As a cleantech CEO who has received $12M in funding from the US Department of Energy, I feel compelled to assure the American public that your money has not been wasted. The cleantech industry has not crashed, as the recent 60 Minutes piece asserted, 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 US solar jobs are concentrated in financing and installation, not manufacturing. Cheaper panels has led to a boom in the US solar industry, 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 Solar City. The US Department of Energy (DOE) loan program has a whopping 97% success rate with much-publicized failures such as Solyndra and Abound Solar making up just three percent of the portfolio.
3. Greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States 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 Green Charge Networks' GreenStationTMs 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 industry 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 recent de-commissioning of San Onofre Generating Station (SONGS)).
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.
About Vic ShaoVic is Chief Executive Officer of Green Charge Networks, an energy-storage startup based in Silicon Valley. Since 2009, Vic and his team have been collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy and Fortune 500 companies on ROI-driven energy storage GreenStationTM for the private sector, complementary to solar PV. Vic led the company through its US $12 million smart-grid project with Con Edison of New York and the US Department of Energy. With more than 15 years' experience in software development and complex-system implementation, Vic is passionate in applying software to improve power efficiency.