Solar: Life, Liberty And The Pursuit of Energy Independence

No energy source is more American than solar. Technologies to convert sunshine to electricity were pioneered in the U.S. half a century ago at Bell Labs, and quickly became a source of inspiration and imagination. In the last several years, solar energy has awoken from yesterday’s dream to today’s reality.

Last year, the U.S. solar energy market more than doubled in size, creating jobs in every state. You can harness solar energy in every city and county in the country, and even in every Congressional district – although you wouldn’t know that given the way candidates in this year’s elections have misconstrued and abused the facts about solar.

Let’s set the record straight: solar isn’t an issue of the right or the left, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. In fact, solar isn’t an issue at all – it’s a set of smart technologies that today power hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses across this nation.  Solar is a domestic, reliable, renewable, abundant solution that helps ensure our nation’s energy independence and security.  Solar is American.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle should open their eyes to the fastest growing energy source in America, surging ahead against hard economic times. They should understand that solar affords Americans – at homes, workplaces and businesses – the ability to generate heat and power cleanly, safely and affordably. As they ready for debates and town hall meetings, they surely should know that solar now employs 100,000 Americans at more than 5,600 companies – the vast majority of them small businesses – across all 50 states.

One of the largest users of solar in the world is our own military. Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy all rely on strong, reliable solar power. The industry is proud to provide the solar equipment our armed forces need to power bases, run overseas operations, and defend our nation. Meanwhile, solar companies are actively recruiting servicemen and servicewomen returning from overseas, while still other veterans establish and grow solar companies in their own hometowns.

Yet, we are in danger of losing our lead in our own homegrown solar technologies. After being recognized for decades as the worldwide leader in solar, America has fallen behind Germany, Italy and China. While we dawdle in misinformed mudslinging as some politicians sow lies and mistrust over solar, other nations embrace the sun to power their economies.

Global competition exists across all sectors of the economy and the solar industry is no different.  Only the strongest companies will survive.  We recently witnessed similar competition, including spectacular failures, as the mobile phone and Internet industries grew. As an industry matures, consolidation occurs. The solar industry is maturing – and there is no doubt that it will continue to thrive.

The question is: Will the solar industry still boom in America, or will it move overseas? If our politicians have their way, kicking solar like a political football, we may not like the answer.  As other nations profit from our innovation, we may look back and regret that we were so shortsighted.

Elected officials need to stop viewing solar through a political prism and recognize solar’s strengths:  an American-born engine of tremendous growth that’s creating jobs, empowering small businesses, and helping drive our economy.

On this Independence Day, consider this: enough solar energy hits the U.S. each hour to power our nation for a year. It doesn’t have to be imported, or defended in faraway wars. You can use solar power if you’re a general at Fort Bliss, Texas or a small business in Billings, Mont. Solar is not the only energy resource America has been blessed with, nor the only one we should use.

America is a land of plentiful opportunity whose economic growth will soon return, requiring all of our energy sources. To falsely disparage an industry merely for gain at the polls is un-American: it puts politics over people, and pushes our country backwards for political gain. Instead, recognizing solar energy for what it truly is – an energy source to power our lives – and putting it to good use across our nation is patriotic.

This guest post was written by General Wesley Clark (ret.), a senior fellow at UCLA’s Burkle Center, and Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

By General Wesley Clark (ret.) and Rhone Resch