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The Recovery Act and Clean Energy

February 26, 2016 - 3:00pm


Today, President Obama visited Saft America, one of America’s largest energy storage manufacturers. Saft builds utility scale batteries that are able to store energy from wind, solar or other sources and then provide that electricity to customers when demand is at its highest. 

Saft is also an example of the progress we have made since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009, when America was still reeling from the deepest recession since the 1930s. Because of a $95.5 million Department of Energy grant under the Recovery Act, Saft was able to build its Jacksonville, Florida factory. 

We’ve made important progress, but we can’t stop now. America needs to accelerate clean energy breakthroughs.

The Recovery Act not only lifted America out of the economic doldrums, it helped spark a clean energy revolution of technology innovation and market forces -- transforming what energy we use and how we use it -- creating new jobs and opportunities.

Seven years ago, solar, wind and other renewable energy were sideshows compared to conventional energy. Now they are the nation's main sources for new power generation. Renewable energy accounted for nearly 70 percent of new generating capacity added in 2015 -- despite falling costs for conventional fuels.

The Recovery Act provided private entrepreneurs the startup and accelerator capital to bring competitive new technology to the marketplace, technologies that are now helping to lower carbon emissions and power sustained economic growth.  

Just look at utility scale solar. Before President Obama took office, there wasn’t a single utility scale photovoltaic (PV) solar plant in the United States larger than 100 megawatts (enough electricity to power 100,000 average American homes). Not one. The private banking sector saw giving loans to these large solar projects as too risky, too unproven, as they’d never been built at scale in the United States. Despite growing demand, developers couldn’t find the financing necessary to break ground.

Recovery Act Solar

Beginning in 2009, when financing was unavailable, the Department of Energy’s Loan Program Office issued more than $4.6 billion in loan guarantees from Recovery Act funding to help build the first five utility-scale PV solar facilities in the United States. Over the next five years, those loan guarantees helped transform U.S. energy production and paved the way for the fastest growing sector of the solar industry. Today, there are 28 utility-scale PV plants across the United States, all financed privately, producing more than 6,870 MW.

Across the clean energy marketplace, Recovery Act investments by the Department of Energy have built a platform for a private investment boom in new clean energy projects that continues to propel their growth.  

Consider this:

  • The Recovery Act provided nearly $25 billion in support which, combined with private investments, built 104,000 wind, solar, geothermal and biomass projects with the combined capacity to power more than eight million homes.
  • America now produces three times as much wind and 30 times as much solar as in 2008 -- more than equal in capacity to dozens of coal-fired plants. The cost of utility-scale solar projects has fallen by nearly 60 percent since 2008. Today’s U.S. solar industry now employs over 208,000 Americans and is growing new jobs 12 times faster than the overall economy.
  • The Recovery Act also invested $2 billion in battery and electric drive component manufacturing, supporting 20 battery and 10 component manufacturing factories. Those investments, at full scale, will support factories with the capacity to supply more than 500,000 electric drive vehicles. 

Recovery Act EVs

In short, our Energy Department research and development efforts spearheaded by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, coupled with strategic Recovery Act investments, have created improved technologies and economies of scale that enabled cost-competitive clean energy. And American families are reaping the benefits of lower costs, cleaner air and water, and new jobs in rapidly-expanding clean energy businesses.  

Thanks to the Recovery Act, we’ve made important progress, but we can’t stop now. America needs to accelerate clean energy breakthroughs to ensure energy security, enable a low-carbon energy future, reduce energy bills, and enhance the competitiveness of American companies.

That’s why President Obama and 19 other world leaders adopted Mission Innovation -- a commitment to double government investment in clean energy research and development over the next five years. That effort is matched by the private sector Breakthrough Energy Coalition to invest in the most promising new technologies that result.

The President’s 2017 budget provides new funding as the first installment for Mission Innovation. It would accelerate virtually every source of clean energy: energy efficiency, renewables, energy storage and transportation, smart and resilient infrastructure, and cutting-edge technologies in nuclear energy, carbon capture and storage, and advanced manufacturing.

Our American innovation capabilities can be harnessed even more effectively with Mission Innovation. The Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) provides one example. ARPA-E’s mission is to accelerate potentially transformative energy technologies that are too early for the private sector. The agency received its initial budget of $400 million through the Recovery Act, which funded ARPA-E’s first projects. Since 2009, ARPA-E has funded over 475 energy technology projects, including the development of innovative solar technologies, second-generation biofuels, more efficient batteries, superconducting wires, and vehicles powered by natural gas.

And today, ARPA-E announced that its projects have secured more than $1.25 billion in private sector follow-on funding. In addition, the program has invested in 475 transformative energy projects through 30 focused technology programs and three open funding solicitations. 

The Energy Department was only able to support less than two percent of the proposals submitted for one of our latest rounds of funding. We are missing real energy breakthroughs that will yield new business opportunities. That’s why the President’s budget proposes more than tripling ARPA-E’s budget over five years.

Across all energy sectors, and for years to come, the power of the Recovery Act funds will continue to sustain the dramatic growth in clean energy, improving the lives of every American. It’s a strong legacy of these public-private investments.