Is Solar Sitting Pretty?
Mar18

Is Solar Sitting Pretty?

One would have thought it would be absurd to try to find a silver lining in the week-long tragedy still unfolding in Japan. But the world's investors have strong imaginations, apparently. Earlier this week while searching for cleantech news, I came across a number of articles describing a huge run up in share prices of solar firms. Bloomberg now reports, "The Bloomberg Global Leaders Solar Index has risen about 9.1 percent since March 11, when an earthquake and tsunami in Japan knocked out cooling systems at a Tokyo Electric Power Co. reactor, releasing radioactive pollution." But the piece quickly lets the air out of the balloon, saying "While the incident triggered speculation governments will scale back nuclear power in favor of renewable, solar panel demand is stagnating." Basically, after a doubling of solar installions last year - led by Germany - governments have ratcheted back the incentives that are the primary driver of demand for companies like U.S.-based First Solar. First Solar was one of the leading firms to receive positive fall-out from the nuclear disaster this week. Because solar is not now the main focus of government interventions, any turning away from nuclear energy plans is more likely to benefit energy efficiency and natural gas projects, Bloomberg...

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Bayer MaterialScience, PPG Get Presidential Shout Out
Feb04

Bayer MaterialScience, PPG Get Presidential Shout Out

Yesterday, President Obama was at Penn State to press for more federal support of green buildings. In his speech promoting the Better Buildings Initiative, he suggested that many in his audience might not consider green buildings to be "sexy." But I suspect that chemists have many reasons to find green buildings to be pretty darned appealing. For one thing, green building materials research - like that conducted by a clean energy hub in Philadelphia headed by Penn State - can earn chemical firms a Presidential shout-out. The hub includes corporate partners Bayer Material Science, which is working on new materials for insulation and facades that save energy, and PPG Industries, whose researchers are creating walls that reflect sun and windows that reflect infrared, according to the President's remarks. He pointed out that making buildings (and homes) more energy efficient is a green upgrade that comes with no tradeoffs. The whole point of retrofitting (or building green from the start) is to save on energy costs. The roadblock, though, is the initial upfront cost, which is a cash expenditure. The President's initiative - through tax credits and financing help - is supposed to minimize the up-front sticker shock. He'd like to pay for the cost of the program by rolling back "subsidies to the oil companies," saying, "it's time to stop subsidizing yesterday's...

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Are the Green Jobs All in China?
Sep09

Are the Green Jobs All in China?

Three articles in this week’s Washington Post and New York Times examine the question of whether the shift to clean energy will really create more U.S. jobs or just hasten the shift of jobs to China. It seems like there is strong evidence for the latter case. Today’s New York Times covers the news that the United Steelworkers union plans to file a case with the Obama Administration accusing China of violating free trade rules in its subsidies for exports of clean energy equipment. Here’s a taste: “The union says the violations have helped Chinese companies expand their share of the world market for wind turbines, solar panels, nuclear power plants and other clean energy equipment, at the expense of jobs in the United States and elsewhere. The filing asks the Obama administration to begin formal proceedings at the W.T.O. in Geneva to force China to repeal the subsidies. “Unless China’s policies are urgently addressed, the U.S. may never get a fair shot at making the green technologies of the future,” the filing says.” Yesterday’s Washington Post ran a business opinion column by Steven Pearlstein that looks at the structural dilemmas behind high unemployment in the U.S. and hits on a similar trade theme: "The reason there were 8 million additional jobs back in 2007 is that demand for goods and services was artificially - and unsustainably - inflated by cheap, plentiful credit. "Bringing down our trade deficit “either by producing more of what we consume (fewer imports) or more of what other countries consume (more exports) - represents the path toward sustainable, long-term job creation. "The problem with that strategy is that for the past two decades we have allowed our industrial and technological base to deteriorate as talent and capital were grossly misallocated toward other sectors of the economy, even as other countries were able to attract the investment, the technology and the know-how to serve the U.S. and global markets.” AND, he writes, “our companies are disadvantaged by an overvalued currency or unfair trading practices.” Also in yesterday’s Post, a must-read example of a factory shut-down that will result in 400 lost jobs in spite of U.S. clean technology innovation. Where the author writes “lighting industry” one could easily substitute “solar industry” or “battery industry.” “During the recession, political and business leaders have held out the promise that American advances, particularly in green technology, might stem the decades-long decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs. But as the lighting industry shows, even when the government pushes companies toward environmental innovations and Americans come up with them, the manufacture of the next generation technology can still end up...

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