Now Is Not the Time to Wave the White Flag on Clean Energy Jobs


This morning, Chairman Cliff Stearns, who leads the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, told NPR that “We can’t compete with China to make solar panels and wind turbines.”

This comment reflects exactly the sort of counterproductive defeatism that Energy Secretary Steven Chu warned against this weekend when he spoke to a group of America’s most promising young solar innovators:

“The United States faces a choice today: Will we sit on the sidelines and fall behind or will we play to win the clean energy race? Some say this is a race America can’t win.  They’re ready to wave the white flag and declare defeat… Others say this is a race America shouldn’t even be in. They say we can’t afford to invest in clean energy.  I say we can’t afford not to.

“It’s not enough for our country to invent clean energy technologies – we have to make them and use them too. Invented in America, made in America, and sold around the world – that’s how we’ll create good jobs and lead in the 21st century.”

The race for clean energy jobs and industries is on – and it is a race well worth winning. The International Energy Agency projects that in the coming decades, solar power could grow to more than 20 percent of the world’s electricity. Conservatively, this means that there is an economic opportunity worth trillions of dollars for whichever countries claim the lead. The global market for wind turbines is also growing exponentially.

But it’s not just the vast potential of jobs tomorrow – these industries employ a growing number of Americans today. In fact, business groups estimate that America’s solar industry accounts for about 100,000 jobs and the wind industry employs 75,000. Should we simply tell those workers that we’ve given up on them?

A study released last month showed that, in spite of the intense global competition, the U.S. remains a net global exporter of solar technology – with $5.6 billion in exports and an overall positive trade balance of $1.8 billion.

It is certainly true that China is playing to win. Last year alone, China offered its solar manufacturers $30 billion in government financing, vastly exceeding the U.S. investment.  And China has overtaken the United States market share in solar power – a technology we invented.

Chairman Stearns and other members of his party in Congress believe that America cannot, or should not, try to compete for jobs in a cutting edge and rapidly growing industry.  We simply disagree:  the answer to this challenge is not to wave the white flag and give up on American workers. America has never declared defeat after a single setback – and we shouldn’t start now.

America’s entrepreneurs and innovators are still the very best in the world. Our workers are second to none – and we have never been afraid of a challenge. It’s time to do what we’ve always done in the face of a tough competitor: roll up our sleeves and recapture the lead.

photo: portobesono

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

  • Tom Rich

    This is great advice, our economy will depend on developing renewable technologies to create jobs four our future. Too often our country ships off it’s lower skilled manufacturing jobs to other countries, but these jobs are essential for a healthy economy. For our economy to recover we will need to build a base of not only high tech jobs, but also increase our manufacturing base, and renewable energy is a market that we cannot only compete in, but dominate.