Former Vice President Al Gore dipped into today's news cycle to trash President Obama's approach toward global warming. "[Obama's] election was accompanied by intense hope that many things in need of change would change," Gore writes in an upcoming essay for Rolling Stone. "Some things have, but others have not. Climate policy, unfortunately, falls into the second category."
Al Gore is wrong. President Obama has done quite a bit to advance sensible energy policies and, by proxy, mitigate climate change. Not only will Obama's efforts put us on track to emit fewer greenhouse gasses, they will help advance Gore's own agenda.
As reported on The Huffington Post on Friday, the Department of Energy announced it has given a $150 million loan guarantee to 1336 Technologies, a Massachusetts company that has found a way to cut the cost of producing solar cells nearly in half. As Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, this new production method is a game-changer for the solar industry -- and leaves it hard to dispute that a lot of smart people are on the brink of becoming very rich off clean energy.
Cutting the cost of clean energy is key to making it both mainstream and profitable. For most Americans, the value proposition of solar will never be meaningful if it's only about doing what's right for the environment. The environmental friendliness of clean energy isn't worth much if clean energy is too unaffordable to go mainstream. It's all about reliability, availability and cost effectiveness. That's how we sell clean energy technology to the masses.
Furthermore, we can't ignore how far the U.S. is lagging behind foreign competitors - China chief among them - who are investing unprecedented amounts in solar technology. This investment drives technological advancement while driving down costs, building a marketplace for clean energy that is both sustainable and profitable.
Luckily, companies like Sempra, Abengoa Solar and 1336 Technologies - plus government loan programs like Arpa-e, which specifically fund these high-risk, high-reward endeavors - are working to close the cost gap. Just today, a new report from Ernst & Young predicts the cost of solar energy will fall to $1 per watt by 2013. By halving the cost of producing solar PV technology, we can put solar panels on more buildings in more places for a cost that's roughly on par with coal. That's huge.
It's huge for the Obama administration, and shows the success of the stimulus; it's huge for jobs here in the U.S.; it's huge for the solar energy industry and the country at large as we continue to search for clean, renewable energy to power our lives.
To say the least, the time to invest in clean energy is now. 1336 Techonologies' website says it best:
The science is understood. The material is abundant. The products work. All that is left is to build the largest manufacturing industry in the history of mankind. This is what we intend to do.
That, my friends, is how clean energy makes us all rich. In the meantime, it will address climate change. Hopefully Al Gore sees value in that.
Brian Keane is the President of SmartPower, a non-profit marketing organization funded by private foundations to help build the clean energy marketplace by helping the American public become smarter about their energy use.