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US Solar Industry

Public Policy

Project: US Solar Industry
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The US’s Vanguard I space satellite uses a small solar array, generating less than one watt, to power its radios. Later that same year, the Explorer III, Vanguard II, and Sputnik-3 satellites all use PV-powered systems (see 1956-1958) to power its systems. While commercial uses for solar energy in the United States (see 1955) is less than successful during this period, silicon solar cells become a mainstay of satellites and subsequent space exploration vehicles. In 1962, Bell Telephone Laboratories launches the first telecommunications satellite, Telstar. This satellite generates 14 watts of electricity via its PV cells. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, 2013]

Entity Tags: Bell Laboratories

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies, Silicon Technology, US Policies

1963: Japan Installs Huge PV Array on Lighthouse

Japan installs a 242-watt, photovoltaic array on a lighthouse. It is at the time the world’s largest array. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies

August 28, 1964: Nimbus Satellites Use PV Array

NASA begins the Nimbus satellite program by launching the first Nimbus satellite, powered by a 470-watt PV array. The Nimbus satellites are primarily for research into more complex satellite systems, and for collecting atmospheric data. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; National Space Science Data Center, 12/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Nimbus Program

Category Tags: Silicon Technology, US Policies

Dr. Peter Glaser invents and patents the first design of a satellite solar power station (SPS). Microwave power transmission pioneer William C. Brown begins working with Glaser. The SPS launches an entirely new aspect of the solar industry. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; Space Solar Power Institute, 2013; Solar Power World, 5/2013]

Entity Tags: William C. Brown, Peter Glaser

Category Tags: US Policies

NASA launches its Orbiting Astronomical Observatory (OAO), powered by a 1-kilowatt PV array. The satellite platform provides astronomical data in the ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths that is normally filtered out by Earth’s atmosphere. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Orbiting Astronomical Observatory

Category Tags: US Policies

1969: France Builds Odeilo Solar Furnace

Odeilo Solar Furnace.Odeilo Solar Furnace. [Source: Gizmodo]France builds the Odeilo Solar Furnace, located in the Pyrenees Mountains. It has an eight-story stack of some 10,000 mirrors that reflect sunlight into a large concave hemisphere to focus the energy—so-called “lensing technology.” Temperatures in the hemisphere can reach up to 6,300°F. The energy generates electricity via a steam turbine, and is later used for making hydrogen fuel, testing reentry materials for space vehicles, and performing high-temperature metallurgic experiments. Its extraordinary heat generation allows for the production of carbon nanotubes and zinc nanoparticles via solar induced sublimation. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; Gizmodo, 7/26/2011]

Entity Tags: Odeilo Solar Furnace

Category Tags: Solar Industry, Other Nations' Policies

France installs a cadmium sulfide (CdS) photovoltaic system to operate an educational television station at a village school in Niger. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies

NASA’s Lewis Research Center begins installing 83 PV power systems in buildings on every continent except Australia. The systems power, among other things, vaccine refrigeration utilities, room lighting, medical clinic lighting, telecommunications, water pumping, grain milling, and classroom television. The project is completed in 1995, the delay being caused by a hiatus between 1985 and 1992. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Lewis Research Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Category Tags: US Policies

The US Department of Energy launches the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI)‘s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a facility dedicated to harnessing power from the sun. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, US Department of Energy, Solar Energy Research Institute

Category Tags: US Policies

A 3.5 kilowatt PV system installed on Arizona’s Papago Indian Reservation is launched by NASA’s Lewis Research Center. The system provides water pumping and residential electricity in 15 homes. In 1983, the system will be revamped after the community received grid-powered electricity. It will then be revamped to pump water from a community well. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Lewis Research Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Category Tags: US Policies

The US Department of Energy (DOE), working with an industry consortium, puts into operation “Solar One,” a ten-megawatt central-receiver demonstration project in California. The project proves the feasibility of power-tower systems, a solar-thermal power generating system. The system runs until 1988, dispatching electricity 96 percent of the time. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy

Category Tags: US Policies, Solar Industry

The German auto manufacturer Volkswagen begins testing solar-power arrays mounted on the roof of its Dasher station wagons. The system powers the car’s ignition system. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Volkswagen

