The clean energy industry has come a long way since Solyndra’s bankruptcy
Last month marked the 10th anniversary of the Bankruptcy of Solyndra. Despite the many successes achieved by the US Department of Energy Loan Programs Office (LPO), this particular loan has divided our politics and has been used as a talking point in an attempt to undermine the nascent clean energy industry in the United States.
Today the world has understood the importance of responding to the climate crisis, but the drama surrounding Solyndra’s loan is still instructive for Congress as it considers new investments in clean energy essential in the framework of the bipartite bill on infrastructure and Rebuild Better Act.
We have heard a lot about this loan. That’s because we ran the agency that invested in Solyndra – and many other clean energy companies. Although the investment in Solyndra was made before our arrival, it was made for the same reason: to commercialize innovative technology, create new jobs and reduce global warming.
Looking back 10 years later, it is clear that the vast majority of loans were winners. One was for a start-up automaker called You’re here. We also provided loans to 10 of the first large-scale solar projects in the United States, catalyzing the industry. We have subscribed to largest wind farm in the United States and funded on first nuclear power plant built in this country over the past 30 years. The portfolio also included energy storage projects, innovative transmission lines, geothermal projects and biofuels. In total, $ 32 billion has been invested in a wide range of technologies, and 10 years later, the wallet made money for taxpayers, while cumulatively avoiding more than 35 million tonnes of carbon emissions and replacing nearly 3 billion gallons of gasoline.
In addition to being good investments, these loans have made it possible to launch a now undeniable clean energy transition. According to International Renewable Energy Agency, solar and wind power accounted for 91% of all new electricity generation installed worldwide last year. Government programs like ours have helped launch the renewable energy market by demonstrating feasibility and reducing costs. Since 2010, the cost of solar and onshore wind has fallen by 82% and 39% respectively. Utilities, businesses and consumers are now turning to clean energy simply because it is the cheapest option.
The clean energy transition has also created the kind of high paying jobs we thought would be 10 years ago. Today more than 230,000 people work in the American solar industry. It’s a growing industry that employs skilled electricians, computer programmers, construction workers, financial analysts, and everything in between. And these loans have had a significant impact on the environment. Today, the loan program portfolio saves approximately 1,473 tonnes of CO2 per million dollars of funding provided.
While this is only good news, recent wildfires in the West, record heat waves and destruction from Hurricane Ida underscore the fact that the climate crisis has not been resolved. It’s a sobering challenge, but thanks in part to loans made 10 years ago, industries and technologies exist to begin to tackle this large-scale crisis. Once again, it’s time to take bold action to tackle the climate crisis, create more clean energy jobs, and invest in the next wave of successful clean energy companies.
Congress can take immediate action by adopting the bipartite infrastructure plan, which accelerate the deployment of electric vehicles and strengthen transport capacity necessary to develop renewable energy production. It must also go further by adopting stricter clean energy and climate policies, such as a national clean energy standard, mandates for electric vehicles and financial incentives to reduce the cost of technologies. keys.
Private capital also has an essential role to play: 50 trillion dollars of investment are needed over the next three decades to avoid the worst effects of climate change and achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. It is not a sunk cost. It is an opportunity to invest in businesses and infrastructure that provide energy, mobility and other essential services. Institutional investors are already increasing their allocations to the sector. They must now adopt binding environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies and order asset managers to do the same.
In addition, more than 400 of the world’s largest companies have already committed to zero net greenhouse gas emissions. The world needs other companies to follow suit, drive these changes through their supply chains, and create larger markets for clean energy and other climate solutions. Individual consumers can also vary their power by choosing clean energy, electric vehicles and low carbon lifestyles.
Ten years ago, we had the privilege of helping launch the clean energy industry by investing billions of dollars in a young industry. Not all investments were successful, but most did – and they changed the world.
Like in baseball, you don’t hit base every time you are at bat, but you can’t hit unless you swing. And it is important that the government continues to take action because the climate crisis is both an existential problem and one of the greatest investment opportunities for generations.
So let’s play to win.
Peter W. Davidson is the CEO of Aligned Climate Capital, an asset manager focused exclusively on clean energy and climate-related investments. He was Executive Director of the US Department of Energy’s Office of Loan Programs from 2013 to 2015.
Jonathan Silver is Senior Advisor at Guggenheim Securities. He was Executive Director of the US Department of Energy’s Office of Loan Programs from 2009 to 2011.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Guggenheim Securities.