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Renewable Energy Technologies

Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - 12:00am
City Hall Council Chambers<br>San Jose, California
Research Directions, Investment Opportunities, and Challenges to Commercial Application in the United States and the Developing World

Opening Statement By Hon. Mike Honda

I’d like to everyone in attendance for being here today for this hearing about a topic that I believe is essential to the future of our nation and our world, renewable energy. Chairwoman Biggert, I thank you traveling out to Silicon Valley to join us and to hear what folks from this region have to contribute to this important endeavor.

I extend my warmest thanks and welcome to Cindy Chavez, Vice Mayor of the City of San Jose, who made it possible for us to hold this hearing in this wonderful space today.  Cindy, please stand up and be recognized.  Thank you so much for reserving the Council Chambers for us.

I also want to thank all of the witnesses for agreeing to testify before us today.  I think we have assembled an eminently qualified panel that represents the spirit and breadth of expertise and experience that makes Silicon Valley and the whole Bay Area the special place that it is.

I’m the kind of person who drives a hybrid car and wants to keep the battery charged with a solar cell when I don’t drive it for a while.  I’m also in the process of doing some work on my house, and my plans involve installing solar photovoltaics on the roof.  Sadly, the rest of the nation is not doing the same.  The United States was once the leader in solar technologies.  The first solar cell that produced a useful amount of electricity was invented here, but last year, only 11 percent of the photovoltaic generating capacity was manufactured here.

Our track record at installing solar generation is equally poor.  By the end of 2004, the United States installed photovoltaic generating capacity was only about equal to what a standard coal-fired power plant produces, or approximately 0.04 percent of U.S. electricity production.  We have fallen behind other nations, such as Germany and Japan, which saw solar installation increase as a result of meaningful incentive programs.

But all is not lost, because nature gives us an advantage - the United States has far greater potential for solar power than Germany.  This means that the U.S. has tremendous growth potential for solar energy.  Here in California, we are taking the lead, with over 100 megawatts of installed grid capacity to date.  It has taken a commitment to get to this point, because a typical home photovoltaic system is not cheap to purchase and install.

To succeed in advancing solar technology, cost must be reduced.  Fortunately, as more cells are manufactured, the cost has decreased 5-7 percent per year.  As more consumers install these systems with the help of federal and state incentives, prices will continue to fall and the cost of power will become comparable to other sources.

Research and development can help to increase the efficiency and decrease the cost of renewable energy.  For example, in the area of biofuels, research can help develop dedicated energy crops that are cost-effective, easy to sustain, and produce greater energy yields.  In the area of photovoltaics, new fields such as nanotechnology offer the opportunity to develop solar cells that can generate electricity using more wavelengths of the sun’s light and collect all light more efficiently.  With the right resources, the global scientific and engineering community can continue down the path to progress.

It needs to be a global effort, because developing countries don’t have the luxury of thinking about expensive energy solutions.  For the poorest countries, energy is a source of their poverty.  38 of the poorest countries are net importers of oil, and 25 of them import all of their oil.  At oil prices of over $70 per barrel, these countries are being disproportionately impacted.

Renewable energy in its various forms has many characteristics that make it particularly useful in the developing world, as well as here in the U.S.  Using distributed renewable sources of electricity that generate power where it is needed means that large investments in infrastructure can be avoided.  In developing nations, where infrastructure links between rural communities or remote settlements are not well developed, this is essential to rapid success.

Photovoltaics and small wind generation are well suited to the distributed generation approach, because they can be installed simply and unobtrusively in remote locations, and they can be scaled to whatever the local energy needs are.  Biofuels can capitalize on the agricultural strengths of developing countries, providing a cleaner, more sustainable alternative to oil while improving the situation of small farmers who cannot compete in the global market as it exists today.

Brazil is a great example of how nations can use agriculture to make energy a source of opportunity rather than a source of oppression.  When I was there last year, I learned how the Brazilian government has provided the necessary support to make ethanol derived from sugarcane a common source of fuel.  By the end of last year, 70% of the new cars sold in Brazil were Flex Fuel Vehicles - like the one that the Chairwoman and I saw at her field hearing in Naperville, Illinois in June - that can use ethanol as well as gasoline.

In our job, one of the things that we have to worry about is international relations.  Both energy and climate change are pieces of this bigger picture.  Fortunately, renewable energy offers opportunities to make this big picture a little bit less complicated.  When developing nations depend on other countries’ natural resources, they are unable to invest in improvements within, leading to humanitarian crises which require international responses and human suffering.  Using renewable energy, developing countries could instead use their own living resources to power their development and enhance their economies.

Throughout history, wars have been fought over non-renewable natural resources.  In a world focused on using renewable energy, these conflicts could be avoided and greater stability achieved.  But we need to convince consumers here and in developing countries to choose to adopt renewable energy, and to do so, we need to make renewables cost effective and improve their performance.

So I look forward to hearing the insights our witnesses will provide today about what the future holds for renewable energy and to a lively discussion following the testimony.  Thanks again to everyone for being here today.

Download the opening statement text.



1 - Dr. Steven Chu
Director Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Download the Witness Testimony

2 - Dr. Arno Penzias
Venture Capitalist New Enterprise Associates New Enterprise Associates
Download the Witness Testimony

3 - Christian Larsen
Vice President, Generation Electric Power Research Institute Electric Power Research Institute
Download the Witness Testimony

5 - Ron Swenson
Co-Founder ElectroRoof, SolarQuest and Solarevolution ElectroRoof, SolarQuest and Solarevolution
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4 - David Pearce
President and Chief Executive Officer Miasolé Miasolé
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109th Congress