Peter Lerner on International US Energy Policy
While I was traveling in China last week, I visited the headquarters of Trina Solar, one of the largest solar photovoltaic manufacturers in the world. The tour was very impressive and showed me so clearly what you can accomplish with targeted clean energy policies—the kind of policies we cannot get through the U.S. Congress. In China, similar policies are creating thousands of good jobs as well as tax revenue, export sales, and pride in helping shape a prosperous, sustainable future. I was told that the name Trina comes from the word for harmony between the heavens and the people; it’s actually pretty fitting.
Trina Solar is only 13 years old, and it already has more than 10,000 employees and expects to double its sales this year, just as it has in the last four years. Talking with Trina executives, I began to see how China could go from being a bit player in the global PV market to becoming the nation with 50 percent of worldwide sales. What is truly remarkable is that China made this transition in just five short years. This rapid growth didn’t happen by accident. China’s position at the forefront of the clean energy market—solar PV panels, wind turbines, high-speed rail, ultra-high voltage transmission lines, and electric vehicles, among others—is the result of a coordinated national effort by the Chinese government. Some issues have recently emerged around the details of this support, but seeing this solar plant first hand makes me realize what can happen if a government actually focuses on developing a real renewable industry. China is increasingly recognizing that these new energy industries will be crucial to helping it transition from its current reliance on coal and oil to cleaner, more efficient technologies.
This support for clean energy is a striking contrast to the U.S., which still supports dirty energy much more strongly than clean. In America, efforts for national legislation to move the country forward are blocked by the fossil fuel industry’s spending of hundreds of millions of dollars to lobby Congress. As a result, pollution that even today leads to the deaths of tens of thousands of people in the US is still allowed, and even very modest programs to encourage a sustainable future are viewed with suspicion.
China, meanwhile, is starting to move down a different path. The government passed a Renewable Energy Law that requires power companies to generate a certain amount of their electricity from renewable sources and helps pay for domestic feed-in tariffs for wind and biomass power generation. And, although 95 percent of Chinese PV panels are currently manufactured for export, the Chinese government is also increasingly supporting installation of PV domestically. It recently put 280 megawatts of PV projects up for bidding, an amount that would double China’s current solar PV capacity. And China’s progress in renewable energy development in the last few years is just a taste of what’s to come. The country’s National Development and Reform Commission will soon release details on an ambitious 5 trillion RMB ($736 billion) clean energy plan for developing China’s clean energy industries over the next decade, a proposal that dwarfs current clean energy plans in the United States many times over. Moreover, this week Premier Wen Jiabao announced a package of support policies which NRDC and others will study closely.
When I asked the Deputy Director of Trina’s R&D department about the company’s future goals, he said Trina wants to continue bringing down the cost and raising the efficiency of their PV panels until they are competitive with fossil fuels. He thinks they can achieve this by streamlining manufacturing, reducing the price of raw materials and components, and creating technology breakthroughs. Trina executives believe that solar and other renewable energy technologies need some support now to help them scale up and drive down costs, but they know that this support is only temporary and they believe that renewable energy eventually must and can compete on its own.
I felt the same energy and excitement about the future of clean energy when I visited a manufacturer of solar panels in the United States last year. They too were bringing down the cost and improving the efficiency of their product and were optimistic about the role solar PV could play in providing us with safe, sustainable, clean energy. And at that time, they too were expanding with the help of smart government policies that supported clean energy. Yet it is possible that support will become a victim of Congressional paralysis in the coming months.
American clean energy companies lack the consistent support of their own government. In Washington, the Senate has failed to take up the clean energy and climate legislation that would have provided the same kind of long-term investment and strategic advantages to America’s clean energy companies that China’s government provides to its homegrown clean energy companies.
