The Obama Administration has marked this 4th of July with a new round of $4 billion in loan guarantees for cutting edge projects aimed squarely at greenhouse gas management and domestic clean energy sources. It’s like they’re trying to recast the holiday as Energy Independence Day, right? We’re a firm believer in media timing so let’s take a look and see what they’re handing out in celebration of the birthday of modern democracy.
Energy Independence Day
The new Energy Department loan guarantees come under the Renewable Energy and Efficient Energy Projects category. The idea is to kickstart technologies that are “catalytic, replicable, and market-ready.”
That’s fancyspeak for new projects that go beyond anything you can buy off the shelf today.
Here’s the five areas that qualify for this round of funding.
1. Advanced grid integration and storage. This one is aimed at finding efficient ways to solidify grid reliability when you’ve got multiple inputs to juggle, including small scale distributed sources (mainly solar) and intermittent sources (mainly wind and solar).
2. Drop-in biofuels. Despite advances in EV tech, internal combustion engines are going to be around like forever, so the idea here is to develop renewable, carbon-neutral, sources that won’t require modifications to existing engines and fueling infrastructure.
3. Waste-to-energy. If you’re thinking incineration you could be right, but given the explosion of interest in the field of manure-to-biogas, we’re placing a bet on animal waste-to-energy as well as food waste biogas recovery.
4. Enhancement of existing facilities. This is a cool one. The focus is on low impact hydrokinetic technology that harvests energy from ambient currents in rivers, canals, and other constructed watercourses including existing dams.
5. Efficiency improvements. Given the amount of energy waste involved in older buildings, our money is on new strategies for squeezing the most energy bang out of building retrofits.
The Energy Department Loan Guarantee Program
The $4 billion is part of the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program, which provides innovative energy companies with financing for high risk, high return projects that can’t attract private sector backing.
The loan guarantee program was initiated in 2005 under the Bush Administration. From the get-go the program assumed that not all of the projects would lead to commercial success, and that risk factor was built into the program in order to protect taxpayers.
As part of the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy a significant amount of funding has gone into the fossil fuel and nuclear fields, but still by any rational standard the loan program has been a whopping success for clean energy development in the US.
In the solar field alone, federal loan guarantees have put the US front and center on the global map with world-leading utility scale projects including Ivanpah, Agua Caliente, Crescent Dunes, and Desert Sunlight (coming in 2015).
If that loan guarantee thing sends a tingle up your spine, that’s the same Energy Department “scandal” program that launched a thousand questions from US Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA, Chair of the House Oversight Committee) regarding the bankruptcy of one company in the portfolio, the now-notorious Solyndra.
That was a few years ago, before Mr. Issa turned the nation’s attention (and tax dollars) to other outrages including the IRS doing its job, Administration officials getting fairly accurate talking points for a TV interview regarding the 2012 attack on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, and national health care reforms that finally bring the US closer to standards practiced by every other nation in our industrial class.
As for the loan program, we haven’t heard any complaints to speak of for a while now, but you never know. Stay tuned.