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Market Report: Renewable Energy Attracting Government Dollars, Private Investment

The renewable energy industry is advancing across all sectors - wind, solar, biomass, hydropower - and garnering support from government programs and private business.

Mali R. Schantz-Feld (March 2011)
Siemen’s new wind turbine nacelle assembly facility in Hutchinson, Kansas. The nacelle is the structure atop of a wind turbine tower that holds the electricity-generating components. Siemen’s new wind turbine nacelle assembly facility in Hutchinson, Kansas. The nacelle is the structure atop of a wind turbine tower that holds the electricity-generating components.
As demand for renewable energy sources increases, energy-conserving industries are creating headlines with new and expanded projects and job creation. Government renewable energy standards (RES) are expected to significantly affect the wind, solar, biomass, waste-to-energy, and hydropower industries. A study entitled "Jobs Impact of a National Renewable Energy (RE) Standard," conducted by Navigant Consulting, Inc., noted that instituting a national RES of 25 percent by 2025 would spur an additional 274,000 jobs. The study also cautioned that without such standards, industries like wind and biomass could face stagnation.

The potential benefits span the entire nation - with substantial biomass and municipal solid waste-to-energy projects in the Southeast; to the wide range of technologies in traditional Mid-Atlantic and Midwest manufacturing states; to the wind-rich Plains and Midwest states; to the West, where significant growth potential exists in harnessing solar, wind, and hydropower. Let's take a look at some of the places where this growth is occurring across the United States.

Solar: A Hot Topic
With many renewable energy projects, especially wind and solar, being outsourced to China, federal RES incentives are expected to not only keep jobs onshore, but also to encourage foreign investment in the United States.

In January 2011, President Obama signed a military authorization law that contains a "Buy American" provision for solar panels purchased by the Department of Defense. The New York Times noted that China has expanded to become the world's dominant producer of solar panels, accounting for at least half of the world's production last year, and this legislation is expected to encourage more domestic manufacturing.

German-based SolarWorld, which has received $82.2 million in renewable-energy manufacturing tax credits - the most for a solar manufacturer so far- lauded the new focus on domestically based solar energy. The firm, which operates a large production facility in Hillsboro, Oregon, recently celebrated the addition of its 1,000th worker in December 2010, the establishment of the equivalent of four factories, and the overhaul of its operations in Camarillo, California.

In February, Camarillo, California-based Power-One, Inc. - a manufacturer of devices that convert power produced from batteries and solar panels - opened a 122,000-square-foot facility in Phoenix, Arizona, which is expected to employ 350 people in the next five years, and could eventually employ 1,000 individuals. Richard Thompson, the firm's CEO and president, credited the state's "solar corridor" created by Governor Jan Brewer, as well as the potential collaboration on innovative technologies with Arizona State University, for attracting the factory, which will produce photovoltaic panels and wind inverters.

New Room for Vroom
Also in January, Vice President Joe Biden announced a new federal program to accelerate the wide-scale adoption of electric vehicles. During a tour of a Greenfield, Indiana factory run by Ener1 - a manufacturer of lithium-ion battery systems for electric vehicles, grid energy storage, and industrial electronics - the VP noted that the plan not only creates jobs, but also sparks "whole new industries that will ensure our competitiveness for years to come - like electric vehicle manufacturing."
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