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies, Commercial Involvement

Australian Hans Tholstrup drives the world’s first solar-powered car, named the “Quiet Achiever,” along the 2,800 mile stretch between Sydney and Perth in 20 days, ten days faster than the first gasoline-powered car to make the same run. Tholstrup later founds the “World Solar Challenge” in Australia, considered the world championship of solar car racing. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Hans Tholstrup

Category Tags: Silicon Technology, Other Nations' Policies

Astronauts begin installing solar panels on the International Space Station, to form what will be the largest solar power array deployed in space. Each “wing” of the array consists of 32,800 solar cells. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: International Space Station

Category Tags: US Policies

A Morrison, Colorado family installs a 12-kilowatt solar electrical system for its home, the largest residential installation in the US to be registered with the Department of Energy’s “Million Solar Roofs” program. The system provides most of the electricity for the 6,000-square foot home. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy

Category Tags: US Policies, Private Finance

Patrick Mazza, the research director for advocacy and research organization Climate Solutions, writes a guest column for the online environmental magazine Grist. Mazza says that the US needs to launch a huge, systematic push for clean energy in order to mitigate the effects of global warming. The clean energy industry, he writes, is at “the takeoff point,” with wind and solar the world’s fastest-growing energy sources, and clean energy costs “rapidly curving down toward competitiveness with fossil fuels.” Fuel cells that provide clean energy for buildings and new-generation electric and hybrid vehicles are ready to appear on the market. Shell Oil planners have predicted that renewable energy sources will be cost-competitive with fossil fuels by 2020, and will produce half the world’s energy by 2050, if public and private initiatives make this happen. President Clinton recently told an audience: “I believe there will be a complete revolution in energy technology, which will enable us to turn around global warming. I just hope it happens in time to avoid melting the polar ice cap, or some other disastrous thing.” As global temperatures continue to spike, time, Mazza writes, “is of the essence.” Clinton’s science adviser John Holdren says, “We are running out of time for a smooth transition to a sustainable energy future.” Global warming and the subsequent climate change are established scientific facts, Mazza writes, with the potential for catastrophic effects on the planet and on human civilization. Using renewable, clean energy sources can mitigate the impending catastrophe by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide trapped in the atmosphere. “Though the task is imposing, the clean energy revolution is coming along just in time, promising genuine climate solutions as well as phenomenal economic opportunities,” Mazza concludes. “Energy generated with clean sources such as sun, wind, and hydrogen at millions of points, all linked by information technology that manages both power production and consumption for peak efficiency—this is the picture of an emerging energy web that will parallel the Internet and in many ways be tied to it. It represents the most significant energy transformation since Edison set up the first power plant over a century ago. We are at the portal of the clean energy revolution. Whether it takes off fast enough to re-stabilize the climate is an issue of global urgency, with long-term, irreversible implications. Required are gutsy entrepreneurs, visionary business leaders, and public leadership, not only at the federal level, but also from enlightened states and cities moving to protect the planet and seize a significant economic opportunity at the same time.” [Grist Magazine, 3/23/2000]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Patrick Mazza

Category Tags: Public Finance, US Policies

Denis Hayes, the chairman of the Earth Day Network and the head of the Bullitt Foundation, writes of how the US government could encourage the expansion of solar power as a means to combat global warming. The federal government could sink significant funds into buying “wind turbines, biofuels, fuel cells, hydrogen, hypercars, and other elements of a solar future,” he writes. Doing so “will accelerate the speed at which such products become affordable for the rest of us. We typically think in terms of federal procurement, but state and local governments can play an important role too.” The most obvious candidate for federal purchasing is solar cells, Hayes writes. “Lowering the cost of solar cells would provide extraordinary public benefits. Solar cells make electricity, but they consume no fuel, produce no pollution, generate no radioactive waste, have long lifetimes, contain no moving parts, and require little maintenance. They can be fashioned mostly from silicon, which is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. Solar cells produce zero carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas. Unfortunately, solar cells are not yet cheap enough to compete with heavily subsidized fossil fuels. Although the price of solar cells already has fallen about 40-fold, this technology remains roughly three times too expensive to achieve skyrocketing growth as a power source in the United States. For a quarter-century, affordable solar cells have been the environmental brass ring, lying just outside the grasp of those who favor green power. Governmental procurement could lower their price to the point where they will take off on their own in the private sector. A comparison of the experiences of computer chips and solar cells vividly illustrates the value of government procurement in bringing new products to market.” If the government were to invest in the production of solar cells, their production price would drop precipitously as mass-production procedures would be instituted. Hayes gives the example of the integrated circuit, which was viewed as an expensive oddity until the Defense Department began buying it in bulk. The price of the circuits dropped dramatically, and private market opportunities began presenting themselves. Hayes notes, “In just six years, the price of integrated circuits plummeted 95 percent and an enormous commercial market developed.” A similar cost-production curve was followed by CPUs, which at first were too expensive to use, but when Intel and other firms achieved the ability to make them in bulk, their price dropped. As a result, integrated circuits and CPUs drove the information revolution. The same could happen with solar cells, Hayes argues. Hayes concludes that if the government sinks a significant amount of money into buying solar cells—he suggests $5 billion over the next four years—“the impact on the world will be revolutionary.” [Grist Magazine, 5/8/2000]

