Obama’s STOU: Manufacturing the clean energy of tomorrow

Obama delivers the STOU 2013 speechIn Obama’s first State of the Union address since reelection, he set out ambitious goals like only a President unfettered by a reelection can. Among them he reaffirmed his commitment to clean energy like solar and wind, and renewed calls to manufacture more renewable energy in the U.S., calls which drew praise from the clean energy community.

In discussing the need for more American manufacturing, Obama cited recent work done in the U.S. mapping the human genome that resulted in $140 per dollar invested returning to the U.S. economy. “Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy,” he said.

Obama also took the step of tying reducing climate change to clean energy. “For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.…The fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15.…We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science—and act before it's too late,” he said.

Obama called on Congress to come up with a market-based solution to climate change and threatened to take executive action should that effort not bear fruit. “If Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

The calls to action were cautiously praised by Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Senior Analyst Matthew Stepp. “On climate and energy policy, the President’s State of the Union address strongly endorsed a suite of energy innovation policies, but followed them up with stale vision and limited scope,” he said. “The President rightly called for bringing government investment in R&D back to levels not seen since the space race, and endorsed ITIF’s proposal for an Energy Trust Fund linking revenue from energy production to energy innovation.”

The comments also drew praise from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “In tonight’s State of the Union Address, President Obama laid out a vision for the American energy economy that is in line with what SEIA is working to achieve—a robust clean energy industry that powers our homes and businesses while growing our economy and protecting our environment,” SEIA President Rhone Resch.

Obama also talked about the growth of energy efficiency and renewables. “We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar—with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it,” he said. “Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We've begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let's generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year—so let's drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.”

Resch appreciated the comments. “We are especially encouraged by the president’s commitment to securing America’s place as a leader in clean energy innovation throughout the world. President Obama understands that the stakes are high and we must not fall behind other nations as the world shifts to emissions-free clean energy technologies like solar,” he said.

Advanced Energy Economy CEO Graham Richard, also saw promise in the President’s remarks. "With technology and innovation giving us more choices in energy than ever before, this is a critical time for America to seize the opportunity of advanced energy for cost savings, energy security, and economic competitiveness," he said.

ITIF’s Strepp was more wary of the comments. “The President lacked a clear vision for his overall climate policy strategy. While proposing a number of limited energy innovation policies, he also called for renewed discussion of market-based strategies like cap-and-trade,” he said. “But what the climate and energy debate needs least of all is more deliberation of failed and flawed approaches of years past.”

Both Resch and Richard said they were looking forward to working with the Obama Administration and Congress to moving the U.S. forward in it's clean energy goals.