"Despite What You May Hear From the GOP, Businesses Still Think Clean Energy is Hot"
“Dow Corning invested $5 billion dollars to create a platform to innovate in the solar industry. And that’s a significant investment in the U.S. that generates jobs, innovation and in the green building space.“
In covering the Solyndra media circus, the press has been infatuated with the politics of clean energy. So they’ve often missed — or misreported — the most important story about the business community’s support of a sector that has had “explosive” jobs growth since 2003, as a recent Brookings Institution report found.
Last week, on the same day House Republicans held a hearing called “How Obama’s Green Energy Agenda is Killing Jobs,” the Solar Decathlon opened up in Washington with only passing mention in the popular press. The event, which highlights the most innovative green building techniques using commercially-available technologies, is a showcase of the world’s top young talent in this budding sector.
Apparently that’s too much of a “feel-good” story. Leaving Decathlon coverage mostly to the trade press, major publications focused instead on the nonsensical Congressional attacks against clean energy.
But as House leaders issued a report last week calling green jobs a “propaganda tool” that supports a “political ideology,” members of leading international companies shrugged off the political attacks. Instead of paying attention to the political theater in Congress, they gathered at the Decathlon to talk about why efficiency and renewables are a such an important part of business. Climate Progress spoke to a number of them for this story.
“It’s the core of the business,” explained Jim Pauley, senior vice president for government affairs at Schneider Electric, in an interview with Climate Progress. “It’s what we do.”
Schneider Electric is a leading international company providing technologies for electricity management — deploying everything from back-up systems for data centers to lighting control units in homes. Schneider is also managing the micro-grid that supports the homes at the Solar Decathlon.
As Pauley points out, the company isn’t doing it because of “political ideology” or a burning desire to be “green.” For Schneider Electric, it’s all about providing value to customers — and unlocking efficiency to enable renewables is a major part of what customers are demanding.
“For us, this is about what our customers want at the end of the day. The policy debates go on in a lot of venues and a lot of forums, but we have to look at this from the perspective of, ‘does this make sense to our customers?’”
The answer is increasingly and consistently “yes.”
Dow Corning, one of the biggest international producers of silicon-based products and building materials has made the sector a top priority. Far from being a political fad, building efficiency and renewable energy will be one of the company’s biggest markets.
“Dow Corning has its entire innovation portfolio looking at this. We put a lot of resources in innovation to address green building topics,” said Saulo Rozendo, global strategic marketer for the company’s construction business.
“There is an entire intelligence behind solar with investments that are very huge. Dow Corning invested $5 billion dollars to create a platform to innovate in the solar industry. And that’s a significant investment in the U.S. that generates jobs, innovation and in the green building space,” said Rozendo in an interview with Climate Progress.
The list of major international companies supporting clean energy as a core business philosophy is getting longer by the day: ABB, GE, Google, Siemens, Lockheed Martin, Mitsubishi. These companies don’t see the sector as a “propaganda tool.” They see it as one of the most lucrative and wide-reaching business opportunities ever presented.
“We’re seeing major corporations doing business and understanding the importance of reducing carbon,” said Mike Rosenfeld, head of clean technology investment at UK Trade and Invest, speaking to Climate Progress at the RETECH conference.
“These are global companies that work around the world and they understand the realities. And they also understand that it’s a good business proposition. They’re doing it because there is money to be made,” said Rosenfeld.
Rosenfeld is heading up the UK’s efforts to bring more foreign direct investment into the American clean energy market. The country’s latest campaign is focused primarily on companies with carbon-reduction solutions. Even in in a country like the U.S. where there’s still a “debate” over climate and, increasingly, the value of clean energy, Rosenfeld explained that the language of business can cut through the noise.
“We’ve taken the approach that nobody is against promoting business. Addressing climate change means good business, both locally and internationally,” he said.
It would be nice to think that these companies are doing it all alone without any help from the government. But like every emerging energy sector throughout history, government incentives in R&D and deployment are important tools to help spur the industry and leverage private investment.
However, those incentives are often scattered and fleeting in the renewable energy sector.
There’s a lot of hype about the special treatment renewables are getting. But a recent report shows in the first 15 years of support, the oil and gas sectors received 5 times more subsidies than renewables. Nuclear received 10 times more support.
That’s why people like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, GE’s Jeff Immelt and Kleiner Perkins’ John Doeer are not backing down on the issue. As part of the American Energy Innovation Council, these top business leaders are urging the government to stay consistent on support for the industry.
“This is a unique but critical role for government, one central to our long-term economic competitiveness,” said Gates in a statement after releasing a report on strategic federal energy investments.
Sadly, this story of business leadership is getting overshadowed by the focus on the investigation of Solyndra’s loan guarantee. So rather than talk about the immense wealth-creation opportunities through the development of clean energy, we’re mired down in another tired political debate.
Let’s get focused on what really matters.