Entity Tags: Denis Hayes

Category Tags: Public Finance, Other Nations' Policies

The Helios, NASA’s solar-powered aircraft, sets an altitude record for non-rocket powered aircraft at almost 97,000 feet, or 18 miles in the air. The Helios flies mostly in Hawaii. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Category Tags: US Policies

Japan’s National Space Development Agency (NASDA) announces plans to develop a satellite-based solar power system that will beam energy back to Earth via a laser. The laser will “feed” the collected energy to an airship cruising 12 miles above the ground, which would then transmit the energy to a ground-based station. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Space Development Agency (Japan)

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies

North Carolina implements a new program, “NC Greenpower,” that for the first time allows state residents to buy their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and biomass. Customers would pay between 2.5 cents and 4 cents per kilowatt-hour extra for the so-called “green” power. [Grist Magazine, 1/29/2003]

Entity Tags: NC Greenpower

Category Tags: Solar Industry, US Policies

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) invests $90 billion in clean energy projects for the next 10 years via loan guarantees, tax incentives, and grants. $38 billion of this is government spending and $20 billion is tax incentives. Symbolically, President Obama signs the bill into law at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where he takes a tour of the museum’s solar panel installation. He says he hopes the bill will inspire Americans to get involved in “green” energy the same way that President Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon inspired Americans in the 1960s. “I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more in science, medicine, energy and make our economy stronger, our nation more secure, and our planet safer for our children,” Obama says before signing the bill. The bill includes:
bullet A three-year extension to the tax credit for wind, which would have expired at the end of this year, and an extension until the end of 2013 for geothermal and biomass renewable-energy projects. The credit has been increased to 30 percent of the investment.
bullet $4.5 billion in direct spending to modernize the electricity grid with smart-grid technologies.
bullet $6.3 billion in state energy-efficient and clean-energy grants, and $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient.
bullet $6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy systems, biofuel projects, and electric-power transmission facilities.
bullet $2 billion in loans to manufacture advanced batteries and components for applications such as plug-in electric cars.
bullet $5 billion to weatherize homes of up to 1 million low-income people.
bullet $3.4 billion appropriated to the Department of Energy for fossil energy research and development, such as storing carbon dioxide underground at coal power plants.
bullet A tax credit of between $2,500 and $5,000 for purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, available for the first 200,000 placed into service.
Most companies in the green-tech field hail the new focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy in the bill, contrasting it with the Bush administration’s support for fossil fuel energy production and its disdain for clean energy programs. Investors and analysts say the new law is a step towards a comprehensive energy policy based on sustained commitment to renewable energy and efficiency. Michael Liebriech of New Energy Finance says: “For years, US policymakers’ support for clean energy has been uneven. No longer… the US will have a great chance to be the growth engine for our industry over the next several years.” The spending should have an almost-immediate impact, especially in areas such as smart grid technology and energy efficiency, says venture capitalist Dennis Costello. However, even this influx of government funding does not solve all the financial problems facing energy technology firms. The recession continues to grip the economy, he notes, damping demand and making financing of new projects difficult. “It’s kind of refreshing to see at least beginnings of a real energy policy, some sort of unified approach to our energy problems,” he says. “But it isn’t going to solve our energy problems. There are a lot of countervailing factors to give pause to being over-exuberant on the future of energy sector and clean tech.” [CNET News, 2/17/2009; Adam Johnston, 7/2013]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Michael Liebriech, Dennis Costello, Obama administration, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Category Tags: Public Finance, US Policies

