Last Wednesday morning, I was lucky enough to attend President Obama’s speech at Georgetown University on U.S. energy security. The President has made this issue one of the top priorities for his Administration, and Wednesday he reinforced many of his goals and beliefs, while adding two new targets meant to improve the energy security of the U.S.
The central part of the speech was an analysis of U.S. dependence on foreign oil and ways in which that can change. President Obama listed natural gas powered vehicles, biofuels, electrical vehicles, and an overall decrease in oil demand as ways to reduce the amount of oil America has to import. Towards that aim of reducing foreign oil dependence, Obama revealed two new targets. First, by 2025, Obama wants the U.S. to have cut the amount of foreign oil imported by one-third. To put this in perspective, when Obama took office, the U.S. imported 11 million barrels of oil a day. Second, by 2015, President Obama is calling for all federal vehicles (around 600,000) to run on alternative fuel. President Obama defined both these targets as ambitious but achievable goals that would significantly increase American energy security.
President Obama also addressed the role of renewable energy such as solar in America’s future. He not only cited the environmental benefits of renewable energy, but also stated, “the nation that leads in the creation of a clean-energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy”. In a speech given to predominately college students, Obama urged young people not only to be more environmentally aware than previous generations but also to break into the clean energy industry in terms of future careers. Within the solar industry alone, there is a projected 26% increase in jobs over the next year. President Obama made it clear that growth in clean energy industries will be one of the pillars of an overall American recovery.
For anyone working in the renewable sector, Obama’s speech was familiar rhetoric. He has demonstrated his commitment to clean energy by requesting substantial funds in each of his budget requests and making a goal in this year’s State of the Union for “80% clean energy by 2020.” Given the federal government’s deficit issues, however, the renewable sector cannot rely on heavy government support despite Obama’s views. That is why state programs, and especially ones that are budget-neutral, become so important in making sure that the U.S. remains competitive in the clean-energy economy.
Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are increasing as an important state mechanism and have demonstrated the ability to increase the deployment of renewable energy without costing state or federal governments millions of dollars. An RPS mandates that energy suppliers must procure a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources, and many states have specific solar carve-outs, which give value to Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SRECs. An SREC is a tradable credit that represents all the clean energy benefits associated with 1 MWh of solar-generated electricity. These credits allow solar system owners to monetize their clean energy production, thus decreasing the payback period on a system and incentivizing more homeowners and businesses to go solar.
After the speech, I was able to talk briefly with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu who is very excited about the growth prospects for clean energy but still stressed the importance of continued innovations in solar panel production. It is certainly encouraging that the current Administration is embracing clean energy as a means to protect the environment and also increase energy security. However, it is still important to utilize programs like state RPSs to ensure that the clean energy sector grows at the pace desired by the Obama Administration.