Tuesday, April 15, 2008

'Producing' Energy Security

Geopolitical turbulence, soaring trade imbalances, and global warming are among those seemingly intractable problems that our current model of globalization has wrought. These are also the issues that will dominate the next U.S. presidency. So why isn’t any candidate offering us a big idea that would turn these challenges into opportunity?

Energy security could be the linchpin of a national competitiveness strategy that would help free us from the vagaries of unfriendly oil-propped regimes while supporting a green re-industrialization of America. What we have been lacking thus far to capitalize on homegrown energy resources is good public policy.

Consider solar for example, the world’s fastest-growing energy technology, with production doubling every 2 years:
- The U.S. has more solar resources than any other developed country, yet Germany – a country with solar resources equivalent to those of Alaska – has the fastest growing photovoltaic (PV) market
- The U.S. pioneered a number of solar power technologies in the 1980s. Yet since 1995, our share in the photovoltaic market has dropped from 45% to 9% (about equal to China’s share) and of the top ten solar companies in the world, none are from the U.S.
- Japan – a country the size of Montana – has installed more PV power than the whole of the United States. Japan is not only the number one PV producer, but is also exporting half of its PV production

Whether it is in the wind power market, biofuels, or hybrid technology, the United States is not number 1. As a result, we are forgoing investment and job opportunities, let alone leadership in the industries of the future.

Market forces alone don’t create energy security – good government policies do. This is why we need for the next President to commit to a ‘green’ Apollo project for the United States wherein we would price carbon via cap and trade or a carbon tax, reinvest the revenue into renewable technology research and commercialization, and support the development of a domestic supply chain. We can only achieve energy security if we produce more clean forms of energy here. In doing so we will reduce our deficits, open new investment opportunities, and create thousands of good jobs. Any takers?

Carolyn Avery


  1. The irony of it all is that the U.S. funded much of the R&D that is the foundation of today's solar technology. Due to inept gov't policy, we haven't been able to capitalize on our investment.

  2. While solar energy is not the green energy silver bullet (see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/08/AR2008030802595.html ) it is a real shame that America is not the world's leader in solar projects. The American Southwest is ripe with opportunity for massive solar energy projects. Texas, Southern CA, Arizona, etc. could be massive energy exporters and reap huge financial gains for State coffers.

  3. Remember that any serious R&D is systematically patented. Any use of patented technology results in financial compensation-Market forces at work. Therefore to say that we have not been capitalizing on investments because of the gov is untrue (this refers to a comment, not the article). The point being that companies responsible for R&D are enjoying the fruits of their investments.

    As the article pointed out, if the US wants energy security, there is certainly a need for good policies to be implemented- Adam Smith's invisible hand being directed by Washington's carrot.

  4. As the article states, the Germans and Japanese have capitalized on the technologies pioneered by the US to a much greater extent than their US counterparts. Poster #3 is correct however, a sound combination of market forces and good government is what necessary to make green initiatives serious.

  5. As a native of the Great Plains and the US rust belt, I would whole-heartedly endorse a 'green apollo mission.' The United States is very ripe for another green revolution or re-industrialization as the folks at IASG put it. Green jobs are the high-paying, high-tech jobs of the future and can address a great many other foreign and domestic policy issues. Consider wind turbines. Manufactured in the US from high-grade metals, they produce cheap, abundant, and renewable energy. Additionally, farmers who are wise enough to build them on their massive farms reap a yearly harvest of payments for the energy their farm exports. Similarly, cash-strapped rural counties across the Southwest could harvest huge payments from acres of solar panels across the desert. These industries produce jobs that cannot be outsourced and lower the cost of living for every American and business. The only thing impeding this green revolution is bad or rather lacking US energy policy. The market has its necessary role and so does government. It's time that candidates for political office give energy policy the attention it deserves.

  6. A couple more things: US competitiveness is at the very heart of a green energy policy. Rising energy costs are eating ever-larger portions of school districts, municipalities, businesses, and citizen's budgets. Green energy may have high up-front costs but deliver safe, clean, reliable, domestic, and cheap energy. Lower energy costs are a much better economic initiative than tax cuts or rebates because they spur domestic industries and save EVERYONE money; not to mention the air will smell better and the water will taste better as a result.