Hannover, Day 2: The neighbors are talking

Americans, whether we like to admit it or not, have learned quite a bit from our brethren across the pond.

The Europeans have given us the gift of grapes for wine and the delight of croissants for breakfast.  We have an appreciation for European artists that has transcended our borders and influenced our own cultural identity. Fútbol—the international kind, as opposed to the NFL—has caught on (albeit slowly) in the States, thanks in part to the Europeans who so passionately embrace the “beautiful game.”  We drive their cars and read their books.

Yet Americans remain somewhat suspicious of soccer. And to some, their films seem just too—well, foreign. Still, who could forget, if it wasn’t for their oppressive monarchies of yore and penchant for colonialism, we may not have learned the value of American democracy.

So this week at the giant industrial trade show that is Hannover Messe, it became blindingly obvious to me that Americans—specifically the U.S. Congress—are ripe for once again learning a few things from the Europeans about wind power. Because if they don’t, they’re missing out on a massive business opportunity. And that, frankly, is just un-American. 

Time and again, from booth to booth, from various types of component suppliers to developers, from German businessmen to a teacher in Cameroon, the first questions I was asked were “When is the USA going to get its renewable energy policies in place?  Is offshore wind ever going to happen in your country?  Is the American market for wind really still growing?”

They asked with hesitancy; it is simply confusing to them that such a global leader—political, financial, technological, you name it—has not jumped on this economic and environmental opportunity. They weren’t asking about the number of our projects or our investment dollars, but, rather, why the government still hasn’t caught on that renewable energy is a good product, an opportunity worthy of support.

Here in Europe, wind power has been thriving for decades. The Germans, and even the Messe itself, are literally surrounded by wind farms. And while Americans are no strangers to innovation, it is their collective mindset that might need a little adjustment.

From Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone to Charles Goodyear’s rubber, from the car radio to the iPad, Americans have invented, mechanized, and adapted to become a highly industrialized, highly developed modern society. A flip through the pages of our 2010 U.S. Wind Industry Annual Report, released yesterday in New York City, illustrates that American wind power is on the rise. It is undoubtedly a growing market with vast potential. Yet it seems that the rest of the world has taken notice that it is our politicians and policymakers’ way of thinking that is lagging, devoid of commitment, and cause for concern. That awareness should be equally concerning to us because the world wants to invest—capital, factories, and other resources—in America. But it awaits the right policy signal, just as companies here are.

And so, my colleague and I were commiserating (and eating German chocolate) over our frustration. We discussed how, although we are intimately familiar with the inability of the U.S. Congress to advance a national renewable energy policy (at the moment, it’s struggling to even keep the government open), we suddenly felt exposed,  discovering that the international community is equally aware. My colleague said to me, “It’s like when something is going on at home…It’s OK when the fight is kept within the walls of your own home, but it’s when the neighbors start to whisper that you can start to worry.”

The neighbors are talking.  There is no better time to get our house in order.

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