It’s been awhile since we’ve posted but I’ve had a piece simmering in my head for a few weeks and finally am getting some time to sit down and write it. Have a look and give us your thoughts in the comments:
Like millions of my fellow Americans, I participated in the National Day of Service this year, which is held annually in conjunction with the Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend and which President Obama has tried, through each of his inaugural celebrations, to establish as a quadrennial presidential tradition as well. Across the country on Saturday, January 19, groups of citizens large and small volunteered with a range of organizations, each different in its particular mission but contributing in its own way to the Greater Good.
After finding that a smaller event we had tried to sign up for was filled to capacity, my girlfriend and I ended up at the DC Armory, where thousands of volunteers helped to pack care kits for US military troops. It was a huge event, sponsored most prominently by Target, and it even included a visit from Vice President Biden and his family. There were DJs, musical acts by school bands and other groups who had traveled from locations across the country to be there, and a stage to accommodate all of this entertainment for the morning’s eager volunteers.
So many people showed up, in fact, that there was a 30 minute wait to even get inside the building, followed by some additional waiting indoors as all of the volunteers were funneled through metal detectors and given wristbands. Once inside, volunteers stood in rows organized by letters and numbers, waiting another 15-20 to be ushered to the front of the crowd, where each volunteer picked up a plastic pouch and held it open while event coordinators stationed behind a series of carefully marked boxes smiled and deposited various personal care items – soap, toothpaste, etc. – inside.
It was, in many ways, assembly line volunteerism. As one of the country’s largest retailers introduced its factory-style efficiency to the community service experience, volunteers waited in line to do their part, and if they felt as if they had more time when they were finished, waited in line and did it again. When we left after about 2 1/2 hours, my girlfriend and I had been through the line twice and helped pack about 8 kits each. In total, 100,000 kits were packed on the day.
The following is not to diminish what was accomplished on that Saturday, but merely to ask some questions. Among them:
How many people does it honestly take to assemble 100,000 military kits? Was there something more useful that the thousands waiting in line at the Armory to hold a pouch open could have done instead to better their communities? Is waiting in line really volunteering? Am I just being curmudgeonly?
The answers to these questions will, of course, depend on who’s answering them, but here’s an honest reading of the situation that I think gives credit where it’s due: Target and other major sponsors put on an event that was intended to be big, it was successful in its mission, the event organizers did a great job running everything as smoothly as possible, and US troops got 100,000 care kits that they didn’t have previously. A-plus all around.
Still, this leads us to a more complicated and fundamental question – was such a large, industrial-scale event the best way to get people out and volunteering on a brisk Saturday? What else could all of those people packed into the DC Armory have done if they were dispersed instead of consolidated?
We live in a big country, and much of the national discourse revolves around our big institutions. Big business dominates the economy, big banks hold most of our assets, big government is seen as hero or villain depending on who you talk to, all while big foundations increasingly present themselves as the saviors of those who fall through the cracks. We live in big cities. Most of us shop at big stores. And when it comes to the political and economic decisions that affect the country and the communities within it, most subscribe to the logic of big. A big federal program here, a big business recruitment success there, big new generating capacity and transmission infrastructure to account for our future energy needs, big companies that can operate at large economies of scale and offer big savings to the consumer. A big service event on a cold day in January to help keep us all humble.
But what if this wasn’t the way forward? What if the blatant inefficiency of all those people spending 80 percent of their volunteer time waiting in line was actually the ugly truth lurking behind most of the big assumptions we passively accept? What if this was more or less a proxy for what we get when we trust that big, corporate-scale solutions are what’s needed to solve problems best dealt with in a smaller capacity? A job-starved community spends countless time and resources to recruit a big outside company that promises to create hundreds of new jobs, offering a lucrative package of tax incentives to help seal the deal, while vesting all of its economic hopes with one business in one industry that will reinvest its profits elsewhere. An environmental activist chooses to invest their time dreaming up big, utility scale energy projects in faraway parts of the country, seeking transformative solutions and seeing few alternatives. The average consumer takes their business to a big box retailer, convinced that no one else can offer the same level of convenience and savings. Are these the actions that will re-invigorate our communities and help us rebuild for the 21st century?
Big will always play an important role. Some big businesses will remain large employers. Some tasks are best done by large-scale entities. Regardless of whose politics win the day, the federal government will remain big, because in a country of over 300 million, there really are few other alternatives. And on Saturday, January 19, 2013, many of the thousands who showed up at the DC Armory needed somewhere to go if they wanted to help out; several of DC’s great service organizations had such a supply of volunteers that they simply had to say no to anyone else who asked.
