Should Government Pick Winners and Losers in Energy Technology?

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For those of you who, like me, watch very little commercial news television, here’s a sample of reporting to consumers on the energy industry. This happens to concern Solyndra – a debacle that’s thrown a cold swimming pool of water on the already floundering US renewable energy industry.

Btw, I’d love to know how this happened in the first place. I talk to people in the private sector all the time who swear they saw this train-wreck coming far in advance. At I meeting I had with Kleiner Perkins managing partner Ray Lane earlier this year, he told me, “We knew that technology wouldn’t scale. We had been telling the DoE that for over a year, but no one would listen.”

So what are we to believe? That the public sector knew this too but made it happen for “political purposes?” Sorry, I think there’s more to the story than that. Yet God help me if I can add more clarity. I feel rather like those trying to figure out the JFK assassination; I know what didn’t happen, but not exactly what did.

I thought the DoE spokesperson did a good job in this piece in his handling the question: Shouldn’t the market, rather than government, pick the winners and losers in technology? This is a parallel question to: ought our government to support the development of technologies?

The spokesperson points out that it’s not a matter of “should” or “ought.” It’s a matter of fact. This is precisely what the governments of the large countries in Asia and Europe are, in fact, doing. The question is: Do we Americans want to do the same, or sit on the sidelines while we become irrelevant in the 21st Century global energy industry? Personally, I think he’s nailed this one.

But making this happen will be exceptionally difficult given the political climate, and voter expectation. Let’s examine those expectations for a second.

Except for the dwindling few of Americas who lived through the Great Depression, most of us have been exceptionally privileged with an outrageously high standard of living. And in the process, we’ve demonstrated a near-complete lack of attention to sustainability and an utter disregard for the consequences of over-consumption and under-preparation. So now we expect our elected leaders to bring us back from the precipice? We think someone’s going to win an election on an “austerity” platform, and force us reduce the ridiculous levels of gluttony that all of us take for granted? Even if there were such a person, he couldn’t get elected dogcatcher.

That cold swimming pool of water I mentioned? Get ready to be thrown into it.

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.

  • Wayne Crumpley

    When something happens that is a total mystery and doesn’t make any sense, that means you don’t have all the facts. When I saw the FBI taking boxes of documents out of Solyndra’s headquarters, my question was, “Are they investigating or covering up? It seems to me that the credit guarantee of the U.S. government is just another back door way into the U.S. Treasury. What do the politicians get, either directly or indirectly? Is it even possible to follow-the-money? Another thing, you mentioned in your piece, about JFK. I think it will come together what really happened over the next few years because all the people responsible for the assassinations are writing materials and leaving them with people to make their information public upon their deaths. Every time I Google the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Jr., Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., there is more information available. Since I am not personally interested in sending anyone to jail, I think it would be great for the U.S. Congress to give a blanket immunity to everyone involved, or has any information, from any prosecution. That would speed up the historical truth for everyone interested.

    • http://2greenenergy.com Craig Shields

      I like the way you think. It really is appalling that we can’t get to the truth behind some things that have obviously been covered up.

  • http://www.jleafsolar.co.uk/ jason@ solar panels

    Do we Americans want to ….become irrelevant in the 21st Century global energy industry?

    Only if you don’t pull your socks up and realise that you need to be green as well as trying to be powerful!