An opinion column posted in Yale Environment 360, a publication by Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, calls for the US to “dramatically accelerate the development of clean energy technology.” Authors Mark Muro, a fellow of the Brookings Institution, and Teryn Norris, a project director at the Breakthrough Institute, echo the words of Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, who has called for “Nobel-level” breakthroughs and a “second industrial revolution” in clean energy technology to overcome what they term “the world’s interlinked energy and climate challenges.” Muro and Norris write: “To renew the US economy, respond to global climate change, foster the nation’s energy security, and help provide the energy necessary to sustainably power global development, America must transform its outdated energy policy. Innovation and its commercialization must move to the center of energy system reform. The nation must move urgently to develop and harness a portfolio of clean energy sources that are affordable enough to deploy on a mass scale throughout the US and the world. In short, we must make clean energy cheap.” Muro and Norris propose the creation of a series of “renewable energy research hubs,” also called “energy discovery-innovation institutes,” or e-DIIs, funded with a combination of federal, state, university, and private funds. These e-DIIs would, they write, “take the lead in accelerating the development of reasonably priced alternative energy technologies and bringing them to the marketplace.” E-DIIs in different regions would focus on different technologies, they write. Institutes in the Southwest might focus on solar technologies, while institutes in the Great Lakes might focus on advanced battery technologies or hydrogen fuel cells, and institutes in the Great Plains might work on developing sustainable sources of biofuels. Muro and Norris envision successful institutes garnering as much as $6 billion a year in funding, while producing breakthroughs in a variety of renewable energy technologies. By the 2040s, global energy demands are expected to triple from current energy needs, while global greenhouse gases must be reduced by up to 85 percent to avert what the authors call “disruptive climate change.” Nations emerging into the community of developed nations, such as China, India, and Brazil, will lead the demand for additional energy, and will turn to increased use of fossil fuels if cheap and viable renewable energy platforms are not readily available to them. Muro and Norris write: “[I]n the absence of similarly affordable and large-scale clean energy sources, the nations of the developing world will turn to coal and other fossil fuels to power their development, just as we in the United States have done. And that would virtually assure massive climatic destabilization, regardless of what occurs in the developed nations of the world.” Market-based solutions such as carbon taxes and cap-and-tax policies do not do enough to spur renewable energy development, the authors contend. They conclude: “In important ways, the energy innovation institute concept represents a contemporary adaptation of the research paradigm created through the land-grant acts passed by Congress in the 19th century. Then, federal investments established a network of university-based agricultural and engineering experiment stations, augmented by extension services capable of interacting directly with the marketplace. That program was instrumental in developing and deploying the technologies necessary to build a modern industrial nation for the 20th century, while stimulating local economic growth. Today, the US needs a similarly bold campaign to enlist America’s universities, laboratories, and companies in solving one of the most complex and important problems—the transition to a clean-energy economy—that the nation has ever faced.” [Yale Environment 360, 4/30/2009; Breakthrough Institute, 4/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Muro, Breakthrough Institute, Stephen Chu, Brookings Institution, Teryn Norris

Category Tags: Academic Media, US Policies

The Australian government announces it will invest $4.5 billion ($3.4 billion in US dollars) in developing the infrastructure necessary to generate energy from solar and wind power, and to reduce carbon emissions. It will also invest in low-emission coal technologies and in large-scale solar electricity generation projects. $465 million goes to a new governmental organization, “Renewables Australia,” intended to lead development in renewable energy research, development, and deployment. The investment plans go against years of Australian governmental policy that forbid spending funds on building clean energy infrastructure. [Breakthrough Institute, 5/18/2009]