But what if we could imagine the results of thinking smaller – and saw these not as feeble attempts to chip away at a problem that is beyond our solving, but as small pieces to a larger, more meaningful solution? Thousands of rooftop solar installments. Local support not for big businesses trying to locate but for small ones trying to compete locally – the source of a much larger economic multiplier when they are successful. Policies to help leverage the economic impact of home-based businesses and self-employed professionals. Education initiatives tailored to the needs of kids in specific schools rather than those determined by public bureaucrats and big private benefactors. What if millions of these actions, undertaken by communities across the country, could collectively have a greater impact on our country than waiting for our big institutions to act? What if acting locally were the only way to bring about positive change within many of the places most desperate for it?
As a country, we’ve been through the boom and bust cycle of big. It sounds like it was a great ride while it lasted. Either way, its aftermath has a name befitting of the scale at which our nation has chosen to operate: The Great Recession. And as our big companies downsized and our big government saw its tax receipts drop while its obligations and deficits rose, it may have become even harder, for a brief moment, to see a way out of this mess that wasn’t as big as the way in. But with big crises come new thinking, and with big longstanding challenges come the necessities of drawing up new solutions. Mix in the internet, the most decentralizing force the world has ever known, along with an emerging recognition that many local problems will never be solved without local solutions, and there is a recipe for an entirely new model of development and prosperity that puts our existing political and economic institutions to far better use.
What if on a chilly Saturday morning, I could spend 2.5 hours truly maximizing my impact, rather than just waiting around hearing thank-yous that I may or may not have earned? I contributed something on this year’s National Day of Service, but I think that everyone who was there in the Armory knows that we all could have done more. When it comes to the decisions we make about our communities, we should be just as discerning.
Dear energy consumers,
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for natural gas plays an important role in the debate about our energy future. As an energy consumer, you may have beliefs about, or beliefs that relate to, the use of hydraulic fracturing technology. Given the prominence of natural gas in today’s energy discourse, I am using my Master’s thesis at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy to study the political and ideological dimensions of hydraulic fracturing. My goal is to develop a more thorough understanding of the relationships between socioeconomics, political alignments, philosophical beliefs, and support or lack thereof for the use of hydraulic fracturing technology – but my research depends on your participation. Here and below you will find a link that directs you to a survey with questions related to the current debate about hydraulic fracturing and natural gas:
To help me with my research, I ask that you complete the survey and then share this message and link with your friends, family, colleagues, coworkers, and other contacts so that they might do the same. If you have any questions please email them to email@example.com and I will answer you promptly. Thank you for your participation.
Jordan M. Kincaid
Reblogged from the Urban Times – link available here
Interested in what it looks and sounds like when people who care about the earth put their money where their mouth is? In 1996, British entrepreneur Dale Vince founded a company built to provide clean electricity to its customers. Still operating on a not-for-dividend model 16 years later, today Vince’s company, Ecotricity, invests its customers’ energy bills into the construction of additional sources of clean energy.
You can read all about Ecotricity and its business model on their company website: http://www.ecotricity.co.uk. What I thought was really great about the interview with Mr. Vince, though, was the way he described his work as a businessperson:
Essentially we are environmentalists doing business as opposed to business people doing the environment. Sustainability always comes first – it’s in our DNA. Ecotricity’s missions is to change the way energy is made and used in the UK to reduce the carbon emissions that cause climate change. Electricity from fossil fuels is responsible for 30% of Britain’s carbon emissions – it’s our biggest single source of emissions as a nation – and therefore the biggest single thing we can change.
In a world where, despite considerable progress, too many corporate “greening” initiatives rely more on style than substance, the idea of “environmentalists doing business” is refreshing. Putting aside the fact that environmentalism itself is doomed unless it puts forward a compelling vision of its own for how people can live and prosper in the modern world, lost in the justifiable outrage within the environmental movement toward large industrial polluters (think BP with the oil spill) is the fact that business doesn’t have to be about raping and pillaging. Business, at its most basic level, is about something very simple: providing a product or service that people will pay for. This is a noble calling, and reflects the most fundamental human undertaking in a capitalist society.
