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Solar News

Clean Energy Jobs Drifting Overseas

08-04-2010

Watching the US clean energy sector struggle to keep up with increasingly bigger competitors is like watching a fighter in the ring without gloves. We've got the heart: We were once a heavyweight contender at the turn of the millennium, manufacturing half of the world's supply of solar cells. We were even the first country to create the modern windmill. But these days, we seem to lack the punch: our right and left swingers labeled "price" and policy" have been picked up by foreign contenders and have brought the US clean energy sector down for the count.

Clean energy manufacturing is being shipped overseas where solar, wind, and advanced battery technologies can be made cheaply, and where they are supported by government policy and incentives that stimulate the market. Even research and innovation activities, which used to give the US its edge in the industry, are being leapfrogged by strides made in foreign countries.

With recent news that "semi-conductor giant, Applied Materials, is setting up in Xiam," according to The Epoch Times, China is the most notable of these countries. It quickly surpassed the west as the world's largest manufacturer of solar panels and wind turbines, and "is pushing equally hard to build nuclear reactors and the most efficient types of coal power plants" says the New York Times.

Though some are calling foul play, as The Epoch Times wrote that the China will unfairly "dump under-priced, subsidized products into the market," venture capitalists are still responding, putting their money down on the larger, seemingly more secure China. Data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance stated that "In the second quarter...China attracted more clean-tech asset financing than Europe and the U.S. combined."

According to Phoenix Green Business Examiner, China is simply doing what the rest of the world should, by "recognizing the benefits of renewable energy and the subsequent decreased demand for foreign oil" and taking advantage. It's less that China is being a bully, and more that we need to adjust our policy in order to catch up.

Considering that today, the US only contributes about 5% of the world's clean energy market according to The Epoch Times, we have some catching up to do. In just five years between 2003 and 2008, our US clean energy deficit increased by a whopping 1400%, resting now at over $6 billion. Now only 4 out of the top 30 global clean energy companies are American, according to Bloomberg.

An article in the New York Times reported President Obama's sentiment to keep production of clean energy close to home. He told Congress during his State of the Union speech that "I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders - and I know you don't either." Yet, China has surpassed the United States and others in providing jobs and products in the clean energy industry, and the policy of the people's government may fall to blame.

As it stands, the federal climate change bill is dead. On July 27, the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act did not include a cap on carbon emissions from the electric power sector. The absence of a cap, giving coal plants freedom to emit as much carbon into the atmosphere as they need, came as no surprise; what was shocking was the absence of a national Renewable Electricity Standard which would "require utilities to generate at least 15% of their electricity from renewable resources" according to Bloomberg. This means that there is less pressure put on power companies here in the United States to turn toward renewable energy, thus there is less emphasis on the need to manufacture alternative energy within our borders.

Though price continues to be a major factor in China's upper hand, people seem to be looking for that political catalyst. Bloomberg warns that "if America failed to pass a comprehensive climate-and-energy bill, the country risked losing the clean energy race to China -- sacrificing the jobs of the future in a timid, ill-fated effort to preserve the jobs of the past."

And let us not forget that this is a race-one in which time may not be on our side. "With elections looming, this may be the last chance for years to set the rules of the road for energy investment."


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