As a result, America’s clean energy companies—the same companies that created many of the basic technologies behind wind and solar energy decades ago—risk falling farther and farther behind their global competitors. Despite the U.S. trade deficit and unemployment, and even in the face of the Gulf oil disaster, the US Senate failed to even vote on a clean energy and carbon pollution bill. As the US stays stuck in the mud of demagoguery and fear politics, China is rushing ahead. And the costs of America’s fossil-fuel economy keep rising. In addition to traveling to China this summer, I also spent time in the dirty tar sands oil fields of Alberta and the oil-soaked wetlands of the Gulf of Mexico. I saw firsthand how America’s outdated energy supply takes its toll in the form of devastating environmental disasters, lost lives, lost jobs, closed fisheries, exploding pipelines, and trashed ecosystems that used to sustain livelihoods for nearby residents.
My visit to China confirmed that our misguided energy policies are also costing us jobs and economic opportunity.
As I write in my forthcoming book, In Deep Water, The Anatomy of a Disaster, the Fate of the Gulf, and the How to End Our Oil Addiction, we don’t have to settle for this 19th century approach to energy. We can once again take the lead in technological innovation and energy efficiency.
We still have an opportunity to help our clean energy businesses catch up in the global market before it is too late, but we have to start now. China, after all, isn’t waiting.
Maybe We All Need Some ‘Sensitivity’ Training
by GEOFF NUNBERG Geoff Nunberg Professor UC Berkeley & author “The Years of Talking Dangerously”
NPR Fresh Air Reports: Audio
“Sensitive” was complicated long before it was political. Like other words for feeling, it alternates between an inert and an active meaning. Someone can be sensitive the way a tooth is, pained by the slightest touch. We think of that as a bad thing, as in, “Gee, don’t be so sensitive!” Or it can be like having a sensitive nose, attuned to what’s in the air. That kind of sensitivity is usually considered a good thing, at least in moderation. Novelists have always made a butt of the bluff, insensitive male — the man of the undeveloped heart, as E.M. Forster called him, the character who says things like, “Good Lord, woman, now what’s the matter?” But we’re apt to mock men who demonstrate too much sensitivity, the long line of broody souls that stretches from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Reginald Bunthorne to Sal Mineo and Johnny Depp to those emo guys in hoodies with a shock of hair falling over one side of their glasses.
The ambiguities of sensitivity were multiplied when it was promoted to a civic virtue in modern times. The “sensitivity training” that was originally developed in the 1940s used encounter groups as a path to personal growth. But in the 1960s it was repurposed as a technique to help managers, police officers and others come to grips with the perplexing demands of social diversity. By now, most people associate sensitivity training less with self-actualization than with learning to avoid cultural gaffes and miscues.
It was also in the ’60s that people invented the new plural form “sensitivities” to refer to the sore spots that called for delicacy in dealing with the members of a particular group. Having sensitivities wasn’t the same as being sensitive. The new word left it open whether the feelings were exaggerated or irrational. You don’t have to understand them or agree with them, just not go there.
That was the birth of the modern regime of sensitivity, the age of “Can’t we all just get along?” At the outset, the approach seemed to have a lot to recommend it. For one thing, it was easier to persuade people to modify their language than to get them to root out their deep-seated feelings about race, gender and the rest. And the hope was that if you changed behavior, attitudes would eventually follow. It’s cognitively more efficient to believe the words you’re obliged to say rather than always hedging them with mental air quotes. But over the long run, the stress on sensitivities probably set back cultural understanding as much as it advanced it. For one thing, it permits people to blur the distinctions between mere thoughtlessness and antipathies that run deeper in the heart. It’s only insensitive when Michael Steele uses “honest injun” — he probably never gave the expression any thought before. But there’s a moral obtuseness in talking about the insensitivity of carrying a sign that depicts President Obama as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose. A lack of sensitivity is the least of that person’s problems. And while most people are raised to be polite, it turned out not to be such a good idea for institutions to try to impose deference to the sensitivities of certain groups. In response, a lot of people took to pronouncing “sensitivity” with that mocking tone and derided it under the heading of political correctness. That actually gave a new life to a lot of the very language the speech codes were supposed to eliminate. When you preface a sentence with “This may not be the politically correct thing to say …” you can make what used to be mere boorishness sound like a daring defiance of fashionable attitudes.