What’s really exciting, then, about the notion of environmentalists doing business is that if you want to get something done that’s good for the planet, all you have to do is provide something that people want, and figure out how to do it in an efficient manner. Easier said than done, sure, but each person who succeeds makes a small contribution toward turning the conventional paradigm on its head simply by showing that it is possible, and even advantageous, to turn a profit treating the planet’s health as an asset rather than a cost.
Legislation and politics are important, no doubt. But if you’re an American like myself, you also live in a country where one of our two major political parties simply thumbs its nose at basic scientific evidence. So with all due respect to those who work hard each day within various governments to make the world a better place, what seems like a more effective strategy? Dale Vince didn’t wait for the world to sign an international treaty cutting carbon. He started a company that would do it and help him earn a living in the process.
By all means, those of us who care about the environment should continue pushing for a climate bill, and anything else that may make a difference. But we may be waiting a long time before our governments can get together on their own to do the right thing. The planet, however, can’t wait, and neither can an economy crying out for the creative infusion of new companies and ideas. So in the current political and economic landscape, what can those of us who want to make a positive difference do immediately to create new sources of opportunity and prosperity, while charting a more sustainable way forward?
Go out and become entrepreneurs. Our country needs us.
–From GOOD Magazine–
“Tidal and wave power do carry some environmental concerns: Early projects are studying how turbines affect fish, for instance. But because these projects live under the water, they could avoid complaints like those that dogged the offshore Cape Wind project about ruining scenic vistas. The East River project has been running turbines on and off as part of a pilot project for years, and New Yorkers, a grumbly bunch, have yet to kick up a major fuss. Most people driving over the Queensboro bridge and gazing down at the river probably never guessed that a power station lies quietly beneath the water.”
It wouldn’t surprise me to see these “environmental concerns” surrounding tidal begin to disappear as people become more acquainted with it. Many who imagine getting power from the motion of the ocean imagine the infrastructure as being something akin to a wind turbine in the water – this isn’t true. While there are many different turbine models, most don’t pose a danger to fish because the turbine blades spin faster than the water surrounding them, which creates a force directing fish away from, not toward, the turbine.
Either way it’s great to see tidal power continuing to get its due – with people realizing that the lack of visibility is also a huge and understated benefit.
Either the United States Department of Energy likes Carbonocracy, or we’ve just got some good timing. Shortly before we linked to this story in Bloomberg on the approval of the first United States commercial tidal power permit, the DOE released two reports that paint an encouraging picture of the long-term viability of tidal energy and its ocean-going companion, wave power. The Energy Department press release announcing the reports boasts that they “represent the most rigorous analysis undertaken to date to accurately define the magnitude and location of America’s ocean energy resources,” and given the overall dearth of mainstream information out there on ocean energy sources, they’re probably right.
In total, the reports estimate that when combined with hydropower and other water-based resources, tidal and wave could help to account for up to 15 percent of the US electricity supply by 2030. As we’ve been saying all along, while that won’t necessarily keep the lights on all by itself, when combined with growing solar and wind sectors, tidal and wave have the potential to add to a strong and expanding renewable energy portfolio. Of course, much of this depends on the ability of these early-stage technologies to attract enough private capital to get off the ground, which largely depends (at least in the initial stages) on continued federal support, which is not necessarily a guarantee.
Still, the DOE report is another indication of the United States’ vast potential to develop clean, home-grown energy (and attract that jobs that would come along with that development). 15 percent by 2030 sounds a long way off, but the decisions we make today will have a big impact on whether those figures constitute pure fantasy or legitimate reality tomorrow.
Read the Energy Department press release and find PDF links to the wave and tidal reports here.
DOE Reports Major Potential for US Wave and Tidal Energy Production (US Department of Energy)
By Libby Murphy
Variability is a natural part of Earth’s intricate climate system. The planet has endured periods of warmth and glaciation alike in its some 4.5 billion year history. Shifts in climate can be traced back to a variety of natural events and trends, Earth’s rotation, solar irradiance, volcanic activity and more. Currently we are in a period of warming, the rapidity of which is unprecedented, unlike anything we have witnessed or have evidence of in the past. This global warming trend is abundantly clear, measurable and rarely disputed. What is debated, however, are the cause and affect of this warming. There is a strong consensus among the scientific community that this rapid warming is human induced. More specifically, that it is a result of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. To many people, however, this conclusion is not as evident or logical. The argument to support global warming ranges from a couple of fundamental concepts, the greenhouse effect and the carbon cycle, to key evidence connecting human activity to warming temperatures. An understanding of these issues is necessary to wrap one’s mind around the current global warming scenario. This paper intends to present these arguments in a manner more approachable to a non-specialist and will conclude with a framework for which to look toward the future and make key decisions regarding this issue, if you so desire.
