December 14, 2011
CNN: Government to Thank for Technologies We Can’t Live Without
With the backdrop of solar company Solyndra's bankruptcy, the media has been running an endless stream of stories and op-eds seeking to discredit government investment in technology. CNNMoney, in an encouraging contrast, today published a blog post called "7 great government-backed inventions." From their story:
It's under fire for backing now-bankrupt Solyndra, but the government has a long history of investing in cutting edge technology. Without it, many products we can't live without may not have been developed, such as...
The article goes on to catalogue the history of government investment in the microchip, the Internet, GPS, fire-resistant clothing, aerodynamic commercial trucks, the bar code, and the acceleramator technology behind the iPhone, the Nintendo Wii, vehicle air bags, and other consumer products. For more on the history of government investment in technology, readers should check out Breakthrough's report "Where Good Technologies Come From," which documents the development of railroads, highways, jet turbine technology, cell phones, biotech, solar power, and others game-changing technologies.
CNN's post is encouraging amid a storm of cynical and flawed analyses of government investment. Far from spelling the doom of federal investment programs, Solyndra's bankruptcy apparently won't even slow the rapid growth the solar industry is experiencing this year. GE announced this week that it will be building a thin-fim solar panel manufacturing plant in Colorado, to produce technology originally developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and PrimeStar, a Colorado start-up that GE recently acquired. From DOE:
The Energy Department's support has been critical to PrimeStar's success. PrimeStar Solar partnered with NREL to pursue cooperative research and development agreements. It was received a PV Incubator award from the Energy Department. This award helped the company build its initial 30 megawatts of manufacturing capacity.
With other nations like China and Germany poised to capture the market, a national technology strategy and investment plan to foster America's domestic solar panel manufacturing industry is essential. In the mean time, we are literally surrounded by the benefits of government investments in industries like transportation, IT, medicine, consumer electronics, and communications. Ignoring the lessons of history in our pursuit of clean energy technology would be a grave mistake, while emulating the successes of past government investment could earn America a leading position in the global clean energy race.