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Remarks at Renewable Energy Technology Conference 2010

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Friday, February 5, 2010

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Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke
Remarks at Renewable Energy Technology Conference 2010
Washington, D.C.

Good afternoon. Thank you to Mike Eckhart for his kind introduction. And thank you to the American Council on Renewable Energy for hosting this conference.

When President Obama came into office just over a year ago, he promised to chart a new course. And those of us who joined this Administration counted on him to do just that.

We knew there’d be challenges. We knew:

  • Our economy was teetering on the brink of depression;
  • That sustainable, well-paying jobs in America were vanishing;
  • That we faced a looming environmental crises and an outdated energy policy.

And yet, we joined the Obama Administration precisely because those challenges offered an incredible opportunity to put America back on the right track.

The good news is that if we find a solution to one of the biggest problems we face, it can help solve many of the others.

If we can meet not only America’s but the world’s growing energy demands with more renewable energy, it can simultaneously create good, family-wage American jobs and provide a real chance to seriously address the causes of global climate change.

And that’s why this RETECH conference is such an important event.

Government has an important role to play in helping scale up clean energy but we know, ultimately, that private industry needs to be driving the train.

Already, the American economy gets 11 percent of its energy—or 19 gigawatts—from clean sources. Hydropower and biomass remain the largest sources of renewable energy production, but solar and wind power are the fastest growing sectors.

We need to ramp up production and bring down costs.

Because the development of the clean energy and energy efficiency technologies that we need to curb greenhouse gas emissions will spur one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.

And it could put millions of people to work in high-skill high-wage jobs.

Make no mistake, the race to get these jobs is underway between countries around the world. America cannot afford to come in second place.

It’s popular in some quarters to diminish the potential of renewable energy or to scoff at the phrase “green jobs,” but those who do are exhibiting a failure of imagination.

In the next few decades, we need to rebuild and reinvent virtually every industrial activity; from power generation and transportation to manufacturing and construction, to run efficiently and economically in a carbon constrained world.

So when we talk about the potential of job creation arising from clean energy investments, we’re not just talking about someone working for a solar or wind company.

We’re talking about creating an entirely new model of economic growth.

We’re talking about millions of new blue and white collar jobs:

  • Engineers developing and designing energy-efficient lighting, meters, and factory processes;
  • Mechanics rebuilding rickety electric grids with sensors and controls that monitor and distribute clean energy more effectively;
  • Construction workers producing and installing green building materials;
  • Environmental consultants helping companies and governments improve emissions and energy monitoring;
  • Plumbers and technicians who install smarter irrigation systems to feed fields producing next-generation biofuels.

The potential new business and new job creation is astounding.

The question is of course, how do we get from here to this promising energy future?

Since coming into office last year, President Obama has already done more to mitigate climate change and invest in clean energy than any president in U.S. history.

One of his first acts in office was to sign a Recovery Act that included $80 billion in clean energy investments that will help double America’s renewable energy-generating capacity in three years, while creating thousands of good jobs.

The president has advanced historic new efficiency standards for automobiles, appliances and consumer electronics.

And the president’s just released 2011 budget provides significant funding increases for the Department of Energy’s nuclear loan guarantee program, the clean energy manufacturing tax credit and the basic science R&D responsible for so many energy innovations.

These steps are important. In the United States, they are unprecedented.

But so much more needs to be done.

We face unprecedented foreign competition in the clean energy sector. Last year, China became the world’s largest maker of wind turbines, and it is already the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels.

What’s more, the Chinese economy is only growing larger. Which means it enjoys domestic economies of scale that can quickly bring down costs for cutting edge technologies.

And it has a government that is investing heavily in renewable energies: In 2009 alone, it committed $45 billion to upgrade its electricity grid.

As the President said last week: The nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.

Which is why the Commerce Department is deploying its entire arsenal to give American companies the tools they need to compete globally.

We are laying the framework for growth by U.S. firms by expanding the playing field for U.S. products.

Exports are already a growing and substantial part of the U.S. economy. They account for almost 11 percent of our GDP, a percentage almost three times greater than it was in the 1950s.

With 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside our borders, US alternative energy firms have a golden opportunity to expand their exports into new markets.

That’s a chief goal of my department.

Last fall, Commerce-led negotiations at the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade ended with the Chinese agreeing to remove barriers for American firms operating in China’s clean energy market by removing local content requirements on wind turbines.

This was an important first step and will provide significant opportunity to American firms. And it is just one piece of this administration's broader commitment to knocking down barriers that inhibit our companies’ abilities to sell and operate abroad.

Yesterday, I laid out the blue print for the President’s National Export Initiative, which seeks to double all of our exports over the next five years.

And alternative energy products must play a significant role in our export strategy.

Importantly, the Commerce Department’s Commercial Service is poised to help every American clean energy firm find foreign partners to trade with.

If you’re an American firm and you want to sell your goods or services abroad, it’s literally as easy as picking up the phone and calling 1-800-USA-TRADE.

Commerce Department experts will then:

  • Conduct an international search to find potential agents or distributors for your unique business;
  • Contact potential overseas business partners;
  • And they will work with you to design and implement a market entry or expansion strategy.

