World looks to Colorado for new energy ideas |

World looks to Colorado for new energy ideas

Bruce Finley
The Denver Post
Denver, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado – Honduras President Manuel Zelaya and top ministers are the latest in a parade of foreign dignitaries flocking to Colorado for guidance on creating new energy.

Zelaya’s delegation will tour the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden on Monday to see research on solar panels, and then visit a plateau south of Boulder where scientists and commercial partners are developing bigger wind turbines.

Honduras “is trying to not depend on the oil sector, to find alternative ways,” Honduran embassy spokesman David Hernandez said.

This stream of visitors reflects Colorado’s emergence as a research center in what rapidly is becoming an international enterprise. The result: deepening collaboration across borders with potential to generate jobs.

– NREL scientists will conduct research in 30 countries this year, up from 10 in 2003, NREL spokesman George Douglas said. Formal projects range from a wind assessment in China to experiments in India aimed at producing biodiesel from jatropha nuts.

– Three foreign groups a week visit NREL, doubling last year’s rate. In 2003, NREL hosted about one foreign VIP group per month, Douglas said.

– Colorado-based researchers increasingly come from abroad. NREL’s growing staff of 1,300 includes engineers and scientists from 56 countries.

“We get a lot more than we give” from this globalization, said Ron Benioff, director of NREL’s international programs. “Accelerating our research. Tackling climate change and energy security. Securing growing global markets. The only way that can happen is through collaboration.”

Japan, Germany, France, Thailand, Korea, Sweden and Ireland recently sent delegations. Russian- and Arabic-speaking visitors are expected next month.

Entrepreneurs and researchers “are looking for opportunities to work with us,” Benioff said. “It’s very exciting to see that the world is waking up to the potential for energy and energy efficiency. . . . We need to be strategic in how we pursue the opportunities.”

Central America’s position between oceans offers ideal conditions to generate wind power. Costa Rica’s turbines are maxed out. In Honduras, new hydroelectric dams kindled interest in alternative energy, Hernandez said. Honduras offers abundant low-wage workers.

Today “we’re not talking about any jobs down there, any manufacturing plants,” said Paul Bergman, the top federal international trade official in Denver.

Instead the purpose is exploring options, perhaps highlighting the latest wind turbines made in Colorado at the Danish-owned Vestas blades factory, Bergman said. Federal officials increasingly promote Colorado and NREL abroad as “crown jewels of the U.S. government,” he said.

Because new energy technology often is sophisticated and transport costs are high, manufacturing may happen in Colorado, he said. “But you have around 250 countries you can sell your products to. It’s becoming more and more of a world economy.”

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