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies

The federal government sets a fuel efficiency standard of 35 miles per gallon or more for all cars and trucks sold in the US by 2016. The rationale is that raising the fuel efficiency standards will increase fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas pollution. The measure is projected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil between 2012 and 2016, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 900 million metric tons. The measure goes into effect in 2012. President Obama says: “In the past, an agreement such as this would have been considered impossible. That is why this announcement is so important, for it represents not only a change in policy in Washington, but the harbinger of a change in the way business is done in Washington. As a result of this agreement, we will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years. And at a time of historic crisis in our auto industry, this rule provides the clear certainty that will allow these companies to plan for a future in which they are building the cars of the 21st century.” The policy was developed in a collaboration between the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the nation’s major auto manufacturers, the United Auto Workers, environmental organizations, the State of California, and other state governments. EPA head Lisa P. Jackson says: “The president brought all stakeholders to the table and came up with a plan to help the auto industry, safeguard consumers, and protect human health and the environment for all Americans. A supposedly ‘unsolvable’ problem was solved by unprecedented partnerships. As a result, we will keep Americans healthier, cut tons of pollution from the air we breathe, and make a lasting down payment on cutting our greenhouse gas emissions.” Carol Browner, Obama’s assistant for energy and climate change, says: “A clear and uniform national policy is not only good news for consumers who will save money at the pump, but this policy is also good news for the auto industry which will no longer be subject to a costly patchwork of differing rules and regulations. This an incredible step forward for our country and another way for Americans to become more energy independent and reduce air pollution.” Daniel Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign, an organization which for two decades has advocated tougher mileage and emissions standards, says: “This is a very big deal. This is the single biggest step the American government has ever taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions.” The measure is based in part on a 2007 application by California to put its emissions standards in effect, an application rejected by the Bush administration. The measure complements fuel efficiency guidelines set by the Department of Energy in January 2009. [White House, 5/19/2009; New York Times, 5/19/2009; Adam Johnston, 7/2013]

Entity Tags: Lisa P. Jackson, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Carol Browner, Environmental Protection Agency, US Department of Transportation, Daniel Becker, Obama administration, United Auto Workers

Category Tags: US Policies

China is among the nations spending the most on clean and renewable energy technologies, according to investment figures released by the advisory company Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Overall, the world’s nations invested $243 billion in clean energy in 2010, up from $185.5 billion in 2009 and double the amount of money invested in 2006. Bloomberg CEO Michael Liebriech says: “This is a spectacular result, beating previous record investment levels by a clear margin of more than $50 billion. It flies in the face of skepticism about the clean energy sector among public market investors.” Small-scale distributed generation projects such as rooftop solar arrays saw the biggest increase, with Germany investing the most and nations like the Czech Republic, Italy, and the US following behind. China invested more than any other nation in clean energy, spending over $51 billion. Nations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa still spend the most, collectively, on clean energy technology, but the nations of Asia and Oceania have surpassed American spending and are closing the gap on the regional leaders. Public market investment rose in 2010 after recession-driven lows in 2008 and 2009. [RenewableEnergyWorld, 1/11/2011]

Entity Tags: Michael Liebriech

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies

The US has slipped to third place in clean energy investment in 2010, despite the federal government’s push to promote investment in clean energy and reduced pollution (see February 2009). China (see January 11, 2011) and Germany are both outspending the US in clean energy investment, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Phyllis Cuttino, the director of Pew’s Clean Energy Program, says, “The United States’s position as a leading destination for clean energy investment is declining because its policy framework is weak and uncertain.” As competitors adopt renewable energy standards and incentives for renewable energy investment, the US could fall even further behind, Cuttino warns. The US spent $34 billion last year on clean energy, while China invested $54.4 billion and Germany $41.2 billion. [USA Today, 3/29/2011]