Think of it as match-making for exporters. We'll keep searching for partners and customers for you until you find the right fit.

What’s more, our Commercial Service has a proven track record of success in helping renewable energy companies.

  • In Flagstaff, Arizona, Southwest Windpower got help from the Commerce Department and the Export-Import Bank to boost its foreign exports. It recently sold $40,000 worth goods to Chile, and it credits its strong export sales with enabling it to retain most of its staff at 2008 levels.
  • And in Chatsworth, California, Capstone Turbine Corporation is another success story. Commerce helped facilitate discussions between Capstone and a Brazilian wastewater treatment company. The deal that came out of these discussions resulted in a $2 million sale of micro-turbine systems and a distributer agreement. Over 65 percent of Capstone’s sales come from exports while in 2004 only 44 percent of their sales were export related.

Making sure foreign markets are open to clean energy products like those shown here at RETECH is a top Commerce Priority.

But so is ensuring that a clean energy ecosystem exists domestically so that game-changing technologies can quickly make it to market, and can quickly be sold within the U.S. and exported abroad.

And the Commerce Department is involved at virtually every step of the creative and commercialization process.

First, we know we need to fast-track energy efficient technologies to market, while still protecting proprietary intellectual property.

So, in December, the Patent and Trademark Office announced a pilot program that will allow inventors who have already submitted patent applications for green technologies to have their submissions receive an expedited review.

The fast-tracked inventions include those that materially contribute to:

  • Enhancing environmental quality;
  • The more efficient utilization and conservation of energy resources;
  • The discovery or development of renewable energy resources; and
  • Greenhouse gas emission reduction.

If the pilot program proves successful, it could become a permanent fixture at PTO.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is also working to help empower American, clean energy firms.

NIST continues to work on standards to support the nation-wide deployment of the Smart Grid. Two weeks ago,

NIST published Release 1.0 of the standards framework for the Smart Grid.

Once national standards are fully in place, we expect private companies to rush into investing – and creating new jobs in—Smart Grid industries.

A recent forecast showed that Smart Grid-related equipment, devices, services and other products will double in the United States between now and 2014 to nearly $43 billion. And worldwide demand for Smart Grid products and services will grow to $171 billion during the same period.

The Smart Grid is going to be not only good for American business, but good for consumers too.

A Smart Grid is going to deliver better reliability, give electricity consumers more control over their usage and enable the widespread use of distributed energy sources like solar and wind.

And NIST isn’t just working on moving electricity more efficiently through our grid. It’s also concerned with helping improve the efficiency of the buildings and homes that our grid feeds.

The 2011 Budget allocated more than $34 million to NIST so that it can facilitate more environmentally friendly manufacturing and construction processes.

The funds from the 2011 budget will enable NIST, working with the construction and manufacturing industries, to develop best practices and standards to create carbon-neutral buildings.

We know, for instance, that buildings account for 40 percent of the U.S. energy consumption; they account for nearly three quarters of our electricity use, and they generate nearly 40 percent of our greenhouse gasses.

By implementing energy-saving steps at every part of the construction and manufacturing process, we can reduce costs over the long run and reduce carbon emissions immediately.

This is just some of what Commerce is doing to both cultivate a domestic renewable energy market and open up opportunities for companies like yours abroad.

Energy is the one policy issue that affects virtually every other – from our economy to our environment to our security.

And for most of the last 30 years, I think it is safe to say that U.S. energy policy was at best a mishmash of half measures.

That’s why as excited as I am about the work the Obama Administration and the Commerce Department are doing to scale up clean energy, I also know we've got our biggest lift ahead of us.

Last year, the House of Representatives passed comprehensive climate and energy legislation that would for the first time put a market-based cap on carbon pollution.

If this becomes law, it will send a surefire market signal to every entrepreneur and business in America that it’s safe and profitable to make long-term investments in clean energy.

But until that legislation becomes law, we're going to continue to see investors sitting on the sidelines, waiting for some long-term certainty.

The President set the goal; the House passed the bill, and I’m hoping we can keep making progress getting comprehensive climate and energy legislation through the Senate.

Because we just can't afford the status quo anymore.

World energy demand is going to increase 50 percent by 2030.

It’d be hard enough to meet that demand using any form of energy we can find, but we’ve got to find energy that is cheap enough to keep our economy growing and clean enough to mitigate climate change.

And I can assure you. If the U.S. doesn’t act, other countries will be happy to grab the leadership baton.

China is investing over $12 million an hour in clean energy and efficiency.

That's $9 billion a month!

And those aren't just investments to meet their own domestic energy needs and climate challenges.

Those investments are designed to turn China into the global destination for clean energy innovation.

And if we don't get our act together, we’ll all be sitting here 10 years from now wondering how Shanghai became the Silicon Valley of clean energy.

That’s why I want to encourage all of you to stay engaged on this climate and energy legislation. We need you to keep serving as a strong public advocates for the power that renewable energy has to transform this nation and build a safer, cleaner and more prosperous future for our children.

Thank you.