President Obama in Fremont on Energy, Manufacturing

By May 27, 2010Energy

Good sentiments Wednesday from President Obama during his visit to Solyndra, Inc., a manufacturer of rooftop solar panels.

We’ve got to go back to making things. We’ve got to go back to exports. We’ve got to go back to innovation. And we recognized that there was only so much government could do. The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra, will always be America’s businesses. But that doesn’t mean the government can just sit on the sidelines. Government still has the responsibility to help create the conditions in which students can gain an education so they can work at Solyndra, and entrepreneurs can get financing so they can start a company, and new industries can take hold.

The President included serious observations about the Deepwater Horizon accident and efforts to contain the spill. He’ll undoubtedly follow up in remarks today and Friday from the Gulf Coast.

President Obama should really retire the one conflation he relied on in Fremont, however, one that many people indulge in but ultimately misrepresents America’s energy usage. The clearly implied argument is that the United States is too reliant on foreign oil, therefore we need more solar energy (or wind).

But even as we are dealing with this immediate crisis, we’ve got to remember that the risks our current dependence on oil holds for our environment and our coastal communities is not the only cost involved in our dependence on these fossil fuels. Around the world, from China to Germany, our competitors are waging a historic effort to lead in developing new energy technologies. There are factories like this being built in China, factories like this being built in Germany. Nobody is playing for second place. These countries recognize that the nation that leads the clean energy economy is likely to lead the global economy. And if we fail to recognize that same imperative, we risk falling behind. We risk falling behind. (Applause.)

Fifteen years ago, the United States produced 40 percent of the world’s solar panels — 40 percent. That was just 15 years ago. By 2008, our share had fallen to just over 5 percent. I don’t know about you, but I’m not prepared to cede American leadership in this industry, because I’m not prepared to cede America’s leadership in the global economy.

That’s just too facile of a transition from oil to electricity generation through solar power. In the United States, oil is used primarily as a transportation fuel, heating oil, and industrial usage. This graph from the Energy Information Administration makes the point:

You could triple, quadruple, quintuple the generation of electricity from solar power without having any appreciable impact on U.S. oil consumption.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • david foster says:

    The obsession with “alternative energy” is in fact a *threat* to U.S. manufacturing, not an enabler of it. As you well know, many types of manufacturing are very sensitive to energy costs. Changing the mix in a way that will increase the average cost/kwh would be extremely destructive of U.S. manufacturing, See: the Spanish experience.

  • Greg Wright says:

    Carter, you’re on point. Solar alone won’t do it. It will take a mixture of energy sources — nuclear, wind, solar, tidal, geothermal — to do the job. And I wonder, even if all these alternatives come online in a big way, can they make a dent in oil consumption?

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