As a cleantech CEO who has received $12 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), I feel compelled to assure the public that U.S. tax money has not been wasted. The cleantech industry has not crashed – as a recent ’60 Minutes’ piece asserts – but rather, is stronger than ever. Here are just a few of the reasons why:
1. More Americans use clean energy than ever before.
The infamous crash of Solyndra was actually sign of a positive trend for solar consumers: a dramatic decrease in the cost per kWh. The majority of U.S. solar jobs are concentrated in financing and installation, not manufacturing. Cheaper panels have led to a boom in the U.S. solar sector, making 2013 a record year for solar installations. Wind energy now powers over 15 million American homes. During the first six months of 2013, America bought twice as many plug-in electric vehicles as in the first half of 2012.
2. Cleantech is still a solid investment.
Despite the burst of the Silicon Valley cleantech investment bubble following Solyndra, investors have been returning to the industry, lured by the rapid growth of companies like SolarCity. The DOE loan program has a whopping 97% success rate with much-publicized failures such as Solyndra and Abound Solar making up just 3% of the portfolio.
3. Greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. are falling.
Carbon dioxide emissions fell by 13% in the past five years to its lowest level in nearly 20 years. Though part of the savings was due to an increase in natural gas, renewable energy and new energy saving technologies also played a role. 2014 is predicted to be one of the cleanest years since the early 1990s.
4. The grid is changing.
The U.S. electric utility industry faces a critical juncture as new technology and declining prices allow a more distributed system of energy storage, renewable energy installations and power efficiency strategies. Over $4 billion has been invested in the so-called ‘smart grid.’ New technologies like Opower for residential and our GreenStations have begun to help businesses save money on their utility bills.
5. Cleantech jobs are growing.
There are now more solar workers than ranchers in Texas. In California, solar workers outnumber actors. The solar sector in total employs 119,000 workers, with the wind industry bringing in another 80,000. Though jobs in cleantech as a whole are difficult to size due to differing definitions, we know that green jobs have seen explosive growth over the past few years, despite the recession. Also, with the recent legislative initiatives, there will be a ton more innovations, businesses and jobs created out of the emerging energy storage sector in the years to come, fulfilling a very real and necessary gap in California, especially with the decommissioning of San Onofre Generating Station last year.
From the rise in clean energy adoption to the replacement of our aging grid infrastructure with new technology, it's clear that the cleantech industry isn't going anywhere.
Vic Shao is CEO of Green Charge Networks, an energy storage start-up based in Santa Clara, Calif.