But it isn’t just in the liberal enclaves of the academy that people invoke their sensitivities to trump other objections. People have used that argument to oppose the Islamic center near ground zero, to urge Glenn Beck to move his rally at the Lincoln Memorial, to object to public displays of affection by gays. In fact the controversial cases are usually the ones where honoring the sensitivities of one group involves ignoring the sensitivities or rights of another. Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays — you’re treading on somebody’s sensitivities whichever way you go. So these controversies always devolve into squabbles about whose sensitivities should have precedence: “We’ve been through more than you have”; “We were here first”; “There’s more of us than of you.” Some people suggest we’d be best off paying a lot less attention to sensitivity. On ABC’s This Week recently, George Will dismissed the whole Islamic center brouhaha as a filler for a slow August news season: “You can always tell a fundamentally weak story because it turns on sensitivity. Sensitivity is overrated.”
He may be right about that story, but it’s not as if we can ignore sensitivity, the oil of civil society. But pointing to somebody’s sensitivity doesn’t close off the discussion: It’s not like a food allergy that everybody has to defer to when picking a restaurant. In public life, it isn’t a valid argument to say “Well, it makes me uncomfortable” without spelling out the reasons. “Sensitivities” can be a stand-in for a lot of different attitudes, some more defensible than others. It’s like having a sensitive tooth: You want to find out if it really needs attention.
Top 10 Green Industries
If you are looking for ways to put a little green in your wallet by putting some green in your portfolio, you might be surprised at the wide range of offerings available for your consideration. Let’s take a look at 10 interesting areas, which are highlighted below.
Windmill farms are sprouting up around the world. Australia, Europe and the United States are all investing in wind as a leading source of renewable energy. The business of wind not only includes the generation and sale of power, but also the design and construction of wind turbines. Few countries rely on wind for more than a tiny fraction of their power generation needs, but many countries are interested in the possibility. If this is of interest to you, look for wind farm companies that sell wind-generated energy or companies that produce the windmill technology. There are few pure play stocks that deal in wind in the U.S., which will likely change over time, but companies like General Electric (NYSE:GE) have a presence in this market.
One of the most important natural resources we have is water as it is a necessity in our survival. However, there has been a lot of fear that we are running out of clean water sources as the global population continues to grow. To investors this has created a clear opportunity to invest in companies that collect, clean and distribute water. The largest water utility company in the U.S. is Aqua America (NYSE:WTR), which supplies water to nearly 3 million people. Another company in the industry, on the purification side, is ITT Industries (NYSE:ITT), which produces water purification systems that help to make drinkable water.To see the power of water, one needs look no further than China’s massive Three Gorges Dam project. While this $25 billion structure on the Yangtze River will be the largest hydroelectric power station in the world, it’s sure not the only one. Hydropower involves a lot of technology, a lot of infrastructure and a lot of power-hungry customers. Every one of those areas holds potential opportunities for investors. On the power side, two publically traded producers include PG&E Corp. (NYSE:PCG), which has one of the largest hydro operations and Idacorp (NYSE:IDA), which has 17 hydro projects. (For related reading, see Water: The Ultimate Commodity.)
Solar energy is powering homes, buildings and a variety of other items from lights to radios. As the cost of fossil fuels continues to rise and their availability continues to decline, the future looks bright for solar energy. If you think the sun is just starting to rise on this industry the companies to look at are those that produce solar energy panels, which will benefit if homeowners and businesses adopt solar technology. Two of the leading producers of solar panals are Evergreen Solar (Nasdaq:ESLR) and Sunpower Corp. (Nasdaq:SPWR), which both develop, manufacture and sell panels and components and will directly benefit from the increased adoption of solar power.
On a smaller scale, researchers are working with fuel cell technology to develop an alternative method of powering automobiles. The U.S. government hopes that hydrogen powered cars will be commonplace by 2020. If this technology works, there are millions of cars – and millions of consumers – waiting for it. If you think this is the type of energy is the wave of the future there are a few companies that operate in the space and and develop fuel cell technology. For example, some of the largest producers include Ballard Power Systems (Nasdaq:BLDP), which produces cells that can be used in from cars to power plants, and Fuel Cell Energy (Nasdaq:FCEL), which focuses on providing power options to commercial and industrial facilities. (For related reading, check out Getting A Grip On The Cost Of Gas.)
