The funny thing about renewable energy and clean technologies is that the average person is highly in favor of these forms of energy but overestimates the current state of adoption in the U.S. and political sentiment needed to really make it grow. Less than 10 percent of the nation’s energy is derived from renewables. During the last Presidential election, both Democratic candidates, Senators Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, touted green jobs as the path to revitalizing the U.S. economy and jobs crisis. After taking office, President Obama enacted the Stimulus or Recovery Act, which included significant incentives for various renewable energies. However, it was not game-changing legislation to generate permanent clean energy jobs or growth in these fields.
The stimulus acted as a temporary lift for companies involved in research and development and manufacturing in these fields, but it failed to include rigorous standards and accountability measures for job creation. Many companies used the funding for other purposes than hiring more workers or failed to hire to the extent proposed on their government applications. On the other hand, this program did at least boost the market by offering homeowners and businesses the opportunity to obtain enhanced tax incentives and rebates for products like solar cells. The stimulus would have been the perfect precursor to a national renewable energy portfolio standard, proposed in 2009 Congressional legislation, requiring all states to achieve a significant portion of their energy from clean alternatives as opposed to fossil fuels. This type of disruptive market activity would have forced the market in the direction of renewables, analogous to many European countries for energy and even energy-efficient lighting products. Even in this case, many of the jobs created would have been temporary construction-related jobs for building power plants versus longer-term manufacturing positions, since the U.S. lags behind dominant Asian production in countries such as China.
The issue of job creation would have to incorporate the loss of jobs in the fossil fuel industry to see if the shift to renewables would actually increase net growth. This is a controversial topic amongst lobbyists and politicians, especially after recent solar bankruptcies and the Solyndra stimulus scandal. It is of the utmost importance for the solar industry, for example, to request more detailed, independent, unbiased green jobs studies and market them effectively to Congress and the general public to regain its former momentum from 2009, when President Obama took office. This effort will likely show the critical nature of developing a stronger manufacturing base in the U.S. for the major energy overhaul associated with a shift to clean energy sources.
In the mean time the current glut of solar cells on the market manufactured in anticipation of monumental increased deployment in the U.S. will remain, which could put more U.S. manufacturers out of business and increase Chinese market share. Thus, there is less need for cheaper, more innovative solar technologies, as prices continue to fall for baseline products. Moreover, the stagnation of: oil prices, Congressional legislation in Washington before the next Presidential election, and suppressed global energy demand due to the worldwide economic slowdown, will keep the status quo in place.
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