for "renewables" is rapidly growing.
"GE has invested a billion dollars in wind, biomass, hydro and solar projects," he reported. "Solar is still very expensive and on the fringe, but wind will be a big player in the future."
Ward, who manages the risks attached to the energy division's $11 billion portfolio, was the keynote speaker at the symposium "Meeting Tomorrow's Energy Needs: Opportunities and Challenges in the Renewable Energy Sector," recently held at Columbia Business School.
Sponsored by the school's student-run Energy Club, the event attracted policy experts, business leaders and students with an interest in learning about the technology used to produce nonpolluting energy, including state-of-the-art wind turbines and solar panels, as well as the financial and political support such initiatives would entail.
Ward focused much of his presentation on wind power, pointing out that improvements in the technology will be critical as investors confront negative factors such as blade cracks, rotting, lightning and the fact that "the wind doesn't always blow."
Ward also noted that India and China are at the forefront of wind technology and that the United States trails behind Europe, particularly Germany and Spain, in its use of renewable energy. "Many states seek green energy, and renewable standards are driving the industry," he said, "but these standards still differ from state to state."
The conference also featured two panels -- one on "Alternative Production Technology," the other on "Value Drivers in the Renewables Sector."
The first panel featured representatives from five companies that manage renewable energy projects, including Northeast Biofuels, which is constructing the first corn-to-ethanol plant in the eastern United States. The plant, to be located in a former Miller brewery in Fulton, N.Y., will produce 100 million gallons a year, which would make it the third largest facility of its kind in the nation, reported company spokesperson Stewart Hancock.
The second panel focused on the investment side of renewable energy and included Mark Townsend Cox, a portfolio manager at the New Energy Fund, who elaborated on Shell Oil Corp. data and the need for regulation, and Peter Fusaro, who chairs an energy and environmental consulting firm, who spoke on green energy hedge funds.