Federally Funded Green Energy Projects – Not Such A Failure After All


And they are off! This election year is heating up with the first Presidential Debate now behind us. One of the big issues is the failure of Obama’s green energy projects. To the Republican’s the supposed green energy failure is a prime target for wasted spending by the government in hard economic times.

It is easy to say something has failed but what does failed mean? Well, if charted goals were set and not met than that would be a failure. Certainly if a business closed or filed for bankruptcy that would also be a failure. However, when Republicans say that Obama’s clean energy campaign has failed they tend to site failed or struggling business and not the industry itself. Yes, some budding green businesses took federal loans and ended up closing shop. But for the few that failed many more prospered and overall the green energy industry is doing well on not only in America but on a global scale as well.

We all know about the failure Solyndra. However, there are a number of other failed solar companies that took federal money, around 15 as shown in an article on dividedstates.com. But for those failed 15 there are countless winners in the solar industry who took part in the government green loans. Simply do a Google search of your area and I can just about guarantee you will not have any problems finding companies that can put solar panels on your house. I live in Boston and found about 150 companies that would put solar panels on my house or office building. Of the two dozen that I spoke to, all had participated in some kind of green loan from the Fed and or State government.

Let us look now at the green car market. Green cars can be hybrid cars, electric cars (EV), even high mile per gallon cars or bio fuel cars. The green car market has been backed by the Obama admiration, but it has been a bumpy ride. The EV market is slowly growing but to the expectations of many. Fisker Automotive has had a bad string of luck with their luxury class of EV the Fisker Karma. Although the Karma is not a failure, the doors to the plant are still open, it has gotten a lot of negative press and the finances are in shambles. Finances that were backed by tax payer’s money to the tune of half a billion dollars. The loan money for Fisker has been frozen until the company can get back on track, or die off, but the bad taste still lingers.

Tesla, another luxury EV manufacturer took green loans to the tune of $465 million to develop an EV sedan in an effort to move out of the luxury only car business.  As it turns out, Tesla’s revenue has not been very promising – as in no profit. Tesla stock has been a roller coaster ride.  In fact, recently the government has told Tesla that they need to come up with an expedited plan to pay back the loan money. However, just like Fisker the doors are still open at Tesla and cars are still being made.

To call Fisker and Tesla green car market failures is incorrect. Fortunately for the green car market Fisker and Tesla are not the only EV out there. The Chevy Volt is still slowing pushing its way into the mainstream market. The Nissan Leaf has been a success. Meanwhile hybrids like the Toyota Prius are still king of the market and advanced hybrids like the Plug In Prius are making a positive impression.

In order to drive an EV you have to have a battery for it. Currently the lithium battery industry is booming. From laptops, to cell phones and smart phones, to EV lithium battier are all over the place. Yet, for Republicans even this green market is going belly up. Ener1, a battery manufacturer took a $118 million grant from the Energy Department in 2009 as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus package and green energy push. Ener1 is now bankrupt along with a splinter group named EnerDel.

A123 Systems, a Michigan-based battery maker received $380 million in green loan money and had a goal of creating 3,000 jobs. The company created nearly 700 jobs, granted very short of its goal, but still growth.  There was also a recall on the batteries made by A123 systems, but the problem was fixed and unlike Ener1, A123 is still open for business.

So is the lithium battery EV green market a bust? Not by a long shot:

“The market size of automotive lithium battery approximated USD1.3 billion in 2011 and is expected to reach USD1.8 billion in 2012, USD2.8 billion in 2013 and USD4.4 billion in 2015. In 2011, the sales volume of HEVs and EVs got to around 900,000 units and 437,000 units respectively. However, EV serves as the largest consumer of automotive lithium battery. For instance, 78% of the demand for automotive lithium battery was from EVs in 2011. It is expected that EVs will be the largest market for automotive lithium battery from now until 2018.” — Global and China Automotive Lithium Battery Industry Report, 2011-2012 

Here is a list of lithium battery suppliers, including A123, and there companies they service. The majority of the American based companies took green loan and stimulus funds.

In 2008, Obama promised as president to put, “One million 150 mpg plug-in hybrid cars on our roads within six years.” It is safe to say that that goal will not be reached. However, EVs and alternative fuel vehicles have entered the commercial lexicon. EV charging stations are popping up in American cities while the lithium battery industry, although controversial, is growing worldwide.

Obama’s green market investment has not been a failure. The green market is a growing industry – but not all of the seeds planted will bear fruit.  Were some bad bets made during difficult economic time, you bet. But what is the alternative? Not invest in a global growing market? Not attempt to make jobs for American workers? Sit by and allow other nations to beat America in the sustainable fuel infrastructure? Maintain a costly reliance on fossil fuels?

No, as a nation America cannot afford to do those things. Sure it is nostalgic to look back when gas was pennies and factory jobs provided workers with everything their family would need. Politicians need to stop looking in the rear view mirror. Just because some of the new ideas and industries did not work out it does not mean we scrap the whole plan and turn back the clock. That is just not the American way.

Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison 

About the Author

Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison

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  • t

    The Chinese are producing our needed solar panels and those 15 other solar companies are merely adding to Chinese profits.

    Fisker had the fortune to not be able to complete a auto magazine evaluation due to breakdown. It seems this is not a isolated incident with the Karma.

    Solydra, as noted in the article, resulted in the new millionaires without a product at the public/tax payer expense.

    Government subsidies tend to be public paid gifts that are not repaid on a too frequent basis. Tax breaks for innovation and job building in the domestic private sector tend to work very well.

    Out sourcing was the beginning of our problems and seems to have been encouraged in this current administration (i.e. exporting more gasoline than importing during the worst fuel inflationary period in history, Department of Defense contract awarded to a Brazilian Company v. the domestic lower bidder, irresponsible TARP funding that has burdened the economy and our future generations).

    Obama’s policies working? I think not.

    FYI. I am a life long Democrat.

  • Dan

    I tend to agree with the guy above. While I think that we should invest “some money” into R&D project that seek out alternative energy sources, let’s be responsible about it. Another green energy company based out of Michigan just announced the furloughing of a bunch of workers just yesterday. They did so without even releasing a single product to the publc, and they were a part of the green energy subsidy program that was offered to them on behalf of the Obama adminstration. It’s pretty damn sad if you ask me.

    Given the state of the economy for the past four years, this administration would have been far better off focusing on things like the stabilization of our ailing real estate market, providing more government stimulus to poor and middle class families, offering additional tax breaks to small businesses and middle-class families, and decreasing the what is now coined as ‘the very worst’ deficit in U.S. history. Instead, this administration concentrated their efforts on trying to build a faux legacy by ramming things like Obamacare and green energy programs down our throats. It was a bad approach if you ask me. Again, green energy has a time and place, but it needs to be addressed in a much more responsible manner…definitely not like this.

  • Dan Schrader

    So much for A123 being a positive for this program. Obama’s agenda and Chicago politics have made the liberals filthy rich and have decimated the middle class. That, and all this talk about Republicans being ‘corporate biased’. Seems to me, the liberal agenda is screwing us much worse than Wall Street ever did.

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  • Michael

    A123 is not still open. Chevy volt is a failure. You should prob update your article.

    • 1. A123 was killed of by competing gov’t interests like CARB, as predicted in these pages back in 2009.

      2. Volt is a hot-seller as the Ampera in Europe, and profitable for GM.

      3. You should prob not be a jackass.

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