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Summary:

It’s been hard to avoid the elephant in the room at the fourth annual National Clean Energy Summit. While the clean energy industry was eager to talk about the latest cleantech breakthroughs, the reality is that the industry is facing a difficult near-term funding future.

Steven Chu, Harry Reid

Steven Chu, Harry Reid

It’s been hard to avoid the elephant in the room at the fourth annual National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas on Tuesday. While the clean energy industry was eager to talk about the latest cleantech breakthroughs and clean power projects, the reality is that the clean energy industry is facing a very difficult near-term future in terms of funding, with the stimulus package dollars coming to an end, potential budget cuts looming for the Department of Energy, some venture capitalists going cold on cleantech, and no clear major carbon policies on the horizon in the U.S.

Both Vice President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Steven Chu gave a nod to an upcoming crossroads in their keynotes at the event. Both leaders sought to make the case about what would happen if the DOE had significant budget cuts, highlighting the importance of programs like its ARPA-E grant project, and the loan guarantee program. Biden noted that the ARPA-E program has recently seen five of its grant companies receive follow-on private capital, including Phononic Devices, Primus Power, OPX Biotechnologies, Transphorm and an energy storage project at Stanford.

Joe Biden, Harry Reid

Chu said that despite the recession and potential budget cuts, it is important to focus on keeping the momentum of the clean energy industry going, particularly in times of stress. Look at the Civil War, one of America’s darkest hours, which produced landmarks like the Land Grant act that increased agricultural productivity, and the transcontinental railroad, which led to nationwide commerce said Chu. We can do the same things for the clean energy industry, even when there are these macroeconomic stresses, noted Chu.

Biden put it as: “Our nation has a simple choice. A choice about what country we are going to be. A country that rises to the occasion, overcomes the odds, and leads the world. Or are we going to be a follower nation?” Later on in his speech he added, “We are at an inflection point.”

Chu also focused on three things that the U.S. can do to keep the momentum going for the clean power industry:

  1. We need to invest in basic research in energy and education. This research will bring down the cost of clean power and help us remain competitive.
  2. We need to enact a clean energy standard as a pull for the deployment of clean power projects. That wouldn’t use tax dollars and wouldn’t pick winners, noted Chu.
  3. We need a Clean Energy development agency. This could support action plans to support clean energy plans.

Execs in the clean power industry attending the event that I talked to seemed inspired by the leaders’ talks.

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  1. Well, Gee….

    Why is that?

    1) The carbon policies/caps are based on Fraud not science.
    2) The Government is running out of $$$ and has to choose to fund GREEN or fund failing BANKS…no choice there…
    3) The VCs see the writing on the wall saying…no more Government Subsidized ROI.
    4) The End.

  2. Tesla_x, you ask “Why is that?”
    Let’s talk about energy sources that can stand on their own without external help.
    Washington is spending $80 billion *every year* on oil industry subsidies / tax breaks. That’s very significant compared to the one-time limited portion of the emergency TARP funds that has gone to modern, renewable energy initiatives.
    Likewise, America hasn’t had to spend money or lives in wars to protect the supply of solar panels and sunshine. Yet, we continually wage and pay for wars to protect the oil industry.
    So if we cut the oil subsidies and let oil companies staff-up and pay for overseas wars, then yes, they could claim that their medieval product stands on its own.

    1. Um..NO.

      Renewables and higher cost energy generation will soak up needed capital and drive us into the next Depression, and the gubmint cannot afford to pay $4 for what any SANE person would only buy for $1.

      Keep it up though and the economy and commodity cycles will correct in a way that will destroy business, capital and the us ability to compete for the next 2 decades.

      All those chinese solar panels and soon to be bankrupt PV firms will not service warranties or supply replacement parts and all you’ll see are abandoned projects galore collecting DUST.

      Heck, here’s one right here in CA:
      http://guntherportfolio.com/2011/08/esolar-sierra-suntower-offline-again/comment-page-1/

      Proof of blatant favoritism for Renewables…even for companies that will not exist beyond 2012.
      http://www.zerohedge.com/contributed/government-investment-disaster-works

      You want “energy sources that can stand on their own without external help”?

      That answer is here NOW.

      It is called natural gas.

      And at least when the Oil and gas industry hires someone they stay hired for awhile…and don’t mis-allocate scarce capital to green boondoggles that add ZERO productivity or efficiency to the US economy.

      1. Tesla_x, your point may be valid in the extreme short run, but even Natural Gas will run out sometime in the near future. By saying that focusing on renewables is a waste of time and is a very short sighted notion. Some development should remain in this space, just because a home hasn’t been hit immediately doesn’t mean the towel should be thrown in. Heck Edison failed several hundred times before he got the light bulb to work, what if he just gave up and said, “eh, there is tons of whale oil and kerosene we’ll be fiiinnnneee.” I will say that all this has to be handled in a balance, but we shouldn’t take our eye off other routes, just because they aren’t immediate successes. I was at a presentation for a major utility company the other day and they are using some of their own funding to research this space because they see a distant future in it. Will create a mass of immediate jobs? Nope, but if we want to be successful in the short-run and create a future for next generations it would be wreckless to just say stop wasting our te

  3. I believe another elephant is in the room cleantech lives in, its reluctance to participate in its social/political context. Across the country from the Clean Energy Summit, the Tar Sands civil disobedience at the White House gate, with 600 arrests so far, has unified environmentalists and begun to gain labor support. But cleantech reporters, analysts, thought leaders, and trade associations don’t seem to know its going on.

    The major U.S. environmental groups (Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Environmental Defense Fund, National Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Action Network, 350.org) jointly wrote the president: “We want to let you know that there is not an inch of daylight between our policy position on the Keystone Pipeline and those of the very civil protesters being arrested daily outside the White House. This is a terrible project–many of the country’s leading climate scientists have explained why…. It risks many of our national treasures to leaks and spills. And it reduces incentives to make the transition to job-creating clean fuels.”

    In addition, the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transit Workers Union (representing 390,000 workers in the U.S. and Canada) jointly wrote: “We call on the State Department NOT to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline or to take any actions that lead to the further extraction of Tar Sands oil…. We share the Environmental Protection Agency’s concerns conveyed to the State Department on two occasions…. We are also concerned that Keystone XL could double the amount of highly toxic Tar Sands oil being imported into the United States.”

    http://www.tarsandsaction.org/
    http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/08/05/289367/bill-mckibben-why-cleantech-should-join-the-fight-against-tar-sands/

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