America Falls Further Behind As Solar Becomes New Global Economic Fuel

Solar and clean energy technology is fast becoming the fuel for the global economic recovery leaving America far behind in the race. Wall Street has successfully shifted the discussion about the trillions we spent bailing out banks and insurance companies who were “too big to fail” to demonizing firemen, policeman and teachers.

Can you say “No Child Left Behind”? The future of this country is based on education so to watch the draconian policies of our so called state and national leader systematically damage generations to come is painful.

Not long ago, talk of powering economic growth with less fossil fuel came mostly from Madison Avenue and the Birkenstock crowd. Not anymore. With economies still weak and China pushing hard to dominate growing industries such as wind and solar power, clean-energy innovation is emerging as the new front in the global economic fight.

The winners won’t be clear for years, said the chief executives and entrepreneurs from Beijing to Boston who gathered last week at ECO:nomics, The Wall Street Journal’s annual conference on the business of the environment. But the stakes and strategies are getting clearer writes Jeffrey Ball.

Dominating the solar and renewable energy discussion was talk of China. It’s grabbing clean-technology market share not because of its cheap labor, executives at the conference said, but through strong mandates and subsidies to build a new export industry. In solar power, the U.S. is “neither the largest in manufacturing nor the largest market,” said Mark Pinto, executive vice president of Applied Materials Inc., a California-based company that builds machines to make solar panels and computer chips. “That’s very unusual.”

The U.S. is in danger of losing “entire supply chains and the human capital that goes with it,” warned Andrew Liveris, chief executive of Dow Chemical Co. “The market needs to be made.”

But general calls for government to do more to juice solar and clean technology gave way to deep disagreement over what government should do. To some, the Obama administration’s stimulus spending on everything from solar and wind turbines to electric-car batteries was enlightened. To others, it was bloated.

“Of course there’s a risk” in governments spending taxpayer dollars to promote industry, said Haley Barbour, Mississippi’s Republican governor. But, he said, “you’ve just got to put on your big-boy britches and sit down and work through the deal and be sure you are being responsible about the risk.”

As governments and companies place their bets on the future, perhaps the biggest unknown is which solar or renewable energy technologies will win.