Just about every aspect of efficiency is good for the environment. Energy efficient construction and appliances reduce home energy use and energy efficient cars reduce our dependence on oil. From efficient lighting to creating the paperless office, innovative companies are developing innovative products that maximize the benefit that we get from the resources that we use. Efficiency is the watchword of the day and a developing field that will create the technologies that we will use tomorrow. (For more insight, see For Companies, Green Is The New Black.) This area is a little more difficult to invest in as there are no real pure play companies dealing strictly in efficiency. However, there are some companies that have done a great job at leveraging efficiency such as General Electric with its Ecomagination business unit.
Reduction is the key term here. From reducing green house gas emissions on industrial power plants to minimizing the emissions that come out of the tailpipe of your car, the pollution control industry is on the rise. Every time legislation mandates an improvement in the amount of some harmful chemical that can be released into the environment, the pollution control industry responds. If this is something you are concerned about, look for companies that develop pollution control technologies such as Fuel-Tech (Nasdaq:FTEK) and Versar (AMEX:VSR).
Recycling has become a standard practice for many people in recent decades. The stuff that was formerly thrown away and trucked off to the landfill is now turned into useful products. Most people are aware that household products such as paper, metal and glass are reprocessed and reused, but they never stop to consider the business behind these endeavors. Of course, these aren’t the only items that are reused; waste oil, vegetable oil, batteries, cell phones, computers and even parts from cars can have a second life. Recycling these items involves a business enterprise humming along in the background. (To learn more, see Less Trash For More Cash.) In terms of your portfolio, waste management companies with a large base of recycling facilities may be of interest including companies such as Allied Waste Industries (NYSE:AW) and Waste Management (NYSE:WMI).
Organic farms eschew the use of pesticides, engage in sustainable farming practices and sell products that are often healthier to eat than the stuff composed of three-syllable words that you can’t pronounce and a shelf-life measured in decades. They also engage in animal management practices that avoid the use of hormones and antibiotics, keeping those chemicals out of the food chain and out of the ground and water surrounding the farms. It’s good food – and good business. With U.S. organic food sales reaching $17 billion in 2006, there is a huge market for organic food producers and grocery stores. Some of the biggest organic food companies include Whole Foods Markets (Nasdaq:WFMI), United Natural Foods (Nasdaq:UNFI) and NBTY (NYSE:NTY) among others.
Best In Class
For many companies, the urge to go green is a relatively recent phenomenon. Like change everywhere, some firms adapt and some don’t. Investment managers in the “green” space have begun to categorize firms by the place they hold along the “green” spectrum. Take oil companies for example. One would be hard pressed to think of these firms as green, and for the most part, they aren’t. But if you take a closer look at their business models, it is easy to see that some are greener than others. Choosing the firms with the best environmental records and practices is another way of looking at “green”. (To learn more, read Can Business Evolve In A Green World? and Change The World One Investment At A Time.)
How to Grow a Green Portfolio
If a “green” investment catches your eye, there are plenty of ways to find a place for it in your portfolio. Mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, stocks, bonds and even money market funds that focus on the environment are all available.
Editor’s Note: Please note that the companies mentioned in this article are examples to help you begin your research, not investment recommendations.
Make a Good Living in the Emerging Green Economy
Green Careers For Dummies – Book Tour Central
The green economy is just beginning to unfold. The transition from business-as-usual to a new sustainable economy is opening up a wide range of opportunities that are likely to continue for years to come as new clean technologies, policies, and standards are adopted. Making sense of this new economy can be tricky, but if you’re committed to finding a career that will have a positive impact on the planet, this friendly guide gives you everything you need to land the job of your dreams.
Discovering the green frontier – learn how to navigate the world of green careers and get the inside scoop on the green economy. Read More: Make a Good Living in the Emerging Green Economy