Report: US lags in clean energy; Minnesota keeping pace


While green industry continues to bloom worldwide, a new report out by the Pew Charitable Trusts finds that the United States as a whole is falling behind in investments in the clean-energy sector. A record $243 billion was invested around the world in clean energy last year.

While the United States saw a 51 percent increase in clean-energy investments last year, Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew Clean Energy Programs, says it slipped down a notch in competitive position.

“The United States, which had dropped from first to second in 2009, has slipped even further down the ladder to number three, behind both China and Germany.”

Cuttino says nations without clear energy policies lost investors, but the United States stayed in the game thanks in part to 30 states, including Minnesota, which passed their own energy standards. Current Minnesota law requires utilities to produce 25 percent of their electricity with renewables by 2025.

Lynn Hinkle, policy director for the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, says solar is rapidly becoming a major contender in the energy arena.

“By many projections, including the Department of Energy, it’s expected that solar-generated electricity will become cost competitive with other fossil fuel energy sources by 2015, and some say it would be 2018, but the range is pretty near-term.”

He says that while Minnesota is on pace with meeting or exceeding its renewable energy standard, there is not a current goal for solar outlined in the policy. His group would like to see solar make up one percent of the state’s energy production by 2020, and 10 percent by 2030.

“We’re on an ascending development curve right now with solar in this country, and the window of opportunity for states to position themselves as hubs for solar manufacturing is here right now. By 2015 or 2016, if we haven’t moved to position ourselves as a state to develop that capacity, it won’t happen; it will be too late by then.”

Positioning Minnesota as a solar hub would not only attract investors to the state, but will also provide manufacturing jobs that are a critical asset to the development and sustainability of local economies, says Hinkle.

“I think people understand the enormous economic multipliers that come from being able to develop any manufacturing job. The reality is that solar manufacturing jobs tend to be, as an aggregate, somewhat better paid, so it’s something that quite honestly can have a pretty significant impact for the entire state economy.”

Over 50 companies scattered across Minnesota are involved in the solar industry, but much of their products and services are exported out of state. Hinkle says while it’s exciting that larger companies like 3M have found a place in the global market for solar products, if the state wants to grow and retain its solar manufacturing capacity, local market demand must be encouraged.

The Pew Report is at