Entity Tags: Phyllis Cuttino

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies, US Policies

The US Defense Department increased its spending on clean and renewable energy sources by 300 percent, from $400 million to $1.2 billion, between 2006 and 2009, according to a Pew Research report. By 2010, the Defense Department had spent upwards of $10 billion on clean energy. CleanTechnica reports that the “investments are helping spur development and deployment of clean energy technologies in three key areas: vehicle efficiency, advanced biofuels, and the installation of renewable energy systems at military bases.” Phyllis Cuttino, head of the Pew Clean Energy Program, says: “As one of the largest energy consumers in the world, the Department of Defense has the ability to help shape America’s energy future. DoD’s efforts to harness clean energy will save lives, save money, and enhance the nation’s energy and economic future. Their work is also helping to spur the growth of the clean energy economy.” Fuel shipments make up 80 percent of all supply convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those convoys are premium targets for insurgents. Deploying clean energy alternatives will reduce the number of convoys needed to be dispatched, and as a result will save lives and improve the security of American military operations. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus says: “For the Department of the Navy to meet the challenges we face in the 21st century, we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil and find ways to use energy more efficiently. We must ensure that we remain the most formidable expeditionary force in the world, even in these challenging economic times. We can do that in part by changing the way we use, acquire, and produce energy. Before the end of the decade, our programs to develop and use alternative sources of energy, on shore and at sea, will pay for themselves. We will save the department money, but more importantly, these energy initiatives will make us better war fighters and will saves lives.” [CleanTechnica, 9/23/2011]

Entity Tags: CleanTechnica, Ray Mabus, US Department of Defense, Phyllis Cuttino

Category Tags: US Policies

President Obama speaks on the topic of clean energy in front of the Copper Mountain Solar Project in Boulder City, Nevada, in March 2012.President Obama speaks on the topic of clean energy in front of the Copper Mountain Solar Project in Boulder City, Nevada, in March 2012. [Source: CleanTechnica (.org)]An analysis by Reuters claims that the $90 billion investment made by the federal government to generate jobs in the field of clean energy (see February 2009) has not produced as many jobs as initially touted. In March 2012, President Obama spoke in front of the Copper Mountain Solar Project in Boulder City, Nevada, which uses 1 million solar panels to power 17,000 homes. The facility only employs 10 people. The green initiative has put people to work retrofitting over a million homes to lower heating and cooling costs, and energy generation from solar and wind sources has nearly doubled since 2008. But some say the program has not created enough jobs. Critics say the program was expected to lower the unemployment rate, currently hovering above 8 percent, and say it has not done so. Supporters say the administration promised too much in the short term and fear a backlash that might undermine support for clean-energy policies across the board. Clean energy specialist Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution says, “All of this stuff is extraordinarily worthy for driving long-term economic transformation but extremely inappropriate to sell as a short-term job program.” Janet Bluman, head of the Foundation for an Independent Tomorrow, says, “From my perspective it makes more sense for us to arm our clients with the basic skills, rather than saying, ‘By golly, you will do something in the green economy or you won’t work.’” Bluman claims that her organization, which trains people for jobs in the Las Vegas area, has seen positions in trucking and accounting go unfilled because training money had been earmarked for green efforts. The federal program earmarked some $500 million for job training, and has employed some 20,000 people, far short of its stated goal. Republicans say the clean-energy program is merely a way for the Obama administration to give money to Obama’s friends (see October 15, 2012). GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has claimed, “[Obama] handed out tens of billions of dollars to green energy companies, including his friends and campaign contributors at companies like Solyndra that are now bankrupt.” Romney and other Republicans have not advanced proof of their allegations. Supporters say that in the long term, clean energy will “create a bounty of stable, middle-class jobs and fill the gap left by manufacturing work that has moved overseas,” as Reuters reports. White House officials say that there is more to the clean energy program than creating jobs. “We have a record of success that has created tens of thousands of jobs and is ensuring that America is not ceding these industries to countries like China,” White House spokesman Clark Stevens says. “Thanks to the investments we’ve made, these industries will continue to grow, along with the jobs they create.” Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), an opponent of the program, says: “The green jobs-training program just didn’t work. It was a poor investment of tax dollars.” Darren Devine of the College of Southern Nevada says: “Will it add a significant number of jobs, enough to make a real dent in our unemployment? No, I don’t see that happening.” What it will do is help the country reduce its energy consumption, lower the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere, and help create jobs in the clean-energy and other fields, such as health care, education, and technology. [Reuters, 4/13/2012]

Entity Tags: Janet Bluman, Barack Obama, Charles Grassley, Darren Devine, Obama administration, Copper Mountain Solar Project, Reuters, Willard Mitt Romney, Mark Muro

