You may recall that four years ago Obama trumpeted three pillars for his new administration: health care, education and energy. The administration dithered on developing a comprehensive energy policy, leaving it to Congress to bury any chance of moving forward because of partisan wrangling. Possibly Obama learned his lesson on energy and when it came time to advocate for health care reform was much bolder and showed more leadership. Unfortunately for those who wanted to see a comprehensive energy policy, the chance for an energy policy withered on the trees in the first Obama administration. Two years ago, there was a small window of opportunity to recast renewable energy in the cloak of a jobs initiative, but that effort did not get very far and most believe that there is little appetite to restart the debate—which made Obama’s speech all that more interesting when he laid out a forceful vision on addressing climate change. Climate change got top billing over foreign affairs and world peace. The Administration is going to have a lot on its plate over the next six months, the critical time to set the agenda and seal the Obama legacy. Will Obama take on Congress not only on immigration reform, gun control, maybe gay rights—and climate change? Many will argue that the train has already left the station on competitiveness in the renewable energy field and we have already lost the competitive edge. It is all that much harder to get the ketchup back into the bottle in a second term presidency. This is particularly true when you consider the there is no economic imperative to do so: read shale gas. Leading the transition to solar energy and other renewable just does not seem to be a high priority.
Posts Tagged ‘Solar Energy Industry’
The solar energy industry experience a lot of highs and lows during 2012. The biggest development has been the continued growth of solar energy in the United States. As recently reported, if you compare the third quarter of 2012 with the third quarter of 2011, you would see that there was a 44% growth in the amount of solar photovoltaics (PV) installed in the United States. By anyone’s measure that is a huge growth rate. In our first blog post on the solar energy year in review, we discussed the huge price reduction in solar panels, dwindling incentives, and the effect of competing energy sources particularly natural gas on the adoption of solar energy in the U.S. In this blog post, we can’t avoid talking about some of the troubling issues facing the solar energy industry. We will discuss the Department of Energy loan program and tariffs.
Last Thursday we woke up early and headed to the Canon House Office buildings to attend the 15th Annual Congressional Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Expo + Forum. The exposition brought together various members of the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries to debate US energy policy and present new products. Trade associations, policy analysts, businesses, government agencies and the general public attended the event for a unique networking and learning experience.
If you have relied on SolarTown’s Community Center for access to important information about the solar energy industry, then you will love the new look that we now have at our Solar Community. We have added to our section on solar videos. And as before, if you are looking for videos on one particular product category such as those videos on solar water heaters, then you can sort to find just the solar videos on solar water heaters. If you have videos that you would like to share with us, we’ll review them and post those that we think will be of some interest to the SolarTown community. And that is just the beginning of our grand tour of our new solar community.
Innovation is often seen as the way to the future for solar energy. Everybody sees the value of solar panels on rooftops or in fields, but they also see the huge price tag attached to solar energy. Prices have dropped substantially in the past couple of years, mainly because of the Chinese entry and domination of the solar panel industry (and some will say unfair dumping of cheap modules onto the U.S. market). But that still leaves the question of the extent to which innovation plays a role in the developing solar industry. The Wide Lens, a recent book by Dartmouth professor Ron Adner, should be required reading for the up and coming solar equipment manufacturers.
I know that you may have a heck of a time trying to give up with the jargon, and your Latin may be rusty since high school. One thing if for sure: the solar industry is hoping for a minor miracle that the cash grant program will be extended. The solar energy industry is still dependent on government incentives and the cash grant is the most effective of all of government support for the solar industry. The naysayers will roll their eyes: “Handouts are for losers,” they grumble. Tell that to every other energy industry that have received generous support over the years.
Is this any way to drive an industry? The answer is a resounding no. The US has virtually no federal renewable energy policy, and almost by accident has become a major solar market in the world despite itself. Many naysayers like to frame the argument in terms of subsidies and handouts, but virtually all forms of energy get some form of governmental support, which for those industries is called policy—somehow people call it subsidies when referring to support for the solar industry and other renewable energy. What makes the solar energy industry special is the extent to which it has had to depend on a patchwork of state and local incentive structures that are as fragile as the state and local budgets to which they are beholden. As local budgets tighten, the windows close leaving many homeowners out of luck and out of patience. Only those who have been able to maneuver their way to the front of the line get the reward. As states cut back on their budgets, solar support has become precarious. Underfunded and handled on a state-by-state basis, failed incentives are leaving homeowners who want to put solar panels on their homes out in the cold and the market unstable and unpredictable. There is a clear need for a stable, long-term federal incentive structure and Congress and the Administration should see that it is in the interest of the country to forge this policy sooner than later.
Today in Washington, DC, the U.S. House of Representatives hosted the 14th Annual Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency EXPO + Forum at the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill. The EXPO brought together nearly 60 unique businesses, trade associations, government agencies, and policy research analysts to speak on the potential the renewable energy industry and related energy efficient technologies. The expo showcased 57 exhibits, presentations by members of Congress, by Executive Branch officials, and by the exhibitors themselves. The Caucus Room was abuzz with activity as interested spectators and viewers walked amongst the various booths and displays. All forms of renewable energy were well represented at the convention, including biofuels, biomass, geothermal, water, wind, and good representation from the solar energy industry.
A business school professor gloomily forecast that the US will not have a comprehensive energy policy even in the next ten years. The President and CEO of the Siemens Corporation was less pessimistic, but still did not think it was possible to pass an energy policy at the national level until after the next presidential election. Business school professor predicted that eventually the US will follow the European Union and there is “no doubt that there will be a price on carbon.” He cited a study that there may have been a positive effect on GDP from the cap and trade policy in Europe. “China and India will shame the US into cap and trade.” With the global appetite for energy to burgeon over the coming years, a national policy on energy couldn’t come too soon.
For those who want to move more quickly with renewable energy and energy efficiency, the prospect of a nuclear energy disaster spells a clear path to a renewable energy clean solution. Solar farms and solar panels on homes are not going to spell disaster in the event of an earthquake in California. But the calculus for renewable energy just got a lot more complicated as the tradeoffs that Obama can offer have now significantly narrowed.