The Solyndra bankruptcy led to a sudden frenzy of attention for government incentives for the renewable energy industry.
But even before the CIGS solar panel manufacturer announced it would be laying off all 1,100 of its employees and shutting down operations, private equity firm DBL Investors set out to look at the history of government incentives for the renewable energy industry and compare the numbers with data on government support of fossil fuels and nuclear power.
The resulting report, What Would Jefferson Do? The Historical Role of Federal Subsidies in Shaping America’s Energy Future–released in September–claims that American federal government support for the oil industry is five times the amount for renewables power annually; support for nuclear power was twice the commitment to renewables. The report was co-written by Ben Healey, a Yale University graduate student, and DBL Investors Managing Partner, Nancy Pfund, who presented the data on a media and investors call this Monday.
Whereas the government spends around $8 billion a year on oil subsidies and $3.3 billion on nuclear power subsidies, it only spends $400 million on incentives for all renewable power combined, said Pfund.
Pfund said DBL has been investing in the emerging clean tech market, particularly the solar industry, which has succeeded despite a relatively low amount of government support for the emerging technology.
Over the lifetime of oil, coal and nuclear, government subsidies have been exponentially higher cumulatively than they have been for the nascent renewables sector. As a percentage of the federal budget, subsidies for oil and gas have always been at least 25% more than the support for renewables, and at times as much as 10 times more.
She said that unlike the oil industry, which emerged with automobile as a wholly new discovery that was highly in demand, the renewable power market is competing in an already saturated market.
“Its almost surprising that renewables have done as well as they have done,” Pfund said.
She urged government regulators to keep tax subsidies in place to help the market grow. A disruption will undoubtedly “disrupt the cycle of innovation,” she said. “The stop-start nature” of government incentives is also putting private sector investment at risk, she said.