Let the sun shine
There's a great article in today's NYT about solar energy. It's about a company in the Silicon Valley that decided to expand it's product line by producing products related to solar energy. They're succeeding wildly. They've built 14 solar panel factories and are churning out products as fast as they can make them.
Are there any solar powered homes on your street? I didn't think so. So who's buying this stuff? The location of the factories tells all: Five are in Germany; Four are in China; there are one each in Spain, India, Italy, even Abu Dhabi has one. How many factories are there in America? None. Yes, we've got employment problems, but there'd be no reason to manufacture solar panels in a country that doesn't take the possibilities of solar energy seriously. When I travel in Germany I notice that they have "solar farms", and that lots of houses have solar panels strategically placed to absorbe the sun's energy. This is because the government has mandated that utility companies need to buy back extra energy produced by these panels, thus reducing the time it takes for the investment in solar to pay for itself, and providing the utility with extra energy so that they don't need to build new generators. And with 50,000 new jobs in alternative energy in Germany, they're proving that this isn't some 'green fanatic' scheme, spun by wild eyed radicals. Seems like a win for everybody right?
Not in America, apparently. Here, utility companies are free to raise rates based on increasing demand, so that they can acquire capital to build new plants, while citizens are free to invest in solar energy that will pay for itself in 20 to 30 years. Of course, only the richest few are able to do that, with the result that the solar production is exploding in Europe and Asia, and basically dead on arrival in the USA. The paltry subsidies we pay consumers to install solar basically pays for the panels to be shipped from China.
Jobs and Energy are two of the areas where our country needs to wake up and be willing to make some big changes. But the political rhetoric of the summer has me increasingly concerned that there may not be enough political will to change, at least not yet. The day will come when oil isn't available due to politics, or geography and then we'll start talking. But by then the infrastructure will be in place, already well established in Germany, China, and much of the world, and we'll come as buyers rather than sellers. In a nation already burdened by ridiculous trade deficits, I fear that 20 years from now, every sunny day will be a reminder of what could have been.