Many fuels, including oil, wood, biomass, coal are made up almost entirely of carbon. When we burn these fuels, carbon reacts with oxygen to create carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide is in gas form so it rises and settles in the atmosphere. The physical tendency of atmospheric carbon dioxide is to absorb and reradiate energy, effectively creating an insolating blanket around the planet. This in turn leads to warming on the Earth’s surface known as the greenhouse effect. This is the cause of global warming and can be measured in the steady rise of global mean temperature. Other greenhouse gases include methane, CFCs, water vapor and more. Currently, there is a large amount of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere as a result of human industrial activity, most significantly carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion.
A historic moment for tidal power in the US. Thank you, FERC, for issuing the first commercial license to a tidal power project. The lucky permit holder is Verdant Power. However, it is not really a question of luck but rather hard work. The company has been building its turbine design and East River project site for years. They first installed turbines at this site in 2002, 10 years ago. The turbines got mangled by the fierce tides so the company has been improving its design since then. The 1 Megawatt project is expected to sell enough energy to Con Edison to power almost 1,000 nearby homes. The first 5 turbines are expected to enter the water in late 2013. The renewable energy world will eagerly await the environmental results of this system, which I’m sure will influence the policy and regulation issues faced by future tidal companies.
Forbes is out today with a report that is certainly relevant in light of what I posted here a day ago (see below). At issue is the scheduled expiration of the Production and Incentive Tax Credits, which help make solar and wind energy more profitable and which are set to run out at the end of the year. I wrote yesterday about policy uncertainty strangling the potential of renewable energy to continue its private sector ascent; now, although these two tax credits have been routinely extended in the past, there is a real possibility that an industry which has continued to create jobs during the economic slowdown will be hung out to dry in 2012.
The question remains, in a time of continued economic uncertainty: why are some people so desperate to see the death of a fast growing and diverse industry with tremendous room for future expansion?
2011 is shaping up to be the second-most lucrative year ever for investment in renewable energy technology, second only to 2008. It is well-documented that venture capital for clean technology fell off a cliff along with the rest of the economy in the recession; funding recovered slightly, however, in 2010 and is now expected to grow for a second consecutive year in 2011.
The bad news? While also predicting the 2011 year-end increase in venture funding, clean tech research and consulting firm Kachan and Co. also predicts that investments will drop in 2012, due to, among other things, policy uncertainty and the fallout from the recent collapse of solar panel maker Solyndra, LLC. Kachan Managing Partner Dallas Kachan writes:
There’s no mistaking that the (now expired) American national loan guarantee program helped loosen private cleantech capital in an immediately post-2008 shell-shocked economy. However, continued uncertainty over the future of the U.S. Treasury grants program and production tax credits is holding the U.S. back.
In other words, private investors don’t want to pump money into renewable energy because they’re not sure that existing policy benefits will still be there a year from now. Why? (more…)
The Buffalo News has some excellent local coverage on an intense debate currently unfolding in upstate New York over whether or not to allow for expanded natural gas drilling using the technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking, which involves using large quantities of water laced with chemicals to blast cracks in underground bedrock and allow formerly trapped natural gas to escape, carries with it the promise to recover previously inaccessible gas resources, but also the inconvenient reality that it may contaminate groundwater.
A lot has been made of the abundance of natural gas resources in the United States, and the Marcellus Shale formation, which runs diagonally across the Northeast region and includes a large portion of New York State, is estimated to contain up to 168 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Although natural gas is generally touted as a cleaner burning alternative to conventional fossil fuels, the environmental risks associated with fracking have put a serious wrinkle in efforts to expand its extraction from hard to reach places like the Marcellus Shale.
The Buffalo News piece paints a great picture of the divide over fracking in rural parts of New York, laid bare in a town meeting Wednesday night where supporters and opponents filled a middle school auditorium for the first of eight public comment sessions on new drilling rules proposed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Notes from the meeting reflect the same eternal questions frequently pored over during environmental debates, as participants balanced threats to water supplies and natural scenery against the jobs and economic development promised by fracking proponents.
