Follow the Money: Renewable Energy

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Why solar and other renewable energy is headed for success.

For climate-change skeptics, the 2011 bankruptcy of the Obama-backed solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra was irrefutable proof that the widespread transition to solar energy was a liberal pipe dream—and a black hole of an investment. Far from being a harbinger of the sector’s demise, however, the failure represents, for many analysts, the kinds of growing pains that every thriving industry experiences. The collapse was largely the result of surging competition from China that drove down prices for solar panels. According to Oliver Libby, managing director of strategy and venture company Hatzimemos/Libby and an expert in early-stage technologies, “This was bad news for Solyndra but good news for Americans interested in buying cheaper solar panels.”

And it has led to a boom. The growth of the solar sector is in the double digits. Libby maintains that renewable energy is “going to be a successful industry regardless of whether you believe in climate change, because it’s an endlessly renewable source of fuel that is much less captive to the vagaries of certain powerful international players than fossil fuels.” Low oil prices may have slowed momentum, but since oil powers almost none of our electricity, Libby believes the price dip has not fundamentally changed the direction of progress. “If you’re concerned about climate change,” he says, “you should support renewable energy. And if you’d like to be involved in a great business that’s growing hand over fist, you should be involved in renewable energy.”