Government, Industry United on How to Grow Clean Tech
Long term and consistent public policy is the most important catalyst to growing the domestic clean tech industry, argued leaders of government and industry at the RETECH 2010 plenary sessions in Washington, D.C. today. Kicking off this theme was Under Secretary of Energy, Dr. Kristina Johnson, who’s leading the DOE’s research funding efforts to spur investment in solar, wind, biofuels, and other renewable technologies.
Unfortunately, U.S. policy on renewable energy has historically been inconsistent. Big investment promises turned out to be inadequately funded in subsequent years or administrations. The iconic example – President Carter putting solar panels on the roof of the White house in the late 70’s only to have President Reagan take them down several years later. Why? The American public’s commitment to cleaner energy is just as inconsistent. Sounds good on a poll, but higher electricity bills hit us where it hurts.
“Europeans want renewable energy and are willing to pay for it,” said Wolfgang Palz, chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy, during the industry panel session. That’s why there’s 100GW of wind energy produced in Europe as well as being home to the world’s largest solar markets. Many panelists were asked, “How can we as an industry do more to convince Americans that we finally need to make the move to significant renewable energy generation.”
Dr. Johnson encouraged participants to contact their legislators, let them know what the clean tech industry is doing in local communities, how many jobs can be created and communities transformed by a re-alignment of investment to clean tech.
Jobs are critically important. But equally so, observed panelists, is energy security. Europeans understand this concept well, particularly because they have fewer energy resources generally, leaving them particularly vulnerable to reliance on foreign production. Americans are just now beginning to understand that we must secure a domestic supply of energy production that frees us from troubling dependence on foreign oil.
Central to energy security is domestic manufacturing, suggested Applied Materials’ own Dr. Charles Gay, president of Applied Solar. An expert in the solar industry, Dr. Gay reminded the audience that domestic demand for solar can create an ecosystem of manufacturing. In 2004, when Japan consumed a quarter of the world’s supply of solar modules, it had a healthy panel manufacturing industry supplying 40% of the world’s panels. Four years later, Japan’s domestic demand shrank as did their manufacturing leadership, falling to 14% that same year while China made nearly half of the world’s solar panels.
Recognizing clean tech as the industry of this century, China is now making a significant investment in creating demand for solar panels. The Chinese are banking on this investment in the form of domestic policy creating demand to accelerate their leadership in clean tech.
But it’s not too late for the U.S. Focusing on policy that enables scale, domestic manufacturing and deployment of renewables can help us regain the lead. Specifically, Dr. Gay suggested that the U.S.:
• Enact a Renewable Energy Standard of 25% by 2025 and back it up with meaningful success milestones along the way;
• Address government’s enormous energy needs by deploying significant renewables on its own properties and land;
• Make the manufacturing tax credit permanent;
• Build a tax structure that enables the renewable industries to attract long term capital to make critical local investments in the grid and clean energy sources and usage; and,
• Establish a Green Bank to fund renewable project deployment.
These critical first steps can boot strap the U.S into the leadership role in clean technology. And the clock is ticking!