In 2008, on the morning after election day in the US, I sat thousands of miles away from my home in California, in the London offices of PV-Tech. I was basking in the glory of what, at the time, The Guardian newspaper called “the day America became cool again”. Barack Obama had been elected as the next President of the United States, and for the first time in nearly a decade American’s truly believed in the hope and change that our president-elect had promised in his campaign.
Four years have passed quickly and the sense of hope may not be as profound this election as in 2008. But our country has endured and, believe it or not, there are people, myself included, who can truthfully say we are better off today than we were four years ago.
The discussion for both candidates’ platforms this campaign season leaned heavily on the economy. Romney gave stump speeches in front of the closed Solyndra factory in California, calling the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) US$528 million loan guarantees to the company a waste of government money and a failure for the economy by President Obama.
In the infancy of President Obama’s first term, Solyndra was a high-profile solar company. It captured the President’s interest enough to have him tour the facility and use it as a marker of success for other US solar companies in the United States. Of course, what most people remember now is Solyndra’s downfall (although it seems that some forget that the loan guarantee for Solyndra came under the Bush administration).
As the company dissolved, it remained as the face of a solar industry that seemed to be on precarious ground. There is no doubt that the solar industry around the world has been walking a careful line over the past few years. Price pressures, oversupply and decreasing subsidies have been cited by various companies as leading to dropping quarterly revenues and revised yearly projections. But has it all been bad news for the industry since Obama took office?
According to statistics published by the White House, the US has doubled renewable energy generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources since 2008 because of Obama’s investments in clean energy. Further, US dependence on foreign oil is said to be at a 16-year low, helped in part by the DOE’s investments in 30 clean energy projects over the past four years.
The daily news on PV-Tech suggests that even though the solar industry still has some obstacles, projections agree that it is on its way up. Those reports of declining quarterly earnings are counterbalanced by the news of the completion of new solar installations. It is naïve of us only to listen to the good news. We have to understand that the bad and the good come hand in hand.
And so now we look at where we go from here. For his second term, President Obama has outlined plans for his continued championing of renewable energy. His critics have branded him an opponent to coal, but I find it difficult to fault anyone for their belief in clean energy. He has been transparent in stating that he wants to “take control” of the US’s energy future, and, aside from expanding oil and gas production, Obama plans to continue his mission to create “more renewable energy like wind and solar power”.
Obama has realised that investment in domestic clean energy would help create new jobs, which would in turn spur the US economy. The White House says Obama wants to “renew successful bipartisan tax incentives that create American jobs and reduce our reliance on foreign oil”. Further, he plans to permit clean energy projects on public lands that will generate enough renewable energy to power 3 million homes.
We cannot look back today and say that the US did not come out unscathed from these past four years, but then again, the face of the whole world has changed too. And so, this Wednesday after the US election day, as I sit at home in North Carolina, I concede that I may not be filled with the same hope I had in 2008. But I believe this country and industry can pull itself together and come out of these next four years even stronger.