Solar has a place as Obama outlines climate change policy


As U.S. President Barack Obama this afternoon unveiled details of America’s first climate change strategy there were pledges for more than 13 GW of renewables by 2025.

Although the headline-grabbing news was a desire to bring forward tough carbon standards for power stations and preparing the nation for the damaging affects of climate change, solar and other renewables featured in Obama’s much-anticipated speech to Georgetown University.

The president set a goal for the Department of the Interior to permit a further 10 GW of renewables generation on public lands by 2020, having permitted 10 GW on public land in 2012 alone.

The Defense Department, the country’s single biggest energy consumer, has committed to using 3 GW of renewables at military installations by 2025 and federal agencies have been challenged to deliver 100 MW of installed renewables capacity across federally subsidized housing stock by 2020.

The speech added a presidential memorandum will call for streamlining of the siting, permitting and review process for energy transmission projects to integrate renewables into America’s grid network.

An underwhelming role for solar?

Solar watchers may be underwhelmed by the figures announced, and the fact that Obama’s ‘all of the above‘ energy policy continues to embrace fracking and shale gas, as well as nuclear, alongside renewables, but the president also said clean energy technology funding, for all of the above, would rise 30% to $7.9 billion across all government departments. As part of the strategy, Obama is offering up to $8 billion of loan guarantees for carbon capture and storage technology in a further blow to renewables.

The president did, however, pledge the federal government will take 20% of its electricity from renewables by 2020, up from the current 7.5%.

Biofuels as well as solar could benefit from a promise to leverage more partnerships for cleaner transportation fuel technologies, including advanced batteries and the president has asked the Department of Transport to work on incorporating alternative fuel vehicles into the U.S. flag fleet.

The speech also re-emphasised Obama’s energy efficiency target of doubling energy productivity by 2030 compared with 2010 figures.

Although presidential aides had said before the speech that Obama would not have to ask Congress to implement any of the measures outlined, the problems he may face were illustrated in the section of the speech pertaining to the U.S.’ global leadership of clean fuels.

The speech said Obama is ‘calling for’ the phasing out of tax breaks for fossil fuels in the 2014 fiscal year and used the same terminology in a call to end the use of U.S. public money to fund the development of coal-fired power plants abroad with the additional caveat that exemptions could be made if it was the only economically feasible option or CCS technology was used.

There was even an oblique reference to the solar trade wars being fought across the world with the global leadership section of the speech stating: ‘The U.S. will work with trading partners to launch negotiations at the World Trade Organization towards global free trade in environmental goods, including clean energy technologies such as solar.’