Biden Invokes Defense Production Act To Accelerate Clean Energy For America

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President Biden this week invoked the Defense Production Act to kick the domestic manufacturing of products and components needed to move the clean energy transition forward more rapidly. Here’s the overview from the US Department of Energy:

Solar — Solar photovoltaic (PV) energy is the largest source of new U.S. electricity generation capacity and the cheapest new electricity source in many regions of the country. However, domestic solar PV production does not meet current demand. By supporting a secure, stable, diversified, and competitive domestic solar supply chain, President Biden’s actions will increase national security, promote energy independence, help to address the urgent threat of climate change, and drive down energy costs for American consumers.

Transformers and Grid Components — The U.S. is highly reliant on foreign-sourced critical electric grid components. Traditional industrial efforts are insufficient to meet the unprecedented growth in electrification necessary to support U.S. decarbonization, defense against cyber-security attacks, and critical infrastructure maintenance, and are not positioned to respond to the demands of U.S. electricity needs in the near-term. By expanding the domestic production of transformers and critical grid components to enable the reliable and increased use of the electric power system, the U.S. would immediately enhance its domestic energy security, decrease vulnerability of U.S. infrastructure, and ultimately support climate security and stability worldwide.

Supply chain delays are leading to wait times in rural and urban parts of the U.S. of up to two years for crucial grid components. Independent estimates indicate that we need to expand electricity transmission systems by 60% by 2030 and may need to triple it by 2050 to meet the country’s increase in renewable generation and expanding electrification needs. President Biden’s invocation of the DPA will support a robust domestic supply of modern grid components, which is necessary to strengthen and modernize the nation’s grid and will accelerate customers’ ability to get electricity from clean sources.

Heat Pumps — Our nation’s buildings, homes, offices, schools, hospitals, military bases, and other critical facilities drive more than 40% of all U.S. energy consumption. To reduce the amount of energy needed in our buildings, leading to less reliance by the U.S. and allies on adversaries such as Russia for oil and gas, heat pumps are an important solution. Their use by the U.S. and allies can shrink Russian revenue for war and reduce climate instability. However, currently, U.S. HVAC manufacturers are not producing heat pumps at the rate needed. The Biden-Harris Administration can help American manufacturing expand and expedite the installation of heat pumps in homes and residential buildings by qualified building professionals.

Insulation — About half of all homes in the U.S. were built before modern-day building energy codes, meaning they lack contemporary insulation, causing energy to seep out. At a time when conserving energy means limiting the reliance by the U.S. and allies on adversaries such as Russia for oil and gas, building retrofits can reduce energy use by 50% or more. In addition to lowering energy costs for families and increasing the domestic clean energy workforce, well-insulated buildings also provide “passive survivability,” meaning that they can retain a safe indoor temperature for longer in the event of energy disruptions, reducing casualties from extreme weather.

While U.S. insulation production is currently sufficient to cover new construction and some retrofits, we must also rapidly insulate older buildings to further reduce energy demand. President Biden’s actions will help expand insulation manufacturing to meet this need.

Electrolyzers, Fuel Cells, and Platinum Group Metals — Electrolyzers, fuel cells, and platinum group metal (PGM) catalysts are vital for increasing domestic production and utilization of clean hydrogen, a versatile energy carrier. Clean hydrogen produced through electrolysis is projected to contribute significantly to achieving U.S. decarbonization goals. President Biden’s actions supporting domestic supply chains for electrolyzers, fuel cells, and PGM catalysts will enhance national and energy security by reducing U.S. reliance on imported fossil fuels, particularly Russia (the world’s second-largest producer of PGMs) and China. Consumers will benefit from clean hydrogen’s price stability relative to fossil fuels, cost reductions as the hydrogen economy scales up, and resilient domestic supply chains.

“Reducing America’s dependence on gas and oil is critical to U.S. national security,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said in a statement. “In conflict, fossil fuel supply lines are especially vulnerable. The actions President Biden announced today will help strengthen our supply chains and ensure the hat the United States is a leader in producing the energy technologies that are essential to our future success. They will also help accelerate DoD’s transition toward clean energy technologies that can help strengthen military capability while creating good jobs for American workers.”

This latest action by the White House coordinates with yesterday’s decision to suspend import tariffs on solar panels made in Asia for 24 months, a move designed to promote the faster adoption of grid scale solar power in the US.

Bill McKibben & The Defense Production Act

When the barbaric attack on Ukraine began, Bill McKibben issued a call to use the Defense Production Act to manufacture more heat pumps and send them to Europe so they could be installed before next winter. Europe has been cut off from Russian methane supplies, which are used to heat many homes and businesses on the Continent. In an email to his supporters, he credits their active support for helping make this executive order possible.

“Biden’s order isn’t precisely what we’d called for, since the heat pumps are destined for U.S. homes instead of European ones — but that may well be more politically palatable, and in any event, as we’ve pointed out over and over, oil is a global market. If we can suppress demand here by giving people efficient technology, it will help drive down the windfall that rising oil prices have provided Putin.”

McKibben went on to thank Third Act, a group of older Americans (who presumably are in the third act of the life’s journey) for actively supporting his ideas. The group joined with McKibben recently to advocate for America’s cash rich tech companies to put their financial reserves to work promoting zero carbon technologies rather than allowing that money be lent to fossil fuel companies to further degrade the Earth.

In an odd way, Russia’s unproved assault on Ukraine has given the Biden administration the basis it needed to invoke the Defense Production Act. People may be oblivious to melting ice caps and the plight of starving polar bears, but nothing focuses the human mind quite like a splendid little war. That’s what makes the Defense Production Act relevant to today’s executive action.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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