The United States' dependence on fossil fuels has been in the spotlight in the past few weeks due to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. President Obama has used the spill to highlight the administration's plans for alternative energy. In two recent speeches -- one at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University on Wednesday and another at the Solyndra photovoltaic panel factory on May 26, Obama explained the importance of supporting alternative energy in building a brighter future for America.
Obama discussed the political dangers of relying on fossil fuels. Since the United States consumes 20% of the world's oil, but only holds 2% of the world's reserves, it is importing millions of barrels of oil each month -- over 350,000,000 barrels in March 2010 alone. The President noted that this dependence on oil translates to a dependence on unstable oil-exporting countries -- and that because of this, as well as economic and environmental costs, we should begin to transition away from fossil fuels. Solar power and other renewable energy sources can help alleviate our dependence on fossil fuels.
With Deepwater Horizon continuing to hemorrhage thousands of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico each day, there is an excellent opportunity for Obama to push solar energy. The Washington Post quotes the Center for American Progress' Daniel J. Weiss: "The oil disaster adds new urgency and a new opportunity for connecting with the public."
Now may be the time when people will give renewable resources more consideration. Terrence Murray Serkadis writes, "[T]he only way to redeem this mess is to use it as an opportunity to create something good and enduring - or as Rahm Emmanuel has put it in the past,'You never want a serious crisis go to waste.'" So what is Obama doing to support solar power?
Obama's key strategy is investment. In his speech at Carnegie Mellon, Obama mentioned that the Recovery Act provided tax credits and loans to support 720,000 new jobs in the renewable energy industry. Speaking at Solyndra in California, he noted that the completed factory alone would create 1,000 new jobs, all made possible by a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. Loan guarantees are a promise from the government that a lender will be paid even if the borrower (in this case, Solyndra) isn't able to pay them back. The creation of these jobs in solar energy is an especially encouraging solution as the United States continues its recovery from the recession.
Although investment in solar power is always happy news, there are some criticisms of Obama's remarks. From Jamie Henn of It's Getting Hot In Here:
First, we need Obama to be giving this speech not just in sunny California but in stormy Washington D.C., where Senators and industry lobbyists are working 24/7 to water down any action on climate change. Second, we need President Obama to explain how he's going to improve the current energy and climate legislation drafted by Senator Kerry and, ahem, BP and other oil industry lobbyists. Third, we need some repetition. President Obama should be pushing hard right now, not just with a couple speeches, but through all the many communication channels available to the President.
Another question is about whether or not renewable energy is even relevant to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the first place. Shopfloor reports that although oil makes up 40% of energy inputs, energy only makes up less than 5% of oil outputs. In other words, even if all energy was solar, Deepwater still may have happened. However, the costs of fossil fuel-based electricity are still significant -- and if the Obama administration is able to use the disaster to encourage alternative energy, then we may yet find this cloud's silver lining.