Oct 042011

Three-year-old Henry Shales, visiting from New York, takes a close look at a solar panel on display at the DOE Solar Decathlon 2011. / Credit:Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

WASHINGTON, Oct 4, 2011 (IPS) – As a light drizzle fell Saturday, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu pointed to solar houses constructed by students on the National Mall park in Washington as evidence that the U.S can compete internationally in the renewable energy market to create jobs and win “the war against climate change”.


Alexander Ochs, director of the energy and climate programme at the WorldWatch Institute, said the solar industry was actually one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., with 5,000 companies employing more than 100,000 people. He said Solyndra failed because it made poor investment decisions and was buffeted by price fluctuations in the raw materials market – not because solar power industry is in trouble.  “Solyndra is now used as a scandal to set an example that solar is not working in the U.S. or that it cannot compete on the international market. It is basically used as an attempt to kill the industry as a whole,” Ochs told IPS.

In fact, Ochs said the solar industry grew at a rate of 69 percent in the last year alone, more than doubling in size, and at a rate much higher than the fossil fuel industry, which grows only in the low single digits, or nuclear, the only energy sector with a negative growth rate. Notwithstanding those facts, Ochs said criticisms of government support for renewable energy did not take into account the comparatively large cost of fossil fuel subsidies.


Arguing that the fossil fuel industry receives subsidies that are direct, indirect, infrastructural – even subsidies in the form of externalised health and environmental costs – Ochs questioned how critics could argue that the renewable energy industry could compete without getting subsidies itself.  Ochs told IPS, “Twenty years after we started taking climate change seriously and in light of all the economic problems and health problems that result from our use of fossil fuels, we are still putting 12 times the amount of money into fossil fuels.”

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