U.S. Clean Energy Leadership is Slip-Sliding Away, Scientist Warns
America’s reputation as a leader and innovator in clean and renewable energy is steadily and rapidly fraying, warns Jeffrey Ball, a Stanford University scholar-in-residence and clean energy expert.
In a “Mother Jones” article (July/August 2018), Solar Is the Future. Donald Trump Tied a Bow on It and Gave It to China, Ball writes that “dysfunction’’ in U.S. clean energy policies, a failure to capitalize on government-funded research, and a shift in priorities away from support for sustainable energy research is having a negative impact on market confidence and eroding our nation’s competitive edge.
American Diversified Energy (ADE) wrote several months ago about some worrisome developments that are likely to negatively impact U.S. progress and global standing in renewable energy. In ADE’s December 2017 blog, https://www.americandiversified.energy/single-post/2017/12/15/The-US-Risks-Losing-its-Global-Lead-in-Energy-Innovation-According-to-Ford-Motor-Company-Chairman, we raised the alarm about an effort in Washington to rescind funding in the 2018 budget for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Title 17 Loan Program and Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) programs.
“In eliminating funding for the programs that attract private investment and stimulate energy innovation, the U.S. Congress is ignoring the market economy and market trends in other countries around the world that are pointing the way to areas of future growth and contraction,” we wrote. “The U.S. does this at its peril.”
The funding programs at risk were two of only three available to the private sector to take innovative ideas from the research and development phase to financing their commercialization. Private funders generally reject such projects because of the risks inherent with unproven technologies.
Many politicians did not understand the value of these loan programs and the jobs and tax revenues they generate. ADE spent months meeting with leaders on Capitol Hill, drawing on our government relations and political lobbying expertise to preserve funding for these vital programs. And it worked. The 2018 omnibus spending bill that was signed into law at the end of March, fully funded the Title 17 program, with all $40 billion of its loan authority intact.
Preserving the funding was and is crucial to keeping the U.S. competitive—and certainly at the leading edge—in new technologies and technology development.
Still, it will take more than these programs to ensure that the U.S. will move forward with alternative energy projects and innovation. Ball, who heads a project at Stanford to assess comparative advantages in the global clean-energy industry, notes that China has made aggressive investments in sophisticated labs, research, and cutting-edge efficiencies, which has propelled that country ahead.
The U.S. is going in the opposite direction. Environmental regulations are being rolled back and the Trump administration’s 2019 budget plan once again targeted the DOE’s funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, with cuts of almost 75 percent.
Republican leaders turned back these requests in the 2019 spending bill that was passed last month by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. The 2019 spending bill provides $7 billion more in DOE funding than requested by the administration. It even increases funding for one of DOE’s new idea, research and development, incubator programs to its highest level ever.
This is a testament to ADE’s efforts and those of a handful of other lobbyists and company CEOs who banded together last fall to save the Title 17 and ATVM programs. The arguments made in favor of those programs due to the stimulus they provide to job creation, community-level economic development, and private investment, along with the tax receipts that are generated for the U.S. Treasury over and above the cost of these programs, convinced Republican leaders that these programs are worth saving.
But the threats continue. And they will continue for the foreseeable future under this administration.
Ball notes that the Trump administration touted the 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels as a way to protect American solar jobs. But, Ball writes, the tariffs actually could make solar installations more expensive. And that could prompt companies to scratch or delay new installations (although after Ball’s article appeared, the Internal Revenue Service issued guidance giving solar developers more tax break opportunities, and that might change the trajectory).
Whatever happens in that regard, the fact is, Ball reports, that China is producing 53.1 gigawatts from its solar installations while the U.S. is producing 10.6 gigawatts.
Most ominously, Ball warns that “from solar to batteries to electric vehicles, China is rapidly gaining on the West in the most important arena of all: innovation.’’
His words echo those of William C. Ford Jr., the chairman of Ford Motor Co., who warned, in a December 7, 2017 article in the New York Times, that the U.S. is risking its leadership in energy innovation and has already been outpaced by China in electric cars, as well as the manufacture of solar panels and wind turbines.
Worldwide interest in electric cars is high, so the financial stakes in the U.S. in that arena are high as well. Major automakers are developing electric cars and planning to phase out cars with internal combustion engines starting in 2020. Fourteen countries are setting targets for electric vehicle production and planning bans on the sale of cars and vans with internal combustion engines. China has launched an all-out effort to dominate the market with massive investments and enticements to lure scientists to its laboratories.
Bell notes that while President Donald J. Trump, who has called climate change a Chinese “hoax,’’ backs policies that threaten to stifle innovation and undercut funding for programs that generate sustainable energy and alternative energy, China’s president has signaled that he believes clean energy is key to China’s economic growth and the stability of the Communist party.
It is important for all who are involved in energy policy, public and private energy projects, and new technology development to come together to support American innovation in green energy, or risk being left behind.
ADE—with its stable of lobbyists, consultants, proposal writers and experts in topics ranging from biofuel to solar energy to aquaponics—is continuing to help businesses, individuals, and investors bring innovation to the marketplace. ADE also continues to ensure that federal funding for innovation and the commercialization of new technologies remains available.
ADE stands ready to help you with the development of new businesses, markets, products, technologies, and projects that can take advantage of the funding available from these programs so your company – and the U.S. – can power the market economy of tomorrow and the world’s energy future.
Please see the What We Do and Our Services pages on ADE’s website.
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