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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu today highlighted the Department’s historic investment in clean energy technologies in remarks congratulating the 2011 Solar Decathlon winners. The following are the Secretary’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon, I’m delighted to be a part of today’s ceremony.  I want to start by thanking everyone who made the 2011 Solar Decathlon possible:

  • Richard King and all of the hardworking employees at the Energy Department and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory;
  • The 800 volunteers who were here to help, come rain or shine;
  • The judges, who donated both their time and skills; and
  • All of our sponsors, whose support is essential to the Solar Decathlon’s success.

Most importantly, I want to recognize the approximately 4,000 students who participated in the competition.  All of you have done an amazing job and should be proud.

The ingenuity, the creativity and the talent that you displayed this week give me hope for the future.  One of my favorite things about this competition is that we are enlisting the next generation of leaders to help solve the energy problem.

From a home that filters polluted water, to a home that can house disaster victims, to homes that fit right into a Midwestern neighborhood or at the top of a New York City apartment complex, you’ve taken this year’s competition to a whole new level. 

The houses you designed are not only energy efficient and livable, but they’re more affordable.  We estimate that you cut the cost of your houses by a third compared to two years ago. 

Over the past week, we’ve watched you battle it out in categories ranging from architecture to affordability, engineering to energy balance.  Just as there is a fierce competition happening here, there is also a fierce competition happening around the world. 

Countries in Europe, in Asia, and throughout the Western Hemisphere are moving aggressively to produce and use clean energy technologies. There’s no doubt about it: We are in a global clean energy race. 

Consumers are hungry for clean energy products that will save them money on their energy bills. Look no further than this competition for evidence: This week, more than 200,000 visits were made to the Solar Decathlon houses.

In the decades ahead, the clean energy market will only continue to grow. According to the International Energy Agency, by 2050, solar power could generate more than 20 percent of the world’s electricity.

That means a market worth trillions of dollars for the production of solar panels and other equipment. 

Other countries have concluded that energy technologies are critical to their national and economic security in the 21st century and are investing big.  Last year alone, China offered more than $30 billion in government financing to its solar companies.  Many other countries, from Canada to Korea to Germany, are also providing government support for clean energy projects.

These countries have studied our playbook and want to beat us at our own game.

The United States faces a choice today: Will we sit on the sidelines and fall behind or will we play to win the clean energy race?

Some say this is a race America can’t win.  They’re ready to wave the white flag and declare defeat.  The students who designed and built these homes have a different view.

I challenge the naysayers to come to this Solar Decathlon, visit these houses, feel  the student energy, touch their creativity and tell them they can’t win. These people are not here to give up. They’re here to win the clean energy race. They have enlisted to fight the war against climate change. 

Others say this is a race America shouldn’t even be in.  They say we can’t afford to invest in clean energy.  I say we can’t afford not to.

It’s not enough for our country to invent clean energy technologies – we have to make them and use them too.  Invented in America, made in America, and sold around the world – that’s how we’ll create good jobs and lead in the 21st century. 

That’s why we made a historic investment in clean energy through our 1705 loan guarantee program, which came to a close yesterday. 

We’re supporting the world’s largest wind farm, several of the largest solar photovoltaic generation facilities, an unprecedented solar rooftop project, and two of the nation’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants.  

These loan guarantee projects will generate enough clean electricity to power more than two and a half million homes.  And combined with our other loan programs, they’re expected to support more than 60,000 direct jobs, plus jobs throughout the supply chain.

Many of our Recovery Act programs are coming to an end, and the question we face now is, “Where do we go from here?” In past times of national stress, we took the long view and invested in our future.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, leading to the first transcontinental railroad.

Our nation felt the need to have the best scientific advice possible, so we created the National Academies of Science.

We passed the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. States were given federal lands whose sale or income would be used to support educational institutions to “teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts”

Much of the support went to colleges that helped improve the agricultural productivity. Iowa State and Ohio State are land grant universities. So are the University of California at Berkeley, Cornell University and MIT.

All this was done during the Civil War. Did we say we couldn’t afford to do these things? Did we say government intervention was not needed and the free market will fix all problems? 

In the build up to the Cold War, after the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite, we again took the long view and invested in research and development, and in the education of future scientist and engineers.  We not only put a man on the moon, but we made the United States the world’s technological leader.

Today, we find ourselves at a cross-road. In these tough economic times, we are wondering if we should move forward or hunker down. Let’s look again at our history; read from our own playbook.

The Wright Brothers invented the airplane, but by World War I, we had lost the lead. Did we give up and say domestic airplane manufacturing is not important? No. With government help, we fought back and recaptured the aerospace lead.

Henry Ford didn’t invent the internal combustion engine or the automobile. Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz did. What Ford did was he invented the assembly line which allowed him to make a high quality, affordable automobiles. America became the dominant automobile manufacturing force in the world by becoming the low cost producer that focused on increasing productivity of each worker.

We invented solar cells, wind turbines and lithium ion batteries, but are no longer the leading manufacturer.

Some say we shouldn’t compete. The question we face is “Are we going to be importers or exporters of these technologies?”

Through our investments at the Department of Energy, we are working to recapture the lead. We need to take the long view and invest in the future. That’s what made American great and that’s how we will prevail.

America can – and should – lead the clean energy revolution and capture the jobs it will create.  We’ve still got the world’s greatest innovation machine.  You only need to look at the great teams here at the Solar Decathlon to see that American innovation is alive and well. 

Congratulations again to all of our student competitors.  You see the challenges and opportunities of solar power and energy efficiency. You’ve joined the clean energy race. You have enlisted in the war against climate change. You have done an amazing job.

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