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Category Tags: US Policies

In an editorial claiming that the Obama administration is engaged in giving preferential land-use permits to solar energy producers over fossil fuel corporations, the Wall Street Journal claims, “The dirty secret of solar and wind power is that they are extremely land intensive, especially compared to coal mining, oil and gas drilling, or building a nuclear power plant.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/13/2012] In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.… Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development.” The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” [National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1/2003 pdf file; US Energy Information Administration, 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife, 1/14/2013 pdf file; Media Matters, 1/24/2013]

Entity Tags: Wall Street Journal, Obama administration, US Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration

Category Tags: Environmental Impact, Popular Media, US Policies

Analyses by the New York Times and FactCheck.org show that presidential candidate Mitt Romney made some fundamental misstatements when he criticized the Obama administration’s green energy program (see February 2009). During the October 3 presidential debate, Romney claimed Obama had given $90 billion of federal money to clean energy programs, saying at one point: “Now, I like green energy as well, but that’s about 50 years’ worth of what oil and gas receives. Ninety billion—that—that would have—that would have hired two million teachers.” The Times reports that while the $90 billion is an accurate number drawn from the 2009 economic stimulus package, not all of it was spent on green energy, and much of the money that was spent on green energy programs was authorized during the Bush administration. Of the $90 billion authorized by the Obama administration, $29 billion went to energy efficiency programs; much of that was spent on retrofitting homes and apartments of low-income households to be more energy efficient and lower their energy costs. $18 billion was spent on fast, energy-efficient trains and $21 billion was spent on wind farms, solar panels, and other renewable energy. Much of these expenditures was matched by private investments. Romney claimed, “I think about half of them, of the ones have been invested in, they’ve gone out of business,” and cited the example of Solyndra, a maker of solar equipment that went bankrupt, costing the government some $528 million. The Times notes that Solyndra began receiving money during the Bush administration, and that the government has been able to recover some of its funds from other firms that went bankrupt. The Times writes, “The defaults were far less than Congress had allocated to cover losses, and far, far less than half of the ventures, although some others may yet fail.” FactCheck, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, goes further, noting, “In summary, Romney said a lot about the $90 billion in stimulus spending on clean energy—and very little of it was accurate.” FactCheck accuses Romney of making “numerous bogus claims” about the $90 billion energy funding. Only six percent of the firms loaned money by the government for clean energy technology have gone bankrupt, it notes, not “about half,” as Romney claimed. Romney also wrongly stated that the entire $90 billion was spent on “solar and wind” projects; in reality, less than a third was spent on those programs. His claim that the $90 billion was equivalent to “about 50 years’ worth of what oil and gas receives” in tax breaks was doubly wrong; by his own figures, it would have been 32 years’ worth, but real data shows it is closer to about 10 years’ worth of oil and gas subsidies. The claim that Obama could “have hired two million teachers” was wrong, since much of that $90 billion was in the form of loans, and, FactCheck notes, “the government can’t hire teachers with loans.” Even data provided by the Romney campaign to back up its claims disproves Romney’s assertions. [New York Times, 10/4/2012; FactCheck (.org), 10/4/2012]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Obama administration, FactCheck (.org), Willard Mitt Romney, Solyndra Corporation

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections

Category Tags: Popular Media, US Policies

The federal government sets an ambitious number of goals for cleaner energy production and reduced pollution in the nation. Power plants will have stricter emission standards; the approval for the Keystone XL oil transportation system will be re-evaluated; new clean energy investments on federally owned land will be considered; and state and international leaders will be brought into discussions about meeting challenges caused by climate change and global warming. Some of the goals include:
bullet a 30 percent increase in federal funding for clean energy projects, including advanced biofuels, by 2014;
bullet doubling wind and solar power generation by 2020;
bullet six million homes to be powered by solar energy by 2020;
bullet three gigawatts of solar and renewable energy to be generated on military bases by 2025. [Adam Johnston, 7/2013]

