Obama clean energy goal is good start: industry

COPENHAGEN/FRANKFURT Fri Jan 9, 2009 11:02am EST

President-elect Barack Obama makes a speech on the economy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, January 8, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young

President-elect Barack Obama makes a speech on the economy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, January 8, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

COPENHAGEN/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's goal to double production of renewable energy over three years was proof of commitment but could be more ambitious, industry players said on Friday.

Obama asked Congress on Thursday "to act without delay" to pass legislation that included doubling alternative energy production in the next three years and building a new electricity "smart grid."

The speech indicated that the next U.S. administration would craft legislation in the short term to drive investment in renewable energy, said Peter C. Brun, head of government relations at Denmark's Vestas, the world's biggest maker of wind turbines.

"I believe this is the signal that markets will read," he said.

Wind power is growing rapidly worldwide, and U.S. capacity has more than doubled in the past three years, the Global Wind Energy Council said on Friday.

Doubling U.S. wind energy capacity over the next three years would imply no change in annual growth, Steve Sawyer, GWEC secretary general, said.

"I don't think anyone thinks that is going to happen," Sawyer said, anticipating faster expansion.

U.S. wind power capacity reached about 24 gigawatts at the end of 2008 compared with 9.1 GW capacity in 2005, he said.

Meanwhile, global wind power capacity has doubled in the past three years, to 120 GW at the end of 2008, the Berlin-based research organization Energy Watch Group said on Friday.

"(It) might be right these targets are not very ambitious but it's much more ambitious than under the (President George W.) Bush administration," said Hans-Josef Fell, founder of the research group, referring to Obama's goal.

"I believe his targets will be very easily over-fulfilled," the German Member of Parliament for the Green Party added.

At present the United States has no federal targets for renewable energy production.

"What's significant is the United States is expressing a near-term target," Michael Liebreich, head of London-based researchers New Energy Finance, said.

"The big issue going into 2009 is the availability of investment," he added, referring to a tail-off in tax credit partly as a result of falling profitability of arranging banks.

Another rapidly growing renewable electricity source is solar, although from a much smaller base than wind.

"It is a very good sign for how seriously Barack Obama takes the issue of renewable energies," said a spokesman for Germany's Q-Cells SE, the world's biggest maker of solar cells, the component of solar panels.

"Of course more could be done, but the main point is that renewable energy is now really taking off in the U.S."

Vestas shares rose 1.4 percent and Q-Cells fell 4.8 percent on Friday.

(Reporting by Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Karin Jensen in Copenhagen; writing by Gerard Wynn, Editing by Sue Thomas)

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