Solar Power International (SPI) attendees were treated to a
high-profile pep talk from none other than a former U.S. president on
Weaving encouraging words, insider policy advice and a
couple of allegorical Arkansas anecdotes into his keynote address,
President Bill Clinton reassured the industry crowd that solar power
can, indeed, flourish in the U.S.
"I love what you guys are
doing," Clinton told the audience, which filled the Orange County
Convention Center's large Valencia ballroom and spilled into two
overflow viewing rooms. "This place is full of entrepreneurs."
he added, much of solar's recent success - and, especially, the vital
role that the federal government has played in bolstering the industry -
has gone unnoticed or been misconstrued by Americans outside the
"Most people don't know that in spite of economic
adversity, government support and venture capital have catapulted the
U.S. to lead clean energy investment in 2011," Clinton noted. "They
don't know how much public-private cooperation there is."
power's perception gap - a challenge familiar to the industry - was a
recurring theme in Clinton's speech, as he cited statistics about job
creation, solar project deployment totals and other industry growth
metrics, with each fact preceded by "most don't know that…"
instance, Germany recently generated the equivalent of 20 nuclear power
plants with PV, despite the country's limited solar resource. Although
opponents of Germany's solar program have claimed that the government
"threw money at solar and practically bankrupted the country," hard
numbers from apolitical sources have proven otherwise, he noted.
read the Deutsche Bank study," Clinton said, referring to an analysis
that showed Germany has netted thousands of jobs from its solar
initiative. "Not Greenpeace - Deutsche Bank."
Similarly, here in
the U.S., where incentives for solar power and other renewable energy
have become an increasingly politicized issue, a study from the Baker
Center (named for Republican Senator Howard H. Baker Jr.) found that
government support given to renewables is perfectly in line with
subsidies given to other industries, Clinton added.
"Americans don't know that, but they need to know that," he stressed.
solar company has been used as heavily in the political and public case
against supporting solar as failed thin-film manufacturer Solyndra -
which, according to critics, was a symbol of corruption and wasted
taxpayer money spent on an undeserving industry. Clinton offered some
tough love for solar professionals who wanted to reshape the nefarious
Solyndra story told to Americans.
"You can't blame people for
reacting to an isolated incident out of context if you don't provide the
context and the other side of the story," he pointed out.
added that he saw Solyndra as a company with an innovative yet
expensive technology that failed to reach volume and bring its costs
down quickly enough to compete - especially once the Chinese government
doled out billions to their domestic solar manufacturing industry.
no one explained that to the American people, they can be forgiven for
listening to the worst possible explanation," he said. He urged solar
companies and their partners to "get the basic positive facts out there"
in order to counteract the negativity.
attack ads laced with Solyndra references will fade after the November
presidential election, but what about afterward? Solar Energy Industries
Association (SEIA) President and CEO Rhone Resch told Clinton in a
post-keynote Q&A session that SPI attendees were all eager to know
the former president's thoughts on the fate of the solar sector under
either a Mitt Romney presidency or a second term under President Barack
The two candidates often offer more clues into their plans
than voters may realize, Clinton said. "My advice is that you should
assume they will do what they say and attempt to know what they say," he
suggested. "Politicians are much more honest with the voters than you
think they are during campaigns."
As for known specifics, Clinton
added that Romney has said he would eliminate clean energy tax breaks,
while Obama will likely seek to bring back the U.S. Department of the
Treasury's Section 1603 program, which expired last year.
energy incentives, however, have historically enjoyed bipartisan
recognition of their economic benefits. For instance, Clinton noted that
President George W. Bush provided tax credits to wind power companies
while serving as governor of Texas, thus helping propel the state's boom
in wind energy development and create significant private investment.
the world, no one makes energy policy without public-private
cooperation," Clinton stressed. Nongovernmental organizations may also
begin to play a larger role, especially in developing nations. For
instance, houses being built as part of a post-earthquake redevelopment
effort in Haiti - home to extremely high electricity rates - must now be
equipped with PV-ready roofs.
Back in the U.S., numerous forces
are in solar's favor - despite the aforementioned public-perception
issues, Clinton said. For instance, California's aggressive 33%
renewable portfolio standard, falling PV module prices, a growing
interest among utilities in large-scale plants, and the widespread
availability of state-level tax credits will all help solar reach what
Clinton believes is an inevitable tipping point.
"You're going to win this battle," Clinton assured the crowd. "The question is where and when and how."
Photo provided with permission from SEIA and the Solar Electric Power Association.
SOURCE: SOLAR INDUSTRY