Earlier this week, Rep. Cliff Stearns said that the United States should give up trying to invest in its clean energy sector because "we can't compete with China to make solar panels and wind turbines." But there are plenty of people who think that we can -- and should -- be competing vigorously with other nations like China to establish a thriving clean domestic renewable energy industry. Barack Obama is one of them, as you can see above. Yes, labor costs are cheaper in China. Companies (thankfully) can't staff production facilities in the U.S. as cheaply as they can in China. But that's not the main reason that it's cheaper to produce things like solar panels and wind turbines in that nation -- it's because China heavily subsidizes its nascent clean energy industry, and offers huge incentives for companies to build those things on its soil.
In fact, there's evidence that the reason that Solyndra failed is that it was banking on the passage of a comprehensive energy bill that put a price on carbon to stay competitive. The company assumed the U.S. government would take steps to promote the burgeoning domestic clean energy sector. That was clearly a dumb bet.
A hostile domestic investment climate, and more importantly, going up against heavily-subsidized competitors and plummeting solar PV prices (also thanks to China's massive investment) killed the company. And perhaps, for not anticipating this, Solyndra deserves to fail as a company. But Solyndra had a product (thin-film solar cells) that many deemed innovative and inspiring. Would it have worked in the long run? Who knows? Maybe not. But maybe it could have been a key part of the clean energy revolution!
We should be trying out as many of these promising ideas as possible in the quest for viable clean energy solutions. They won't all work. But if we invested annually what we invest in subsidizing already-profitable oil & coal companies, it would level the playing field some -- and we'd get a shot at establishing a thriving, diverse domestic clean energy industry that can continue to compete with other nations.