Environment & Science

Professor promotes exchange of 'green energy' ideas between California, Austria

Austria's countryside is filled with fields of wind turbines, which are more productive and more efficient than those near Palm Springs.
Austria's countryside is filled with fields of wind turbines, which are more productive and more efficient than those near Palm Springs.
Susan Valot/KPCC

Listen to story

Download this story 2.0MB

California is driving toward more green energy - and a professor in the Inland Empire is trying to speed up the trip. University of Redlands environmental studies professor Tim Krantz spent part of this summer doing that in Graz, Austria.

Graz is an energy activist's dream. Parts of the city are off limits to cars, with wide sidewalks that promote walking. Trams and buses crisscross the city. Just wait a few minutes – if that long – and hop on board.

A short walk from one of those tram stops, Krantz is in a classroom at the local technical university. The air conditioning is off and the windows are open as he talks with a class of about a dozen environmental professionals from around Europe about wind power in Southern California's San Gorgonio Pass.

This series of energy-related conversations is known as the Styrian Academy. Krantz is swapping renewable energy ideas with Austrians and other Europeans. He says the political climate for "green energy" changed when the Obama Administration came in.

"It’s like the floodgates were opened and suddenly, many European companies and Austrian companies, in particular, are very interested in working with American companies and partnerships to try to establish new pilot projects using these renewable energy technologies that, frankly, Austria and Germany and some other European countries have been doing for the past decade," said Krantz. "So they’ve got about a 10-year jump on us."

He helps California organizations and firms compare notes with established renewable energy companies in Europe.

Harald Krasser, who attended the Styrian Academy, works for one of those companies near Graz. He says there needs to be more international dialogue about "green energy."

"Everybody can learn from each other," Krasser says, "and I think especially for the political framework, people can learn from each others’ stories and each others’ cases and choose the best cases – what worked when it comes to policies concerning renewables."

Krantz points to the Austrian town of Güssing, about 60 miles east of Graz. A couple of decades ago, it was one of Austria’s least developed towns. But Krantz says Güssing decided to "go green" – becoming the first city in the European Union to free itself completely from fossil fuels when it comes to energy production. It now turns wood and woodchips into gas through new technology called "biomass gasification."

"All of the abundant cheap energy there has attracted new businesses," Krantz says. "So new solar technology companies, wood lamination companies have all sited in Güssing. What was a little village of 3,000 now has 1,000 new high-tech, well-paying jobs, all based on originally that cheap, inexpensive, locally-produced energy."

Krantz points out that Southern California could use that technology to turn trash into gas – and make money. But he says updating the green technology we already have is just as useful.

In October, Krantz plans to host Austrian wind producers. They’ll check out the wind farm near Palm Springs, which has some wind turbines that date back three decades.

"They're producing 2 to 3 million watts of energy per tower in the hills of east Austria. Where, if you go through the wind farm in Palm Springs, there are 3,200 wind turbines out there, but they’re all small producers," Krantz says. "We could replace 10 of those old with one of these and it would produce more energy with much less visual and environmental impact."

Krantz says as "green energy" becomes more common in California and the U.S., it will get cheaper to produce – and make more money for investors.

"This is the future. In the movie, 'The Graduate,' he advised, 'Plastics. Invest in plastics,'" Krantz says. "Now my advice would be, 'Renewables. Solid renewable energy.'"

Krantz says Austrian-born Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has helped move along "green energy" in California. He hopes the next governor will look to Europe and do the same.