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U.S. needs to become the Silicon Valley of renewable energy

Gary Locke, U.S. Secretary of Commerce

When President Obama came into office just over a year ago, he promised to chart a new course.

We knew there'd be challenges. 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.

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.

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.

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

We're talking about millions of new blue and white collar jobs.

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.

And the President's 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.

But 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.

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

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

Alternative energy products must play a significant role in our export strategy. Making sure foreign markets are open to clean energy products is a top Commerce Priority. 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.

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 that 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 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.


For the Record is an edited excerpt of a speech by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke to the Renewable Energy Technology Conference 2010 in Washington, D.C.n February.

May/June 2010