Entity Tags: Obama administration

Category Tags: US Policies

On Fox News’s morning show Fox and Friends, “expert” commentator Shibani Joshi of Fox Business tells viewers that the reason Germany has had so much success with its solar power industry is that it gets a great deal more sunlight than America does. In reality, Germany gets comparatively little sunlight, comparative to Alaska, the US state that gets the least amount of annual direct solar energy. Neither Joshi nor any of the hosts on the show mention Germany’s long governmental support of solar energy development and its backing of green technology research and development. Host Gretchen Carlson and her fellow hosts deride the Obama administration’s “failed” solar subsidies, with Carlson saying: “The United States simply hasn’t figured out how to do solar cheaply and effectively. You look at the country of Germany, it’s working out great for them.” The future of America’s solar industry, Carlson asserts, “is dim.” She then asks Joshi: “What was Germany doing correct? Are they just a smaller country, and that made it more feasible?” Joshi replies: “They’re a smaller country and they’ve got lots of sun. Right? They’ve got a lot more sun than we do.… The problem is it’s a cloudy day and it’s raining, you’re not gonna have it.” A few American states like California get a relatively plentiful amount of sunshine, Joshi says, and experience some success with generating energy from sunlight, “but here on the East Coast, it’s just not going to work.” Slate reporter Will Oremus will later write: “Gosh, why hasn’t anyone thought of that before? Wouldn’t you think that some scientist, somewhere, would have noticed that the East Coast is far less sunny than Central Europe and therefore incapable of producing solar power on the same scale? You would—if it were true.” According to the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL—see 1977), almost the entire continental US gets more sunlight than the sunniest region of Germany. NREL scientist Sarah Kurtz tells Oremus, “Germany’s solar resource is akin to Alaska’s.” According to an NREL map, the American Southwest is one of the best places in the world to generate solar power, and all of the continental US with the possible exception of the Puget Sound region in Washington state gets far more sunlight than anywhere in Germany. [Slate, 2/7/2013; Media Matters, 2/7/2013] Four days later, Joshi will admit she is wrong. In a post on Fox News’s blog, she will write: “I incorrectly stated that the chief difference between the US and Germany’s success with solar installations had to do with climate differences on a Fox and Friends appearance on Feb. 7. In fact, the difference come down more to subsidies and political priorities and has nothing to with sunshine.” She will then continue to deride solar energy as a minor element in a “divers[ified] energy portfolio,” and will claim that natural gas obtained via “fracking” is a better and more reliable source of energy for the next century. [Fox News, 2/11/2013]

Entity Tags: Shibani Joshi, Gretchen Carlson, Fox News, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sarah Kurtz, Will Oremus, Obama administration

Category Tags: Popular Media, Other Nations' Policies, US Policies

Grist reports new data that shows America is using substantially less energy than in previous years, because of gains in energy efficiency as well as shifting market conditions and pollution regulations. CO2 emissions have dropped from 1.6 billion tons in 2007 (a record peak) to 1.4 billion tons in 2011, an 11 percent drop. Emily E. Adams of Earth Policy writes that both vehicle fuel efficiency and the number of miles driven by vehicles are improving, adding: “Average fuel efficiency, which had been deteriorating for years in the United States, started to increase in 2005 and keeps getting better. Americans are traveling farther on each gallon of gas than ever before. Furthermore, people are driving less. For many years Americans as a group drove billions more miles each year than the previous one. But in 2007 this changed. Now more cars stay parked because more people live in urban areas, opt for public transit, work remotely, or retire and thus no longer commute to work.” Coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, is shrinking in usage, though it continues to dominate conventional energy generation structures. Utilities are steadily shifting from coal to natural gas, and some are retiring old, inefficient coal plants instead of paying for expensive retrofits to bring them in line with current pollution regulations. US carbon emissions from coal have fallen 20 percent from their peak in 2005. Natural gas usage has risen sharply, and even though it produces only half the CO2 emissions that coal produces, natural gas added 373 million tons of carbon to the atmosphere in 2012. Solar and wind energy have no carbon emissions whatsoever; solar usage has increased 1,400 percent since 2007, and wind usage over 300 percent. Adams writes, “This is just the beginning of reductions in carbon dioxide emissions as the explosive growth of wind and solar power cuts down the use of dirty fossil fuels.” President Obama has set a goal for the nation to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020, and the decrease in energy usage and improvements in fuel efficiency are helping to reach that goal. [Grist Magazine, 10/2/2013; Grist Magazine, 10/11/2013]

Entity Tags: Grist, Obama administration, Emily E. Adams

Category Tags: Environmental Impact, US Policies


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