What the latter arguments fail to take into account, however, is that if natural gas companies had to pay the price of the external damages caused by fracking – the environmental costs, the potential hazards to public health from unsafe drinking water, the beating that local roads would take from an increased volume in heavy trucking – the perceived economic benefits may begin to look a bit more illusory, and energy companies might just find it more expedient to leave all that natural gas where its rested comfortably for millions of years. Who pays the price when all of the energy resources have been extracted from the Marcellus Shale, the gas companies leave, and upstate New York bears an irredeemable scar where its rural scenery used to be? Who pays the health care costs of someone who drinks water that is only found to be contaminated years later? Who pays for the roads that get torn up from a projected 1,000 percent increase in heavy truck traffic?
If these costs went into the economic calculus of fracking, or the larger-scale debate between fossil fuels versus clean energy, we might have a significantly different energy situation on our hands. Can’t we just find an energy source that doesn’t present us with a phony either-or decision between preserving nature and bringing economic opportunities to people that need them?
To ‘frack’ or not? Public responds (The Buffalo News)
If the title to this post sounds like a full-throated defense of big government, it’s not. It’s merely an acknowledgment of reality.
There was a really interesting piece in Forbes the other day on Steven Chu, President Obama’s Secretary of Energy. Chu, the article asserts, “is likely to have greater influence over the world’s future energy economy than any other single person alive today.” Why? Because the energy secretary is literally presiding over a time of unprecedented research and development within his department.
Here’s one cutting-edge example from the Forbes article:
Last year, the Department of Energy awarded a $130 million in federal grants to a team or researchers led by Pennsylvania State University and United Technologies to establish the Energy Efficient Building Systems Regional Innovation Cluster in a 30,000-square-foot building in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard. The hub is piloting a portfolio of advanced energy-efficient building technologies and designs using sophisticated sensors and modeling equipment with the goal of creating technologies capable of reducing energy use in existing buildings by 50% by 2015.
R&D is different from the other ways that the federal government invests in energy technology. We mostly think about this support as coming in the form of tax credits, various subsidies, and loan guarantees, which of course have been in the news recently in connection with the Solyndra controversy. But while most tax and subsidy provisions and loan guarantees go to companies developing proven technology, research and development projects focus on technologies that are either in their infancy, or haven’t even been invented yet.
As can be seen in this telling graph, the energy sector in the United States spends a smaller share of its profits (just 0.3 percent) on research and development than any other major industry. Right now, the federal government is stepping in to fill some of that void, and it’s doing it through an innovative approach based on a research platform that Chu himself pioneered while at Stanford University. The centerpieces of the Department of Energy’s program are called “Energy Innovation Hubs,” which bring leading scientists and engineers together to collaborate on developing next-generation energy technologies, like the efficiency systems mentioned above. After an ongoing process of trial, error, and feedback, technologies are eventually ready to be used on a commercial scale.
It’s an interesting concept, which will be even more interesting to follow as it begins to bear fruit in the coming years. Lest anyone dismiss the potential for government research to deliver tangible results, perhaps it might be instructive to review the list of technologies developed by NASA that now play an important role in our lives. Some highlights: LED lighting, artificial limbs, aircraft anti-icing technology (keeps your plane from crashing), tempur-pedic mattresses, consumer water filters, dustbusters, firefighting equipment, and those grooves in the highway that keep you from running off the road.
How does this relate to energy? In a functioning economy, government and private industry depend on one another – just as support from the private sector is the only means for a technology or product to become mainstream, the government is often the only source of capital for promising technologies that have yet to become commercially viable (see Internet, the). Under the current presidential administration, the energy technologies of the future are being given an unprecedented level of support. It’s true that not every one of these technologies will work out. It’s also true that the Department of Energy, in total, receives about 1 percent of our federal budget every year, which means the country should be able to afford to invest in systems that could transform the way we create and use energy in the United States.
This is why bureaucracies matter. President Obama isn’t pulling the strings on the DoE’s innovation hubs, but he is responsible for putting people like Steven Chu in positions where they can make a difference. Given the hard-line rhetoric of each of the president’s potential opponents next year, it’s unlikely we would see anywhere near the kind of energy innovation we’re seeing now in a Romney, Gingrich, Perry, or Cain administration.
We may still live in a society that is fundamentally powered by carbon-based fuels, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.
Steven Chu’s Gamble on Green Energy (Forbes)
To hear opponents of clean energy tell it, the Solyndra controversy represents the death knell for government investments in renewable technologies. Never mind that solar energy remains the fastest growing industry in a slow economy. Or that wind is also growing exponentially. Or that real support for renewable energy could turn countless other technologies into viable alternatives to conventional fuels.
