Can Clean-Tech Survive the Coming Funding Drought?

By 2014, federal clean-tech investment may tumble by 75% from its peak in 2009

Government policies and subsidies that support clean-tech are phasing out over the next two years. That could be disastrous for the industry, though it doesn’t have to be, according to a new report from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. In 2009 when federal support was peaking, the industry received $44.3 billion. But the report, entitled Beyond Boom and Bust: Putting Clean Tech On a Path To Subsidy Independence [PDF], projects that by 2014, federal subsidies will have dropped to $11 billion.

“Undeniably, there’s a massive reset before us,” Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings and one of the report’s authors, said this morning on KQED’s Forum radio program. Muro and the other authors examined 92 programs that provide policy or financial support to the clean-tech industry. Of those, 61 have pre-set expiration dates and, unless extended, will no longer be in place by the end of 2014.

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Tesla’s Model X: Sleek, Climate-Friendly and Made in California

Tesla is blazing a trail for electric vehicles, but its sky-high prices are still a barrier

Production on Tesla's Model X begins in 2013.

On February 8th, Tesla Motors CEO, Elon Musk, unveiled the company’s latest electric car: The Model X. Probably the sleekest and sexiest SUV you’ve ever seen, and also the priciest. But what’s most remarkable — beyond the falcon wings — is that the car will be manufactured here in the Golden State, at the former NUMMI plant in Fremont.

Why did Tesla choose to locate its headquarters and manufacturing in the high-priced San Francisco Bay Area? Was it linked to the state’s ambitious clean energy targets and policies? The new rules approved last month by the California Air Resources Board require automakers to produce 1.4 million zero-emission cars for the California market by 2025, and are part of the aggressive goal of reducing the state’s emissions 80% by 2050.

Tesla spokesperson Khobi Brooklyn eschewed policy explanations and told me, “We wanted to build our cars in California, not only creating jobs in the U.S., but also California specifically.” She cited Silicon Valley as “an incredibly rich pool of talent” and said that purchasing an existing car manufacturing facility saved money and time in preparing for car production. I’ve no doubt the California sales tax rebates on capital equipment purchasing (estimated at $20 Million) helped too.

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Clean-Tech’s Unlikely Champion

Is the Pentagon setting the pace for renewable energy?

A Riverine Command Boat running on a 50/50 blend of algae-based and traditional fuel.

Thirty years ago, the idea of a military-alternative energy partnership might have raised some eyebrows, particularly among solar entrepreneurs here in Northern California. But in the wake of Solyndra’s crash and burn, the Pentagon has become one of clean-tech’s strongest remaining allies in Washington. Leading the charge is Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, whom I interviewed last week for my radio report on KQED’s Quest.

According to a recent study from the Pew Charitable Trust, the military has tripled its investment in technologies like biofuels, solar panels, and electric vehicles over the last four years. Today, it spends $1.2 billion a year on alternative fuels. That amount is expected to reach $2.25 billion by 2015. Mabus says he wants to see the Navy and Marine Corps getting at least half of their fuel from non-fossil fuel sources by 2020. Continue reading

Officials Call for Federal Clean Energy Standards

In Las Vegas, politicians and industry leaders point to California’s lead

Gov. Jerry Brown with Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas.

In his keynote address at this week’s National Clean Energy Summit, Vice President Joe Biden said America is at a crossroads when it comes to energy, and that the choice is clear.

“If we shrink from deciding that we’re going to lead in the area of alternative energy, renewable energy, then we will be making the biggest mistake this nation has made in its entire history,” he said.

The Vice President was joined by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, California Governor Jerry Brown, and other political and industry leaders at the summit, which is in its fourth year and is sponsored by several entities, including the Center for American Progress and Nevada Senator Harry Reid.

“If we don’t lead in this new energy technology, we’re going to follow, and I’d hate like hell to be trading the importation of oil, for the importation of new technologies,” said Biden. “Neither is very acceptable.” Continue reading

Google Invests Millions in Residential Solar

SolarCity infusion is Google’s largest yet

(Photo: Craig Miller)

Google is giving a boost to the solar industry today – but not to those large solar farms in the California desert. Nope, the company’s largest clean energy investment to date is going to home solar.

Five years ago, SolarCity was a small, Bay Area start-up. Today, it’s getting a $280 million-dollar investment from one of the most influential players in the game.

“We are very excited,” says Lyndon Rive,  CEO of SolarCity. “It’s a big vote of confidence in SolarCity as well as hopefully a big vote of confidence to the entire market.” Continue reading