Blog Post

End times near for U.S. support of cleantech

About two years ago Dan Reicher, Google’s then director of climate change and energy initiatives said: “we’re staring at the biggest cliff we’ve ever faced in renewables when the stimulus runs out in 18 months.” Now it looks like the end times are near for U.S. support for cleantech, at least according to a report out from the Breakthrough Institute, the Brookings Institution and the World Resources Institute.

The report says that after a rise in cleantech support and clean power installations between 2006 and 2011, tens of billions of dollars will suddenly come to a screeching halt and tax breaks for clean power are also in danger of expiring. As the New York Times noted: “there will be a estimated 75 percent decline in federal clean technology spending by 2014 from a peak of $44.3 billion in 2009.”

The drop in U.S. support is particularly unfortunate as various clean power technologies are still more expensive than fossil fuel-based power, but some are on the brink of grid parity, like solar, with its drop in solar cell prices.

Of course, the fossil fuel industry received decades and billions of support over the years. GigaOM Pro analyst Adam Lesser looks into a report from Roger Bezdek, a 30-year energy consultant, and found that $837 billion (in 2010 dollars) in incentives were expended over the past 60 years with oil, coal and natural gas getting 70 percent of that, or $594 billion. Oil alone was the big winner with $369 billion by itself while renewable energy, defined primarily as solar and wind, has received $74 billion, about what nuclear has received.

Image courtesy of Mike Lehen.

3 Responses to “End times near for U.S. support of cleantech”

  1. Andrew West

    If the data is correct, the US government (taxpayers) have invested more than $150 billion in the last few years on wind and solar schemes. This may have leveraged about $300 billion in total investment. It’s fair to ask what we have to show for it?


    Numerous studies have confirmed the fact that we haven’t reduced CO2 at all. After subsidies run out, as your analysis shows, there will be no additional deployment.

    Why are we pretending that wind and solar make sense? This false hope prevents us from seeking a real solution.

    To further prove this reality, Washington and Oregon are gearing up to export massive amounts of coal to China, where it will be used to generate electricity and to make wind turbines and solar panels… then ship them back to us. Can’t you see the lunacy?

    Instead of continuing to waste billions on clean-tech subsidies, how about we find a solution first? DOE does not have a Plan – nobody does. If we simply posted a $1 billion reward (yes, prize money) to find a solution, we just might find it. Dr. Chu’s repeated assertion that “there is no silver bullet” has no foundation. We should find out.

    Wind and solar will never be a significant part of our electricity generation mix. They are simply unreliable and expensive “supplements.”

    Find a solution, then spend money on deployment.

    My work is here:

  2. Albert Hartman

    Cleantech currently is a not-good-enough technology for the mainstream. Christensen’s disruption theory says it should bide its time in currently unserved, niche markets where cleantech’s virtues are important. Over time they’ll improve and evolve to eventually disrupt the incumbent energy sources. But this takes time and focus on small, targeted applications.

    • Wrong. Its more about economy of scale. The more wind turbines and solar panels that are manufactured and installed, the more the cost comes down, which causes more wind turbines and solar panels to be manufactured and installed, which makes the cost come down.. etc. etc.
      If support for cleantech collapses in the US, then China will be more than happy to totally dominate what will become the largest industries on the planet no matter what the US does. And they are well on their way.