Clean tech critics, however – at least those who occupy positions of elected office – might want to take note of some recent poll findings that show a sizeable gap between the priorities of average Americans and the people sent to Washington to represent us.
In a poll conducted by the Civil Society Institute, a non-partisan think tank, a whopping 77 percent of Americans agree that “the United States needs to be a clean energy technology leader and it should invest in the research and domestic manufacturing of wind, solar, and energy efficiency technologies.” Further, voters favor subsidies to green energy over fossil fuels by a 3 to 1 margin.
We made a big deal on here when Steven Chu asserted last week that solar energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels within 10 years, if not sooner. We also know that carbon’s stranglehold on US economic production is beginning to weaken. But the fact that overwhelming majorities of Americans want clean energy to be the rule rather than the exception is particularly significant – especially with a congressional leadership that has been openly hostile to investments in renewable technology.
What does this mean for the future? First, that Americans clearly support a clean energy agenda at least as aggressive as the one that’s been adopted by President Obama – which also places every current Republican presidential candidate on the wrong side of this issue.
If our elected representatives heed the will of the people, we should expect to see a lot more government support for both proven and emerging renewable energy technologies. A real clean energy-based economy is within this country’s grasp, but only if the people in power listen to the people who put them there.
Congress, White House focus on Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power is out of touch with mainstream America (Civil Society Institute)
Ever since California-based solar cell maker Solyndra LLC went bankrupt on September 1 after receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee, congressional Republicans and grassroots conservatives have rushed to paint its collapse as a prime example of why tax dollars should not be allocated to support clean energy technology. Many prominent political figures including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) have made the repeated charge that the government should not “pick winners and losers” through its investments in energy, or any other sector of the economy. The “winners and losers” line seems to be a favorite of Republicans, who claim to prefer that the free market determine which of our myriad sources of energy in the United States win out.
But it seems as though the winners and losers rhetoric stops as soon as many of these same politicians find an energy project or industry more in line with their priorities. In fact, multiple GOP members of Congress including Boehner himself petitioned the Energy Department in 2009 and 2010 for loan guarantees similar to the one given to Solyndra in order to fund nuclear and clean coal projects in their home states and districts. Although it’s not unusual for members of Congress to engage in such lobbying, it does cast a bit of doubt on the sincerity of claims that the government shouldn’t interfere with the market’s supposedly invisible hand.
The federal government has been picking a winner in energy for a long time, and it’s called the fossil fuel industry. With billions of dollars in federal subsidies and tax breaks, the oil and gas industry has been able to maintain its superiority, and take in record profits while doing so. Perhaps without those subsidies, the Big Five oil companies (Shell, Exxon, BP, Conoco Phillips, and Chevron) might spend less time trying to unlock new reserves in hard-to-reach places (the ocean floor, Arctic Circle, and Canadian tar sands come to mind) and more time beginning to legitimately support the new energy technologies in which Big Oil’s congressional backers currently deride the government for making piecemeal investments.
As for Solyndra, this is (was) a company that was initially touted for its innovation in producing silicon-free cells for solar panels; it was only after a global drop in silicon prices that Solyndra lost its ability to compete and had to shut its doors. There also seems to be some confusion over the government’s role in all of this. The Energy Department did not simply hand Solyndra $535 million; the money was part of a loan guarantee, which essentially means that the federal government agreed to underwrite any private loans that the company was given up to the $535 million amount. Imagine you’re taking out a loan on a car or a house, and you have your friend or parents cosign. That’s basically what the government did for Solyndra. In case anyone out there is wondering if this is a new thing, there’s another prominent energy industry that wouldn’t be here without federal loan guarantees – nuclear power, which met over 11 percent of US energy needs in 2009.
We’ll continue to talk in this space about Solyndra and energy subsidies in general. For the critics, however, who would use the Solyndra controversy as an argument against the federal government supporting any renewable energy at all, consider this: solar is currently America’s fastest growing industry. In a down economy, you’d hope this would be the sort of thing we’d find a way to make work.
Carbonocracy, formerly known as TidalPowerUS, first went live in the Spring of 2009. Since then it has received over 12,000 hits from over 115 countries! Now it’s 2011 and time to expand our focus to several top issues facing our society at this pivotal point in history. Starting now, c-cracy will cover all topics of sustainable energy and efficiency through constantly updated content. The blog will be curated by creator Libby Murphy but will contain writings by many experts in the field of law, politics, economics and technology. Thanks and stay tuned!