Renewable energy companies sustain collateral damage in Washington budget battles

Thanks to Sam for passing along the following article highlighting how Paul Ryan’s House Republican budget document makes an explicit, unsubstantiated attack against two solar energy companies – both of which are alive and well – as examples of wasteful government spending in renewable energy:

I would be extremely pissed off if I were a part of either of those ventures- while it’s fine that Ryan and his allies see a more limited role for government support of renewable energy enterprise, it is completely inappropriate and unjust for a national politician to slander these companies as “ill-fated ventures” in a widely-read policy document in order to make the broader point, particularly when you offer no justification for the claim.

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Example of a concentrated solar thermal plant, tower design

I find it particularly interesting that one of the companies mentioned, Solar Reserve, is a concentrated solar thermal technology company, rather than a solar panel (PV) manufacturer.  Check out this video from the company for a quick overview of the technology: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73SNIuZ333s.  Because thermal energy in such a system is easily and cheaply stored as molten salt, the plant can continue to produce power during periods of cloud cover and during part of the night, so the technology starts to get around some of the intermittency issues associated with PV.  For our department seminar last month we had someone from NREL speaking about concentrated solar, and while there are some really cool technology advancements going on in this area right now, the basic pieces are very straightforward with very low development risk:  there are multiple plants currently operating around the world with the same general technology, and there’s no chance of being undercut by foreign competitors like other US solar companies have been.  So, ironically, this is probably one of the least-risky DoE renewable energy loans to make an example of!

Finally, for all of the conservative ruminations about government support of the solar industry, I would point out that one of the primary reasons the sector has recently struggled is due to Chinese competition, largely the result of an exercise in unsustainable commodity dumping that is now coming to an end.  Rather than yanking government support of renewable energy enterprises and libeling individual companies, we should be showing renewable energy the same commitment we have for medical and defense research, before the US is further eclipsed by foreign competition in a sector with such economic and geopolitical importance.

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One Response to Renewable energy companies sustain collateral damage in Washington budget battles

  1. John says:

    Okay, I guess the risk associated with this particular type of renewable energy enterprise is still not zero:
    http://e360.yale.edu/digest/us_company_shelves_solar_thermal_plant_as_utility_cancels_contract/3809/

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