Secretary Steven Chu's remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the General Electric Solar Facility in Arvada, Colorado.
Thank you, Fred [Seymour], for the introduction. GE is a leader in energy innovation. Thomas Edison, the father of GE, once said, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power!” I imagine he would be amazed by the solar technology that is tested here.
It’s great to be in Colorado, a state that is at the forefront of the clean energy economy and has more solar jobs per capita than any other state[i].
I’m here at a critical time for America’s energy future. It’s a time of challenge, but it’s also a time of opportunity.
Last year, more than $240 billion was invested globally in clean energy. The worldwide market for solar photovoltaic systems alone is worth more than $80 billion.
The solar market is going to explode in the coming decades. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, trillions of dollars will be invested globally in solar and other renewable energy sectors over the next 20 years.
Countries around the world, especially China, recognize the economic potential in the solar market, and are racing at full speed to capture the lead. China leads the world in total clean energy investments and has provided strong government support to its solar industry. Today, China’s market share in solar cell and solar module production is roughly 50 percent, up significantly from just a few years ago.
Meanwhile, the U.S. market share has dropped. In 1995, the United States produced more than 40 percent of the world’s solar panels, but last year, we only produced about seven percent. Although the United States invented solar PV technologies, we are no longer the leading manufacturer.
America has a choice to make today: Are we going to be importers or exporters of solar technologies? We can accept defeat and watch the solar jobs go to China, Germany and other countries, or we can get in the game and play to win, creating jobs in Colorado and across the country.
To compete in the clean energy race, we have to do more than invent technologies, we have to make them and sell them too.
There are some in Washington who think we can’t, or shouldn’t, compete when it comes to producing solar panels, wind turbines and other clean energy technologies. They’re ready to wave the white flag and declare defeat.
I disagree. America’s workers, entrepreneurs and innovators are the best in the world – and they are ready to compete.
More than a decade ago, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) developed innovative cadmium telluride thin-film solar photovoltaic technology. In 2007, NREL entered into a cooperative research and development agreement with PrimeStar Solar, a Colorado start-up company, to transition the technology to commercial module production.
NREL and the Energy Department have continued to provide assistance. This includes giving the company an award in 2007 to help build its first 30 megawatts of manufacturing capacity. Over the past few years, PrimeStar Solar and GE, which held a stake in PrimeStar Solar for years and recently acquired the company, have continued to make technological progress.
The story gets better: GE plans to open a solar manufacturing plant in Aurora to produce these innovative solar panels. The Aurora plant is expected to create 355 jobs and to produce enough panels annually to power 80,000 homes once at capacity. It will also help America compete.
Instead of watching a technology be discovered in America and then shipped overseas, we need to fight to keep it here. Other countries want these opportunities and are moving aggressively; so must we.
The public and private sectors can, and should, work together to make sure clean energy technologies are invented in America, made in America and sold around the world. This is what we need to do to prosper in the 21st century.
The global competition is fierce, and support for new and innovative technologies comes with inherent risk. But that is no reason to sit on the sidelines and concede leadership in our sweet spot, technological and manufacturing innovation.
President Kennedy once said, “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.”
The stakes are too high to turn our backs on the clean energy industry. We can compete in the global marketplace – creating American jobs and selling American products – or we can buy the technologies of tomorrow from abroad. The choice is ours.
I believe we can and must compete in clean energy – and I believe we can win. But we have to act now.
[i] Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, based on data from the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2011, http://www.coseia.org/newsroom/coseia-news-releases/colorado-leads.html