$150 billion renewables investment: will Obama deliver?

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It’s been a long 21 months of campaigning, voting and high emotions with the American Presidential election. Now that President-Elect Barack Obama has been voted into office, with his official term starting on 20th January 2009, it is a great time to look back at what his views and promises were in regards to his presidency’s impact on the solar industry.

With the world watching the unfolding events of the past year in America’s politics, many issues were at the forefront of debates. Economy, war and international relations; all the typical – indeed, important – questions that needed to be asked of the future leader of the United States. One question that was of particular interest was the position that the candidates, specifically Barack Obama, held in regards to renewable energy, especially in the solar industry. Interestingly, Obama had addressed this at an early speech at Las Vegas’ Springs Preserve, Nevada, on 25th June 2008 and again at the last debate with Senator John McCain.

In Las Vegas, Obama acknowledged that Nevada alone could create “upwards of 80,000 jobs by 2025” with solar, wind and geothermal energy. He also conceded that the U.S. was much farther behind in renewable energy technology than other parts of the world, particularly Spain, Germany and Japan. He directly cited Germany as “a country as cloudy as the Pacific Northwest [which] is now a world leader in the solar power industry and the quarter million new jobs it has created.” This was a concept that seemed to baffle him, considering that states like Nevada have such tremendous amounts of sunshine every year. The U.S. is not as far advanced in harvesting this sunshine like the European countries.

While America has had a long infatuation with offshore drilling, Obama stated that he felt that in the roughly eight years it would take the U.S. to start using oil from offshore drilling, Germany would “have doubled their renewable energy output.” He praised Germany’s government for providing investments and incentives to the renewable energy industry. The country’s model makes it possible for solar power companies to research and develop the technology needed for a successful alternative energy-fuelled country.

Using Europe and Asia as a model for success, Obama said that he “will invest $150 billion over the next ten years in alternative sources of energy like wind power, and solar power, and advanced biofuels-investments that will create up to five million new jobs…”

By the time October’s last presidential debate rolled around, the world’s economies had become even more depressed. This made it even easier to dismiss asking a question about the future President’s plans for the world’s climates or the U.S. energy predicament, but moderator Bob Schieffer pressed the Senators to state their positions. Both Obama and McCain stated their plans to reduce U.S. reliance on Middle East and Venezuelan oil in order for the country to achieve energy independence within approximately the next 10 years. However, it was Obama who held to his plans to grow renewable energy sources, specifically in the wind and solar sector. He spoke of the U.S. transportation system and how it “accounts for about 30 percent of [U.S.] total energy consumption”; how he wanted the country to gain energy independence, with plans to “retool some of these plants to make these highly fuel-efficient cars and also to make wind turbines and solar panels, the kinds of clean energy approaches that should be the driver of our economy for the next century.” Obama also promised plans to address the United States’ energy use consumption, while creating policies that reduce the carbon emissions and making energy policy a priority.

Now, one month after the debate and one day after the election, we begin to watch the new President-elect of the U.S. while wondering not only if, but when he will implement his promises, enthusiasm and vision for renewable energy in the U.S. As with all things, only time will tell.

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