• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Power play: expert focused on harnessing green energy

AS someone who has been an adviser to three US presidents, an executive at Google and is now a professor at an elite university, Dan Reicher comes with enough credentials to impress even those used to moving in the most rarefied of circles.

FULL OF ENERGY: Dan Reicher says Scotland is progressing well with policy, technology and finance.
FULL OF ENERGY: Dan Reicher says Scotland is progressing well with policy, technology and finance.

So it says quite a lot about the hunger for knowledge he possesses that a forthcoming trip to Scotland is being looked on as a learning experience.

The qualified lawyer has spent much of his three-decade career in and around renewable energy policy and low-carbon economics.

Loading article content

Speaking from his Stanford Law School office in the Palo Alto area of California, the 57-year-old admits to having only a limited understanding of how that industry is developing here in Scotland.

But he has been poring over documents and reports recently to get himself better acquainted ahead of speaking engagements at events in Edinburgh and Glasgow later this month.

Mr Reicher believes the successful deployment of energy systems relies on three sides of a triangle which he describes as policy, technology and finance.

He said: "It strikes me that Scotland is in fact making progress on all three points on the triangle, particularly focused on some of the larger clean energy opportunities, some of which are quite compelling.

"The offshore wind resource is vast and both the national and private sector commitment to developing it is very large.

"I think it is a smart area for Scotland to be pursuing and it also seems to me the marine technologies [are] looking promising and there are some biomass opportunities."

Large-scale manufacturing for renewable energy technologies has yet to arrive in Scotland.

However, Mr Reicher cautions against thinking supply-chain opportunities have already been lost to European neighbours, such as Denmark and Germany.

He said: "Offshore wind is still a relatively young technology and the competition is still sorting itself out.

"There are lots of examples of even more mature pieces of the energy industry, where the competitive landscape is still not settling, so I think in no way should Scotland count itself out."

Mr Reicher highlights the expertise oil and gas companies have in building large infrastructure in all sorts of ocean conditions.

And he suspects that could eventually open up further types of offshore energy technology. He said: "One of the things that strikes me as I look through the situation in Scotland is that a fairly strong oil and gas sector could bring a lot to offshore wind and I see that as a real advantage through increasing interest and expertise in going offshore and going [into] deep [water] for example.

"That is a natural bridge to offshore wind and potentially quite a compelling bridge to floating offshore wind, rather than fixed ones. If you have to put a floating offshore facility in 1000 metres of water, then the oil companies could bring expertise.

"I know Statoil has got quite interested in the floating offshore wind world. We are beginning to see some interest from US oil and gas companies and I'm hopeful that, in time, we will see more of that expertise brought to offshore wind, marine and tidal projects."

As well as that, Mr Reicher offers further encouragement to the Scottish low carbon economy by suggesting a commitment to developing resources domestically can often position a country well on the international stage.

He said: "There are reasons China has turned to developing its own domestic solar resource, one of which is developing a domestic resource gives you strength all through the value chain.

"The more you deploy it in your own country then the more likely you are to be a leader in the overall technology value chain."

While debates about whether fracking should be allowed in the UK are continuing, Mr Reicher points out the lower-cost natural gas secured through the technique in the US has helped to balance out the intermittent nature of many renewable technologies.

He said: "From a low-carbon standpoint in the US, the increasing availability of lower-cost natural gas has meant that we have been able to reduce carbon emissions reasonably significantly.

"You have to develop the natural gas resource in an environmentally sensitive way and that is one of the issues we are working on here in the US."

The recent fall-off in clean technology venture investing in the US is one area Mr Reicher is keeping a close eye on.

However, he makes a clear distinction between early stage high-risk capital to develop technology and the typically vast sums needed to roll out big energy projects.

He said: "Cleantech venture investment has dropped off quite a bit in the US and the success rate has been less than predicted.

"I live and work here in Silicon Valley and there are a number of venture firms investing in clean tech. For now, a number of the bigger ones have pulled back completely.

"We'll see whether that specific kind of investment comes back or whether people have to look to other places. Perhaps from big companies, endowments, pension funds or the charitable arms of big organisations."

Mr Reicher believes part of the problem in this arena is related to investors who are used to other technologies which typically take less time to come to market.

He said: "Cleantech has much longer development time frames and generally requires much larger amounts of capital.

"I saw this very much evident at Google, where it was amazing to me how quickly information technologies were invented and deployed. With the deployment of advanced energy technologies we often measure them in decades and multiple billions of dollars." According to Mr Reicher, there is a greater understanding from US venture firms of looking at global opportunities, which is leading to a steady stream of European energy businesses pitching their ideas.

He highlights energy storage and smart grid technologies as two areas in which he believes there will be interesting developments in the coming years.

He said: "There is some very important and attractive aspects to being able to better store electricity. We are not very advanced anywhere in the world at that as batteries have a long way to go, pump hydro is not providing the kind of capacity we need at the cost we need it to be.

"It is quite a hot race among storage companies and it has this compelling intersection with the world of the electric vehicle.

"The rise of plug-in automobiles has caused a much more intensive focus on batteries than we had seen previously. If we were to get to the point where there were a larger number of plug in vehicles on the road, there are all sorts of interesting opportunities to provide storage for renewable generated electricity in those vehicles."

Mr Reicher points out that in California, the wind tends to blow more at night than during the day, when the electricity is typically less needed.

He said: "If you had a plug-in vehicle fleet which numbered in the millions, you can imagine a situation where in a sense you filled those cars up at night with cheaper electricity.

"Then through a smart grid, you can imagine a situation where those vehicles might in fact be able to provide electricity from their batteries back [to the grid] the next day, for example while plugged in at work."

When asked what things an entrepreneur could bring to the low-carbon technology sector, Mr Reicher said: "It is a combination of expertise, timing and a bit of good luck. All of that has got to be with an eye towards those three fundamental pieces of the sustainable technology [triangle]. Too often, we see folks with really smart technical ideas that have trouble navigating the worlds of policy and finance."

As someone who was an early adopter of solar panels and smart grids while working in Washington DC in the 1990s, Mr Reicher isn't afraid to utilise the technology he is talking about.

He is confident the industry continues to move forward at pace meaning the days when his early photovoltaic system was destroyed under several feet of snow are long gone.

Yet he is keen to point out that progress made in renewable energy must come alongside cutting energy use at home, work and travel. He added: "Energy efficiency is not only low hanging fruit, it is low hanging fruit that grows back as we are always improving the technologies."

 

 

The Herald in partnership with Scottish Enterprise is hosting a low carbon masterclass in Glasgow later this month, with Dan Reicher as guest speaker.

The event's focus will centre on taking technologies to market in low carbon and renewable sectors as well as looking at the challenges of financing and expanding business in emerging markets.

The masterclass is on Wednesday February 26, at the Radisson Hotel, Argyle Street, Glasgow. For more information or to reserve your complimentary place, please call Claire Reid on 0141 302 7319 or email claire.reid@heraldandtimes.co.uk

Contextual targeting label: 
Environment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

212868