In 2011, global investment in renewable energy surpassed fossil fuels for the first time. And the U.S. surged back into the lead in clean investment ahead of China by about $8 billion.
So what, other than bad journalism, explains this nonsensical headline and image from the top tech magazine Wired?
Actually, it is just bad journalism, pure and simple. Indeed, the magazine itself clearly wanted a sensationalistic headline — and even more sensationalistic photo — to get eyeballs in this highly competitive media environment.
The story simply doesn’t justify the headline. That’s obvious from the fact that the story itself includes this summary of wind energy prospects:
Outlook: Cheaper prices for turbines should result in lower costs for wind power by 2014. Though growth has slowed since 2008, this sector is still expected to cover about a third of any increased energy consumption in the US between now and 2035.
Huh? An energy industry that barely registered any significant U.S. capacity or generation a decade ago is now expected to provide a third of the increased energy consumption in the next quarter century — and that’s somehow a clean-tech “bust” which warrants an exploding wind-turbine image? Amazing (and I will repost a response to the article by a leading wind expert below).
For the record, I’m not saying the wind industry doesn’t face a near-term challenge in the face of unconventional gas and a GOP Congress unwilling to support a crucial tax credit. Climate Progress has made clear that it does (see “Policy Uncertainty Threatens 1,600 American Wind Jobs at Vestas — and 37,000 Jobs Nationwide“). I’m saying that there has been no bust in the industry yet, there doesn’t need to be one, and, indeed, the prospects for the industry over the next couple of decades remain very strong, as the article itself makes clear.
I asked Eilperin about the headline and images, which I thought were completely unwarranted. She makes clear she had nothing to do with them:
“I stand by the story, which accurately portrays some of the challenges the U.S. clean tech faces in light of the current fiscal and political climate. The piece also highlight some of the industry’s bright spots, including the fact that cheaper conventional PV panels has made the expansion of distributed solar generation and utility-scale solar projects more affordable. As many magazine readers would understand, I had no input into either the display art or the headline that accompanied the piece.”
Readers know that headlines are the most important part of any such story, seen by at least 10 times as many people who read it — and in the internet era, it’s likely that 20 to 100 times as many people see the headline from a respected magazine like Wired.
Wired should retract and change the headline.
I blame the editors for this — but I don’t agree with Eilperin’s assessment of the story itself. I think it is flawed, especially its discussion of solar energy.
The piece uses Solyndra as a stand-in for the entire US solar industry and devotes over one third of the piece to the now-bankrupt company. But Eilperin and Wired seem completely unaware of the fact that Solyndra was always a one-of-a-kind solar play that made sense only if silicon prices stayed high. In that sense, it was obviously part of a ”portfolio” investment strategy by DOE, a hedge against their much broader strategy, which was based on silicon prices coming down. As Bloomberg Government made clear in a recent analysis that received virtually no coverage in the media, “the focus on Solyndra is not proportional to its impact.” About 87% of the DOE loan portfolio is low-risk.
You’d never know from the Wired piece that in 2010, America was a net exporter of $1.9 billion in solar products. You’d never know that the U.S. solar industry grew 100% in 2010 and another 100% in 2011, making it perhaps the “fastest growing” industry in America.
How does Wired make the case that the solar industry is a bust when there are ”over 100,000 Americans are working in the solar Industry.”
Promise: … In 2010, the solar industry predicted that as many as 500,000 people would be directly or indirectly employed in the US solar sector by 2016.
Reality: As we head into 2012, the number is more like 100,000. Prices for conventional solar cells have fallen 40 percent in the past year, due largely to a flood of panels from Chinese manufacturers, which have benefited from plunging silicon prices and government support. The price drop has eviscerated the US solar manufacturing industry.
Seriously. Apparently because there is one solar study that said we would have 500,000 jobs 4 years from now, the super-fast growing industry with 100,000 jobs is a bust. For the record:
- It is a 2011 study .
- The 500,000 number assumes a 5-year extension of the crucial Treasury Grant Program.
- The 500,000 number is based on direct, indirect and induced jobs. Induced jobs roughly double the total!
Yet Wired still had the chutzpah to use this image as its depiction of this staggeringly successful American industry: