Business 101 teaches us that failure is valuable to business. The Apple computer and the IBM PC rose out of the ashes of the Osborne computer bankruptcy. The colossal failure of eToys didn't stop Amazon from becoming the most successful retailer on the planet. Dot Coms collapsed in 2000, but Apple is worth $380 billion today. And even as Solyndra solar failed, Sunpower Solar remains a worldwide leader in power output, with sales that are almost double what they were two years ago.
As talking heads kick the Solyndra scandal around to score political goals, as if it's the only green company worth discussing, there are corporations, countries and individuals that are using green products to increase economic growth, save lives, cut costs, create jobs, increase national security and reduce pollution.
Having a leading solar panel manufacturer, like Sunpower and others, at a time when China is investing multi-billions in clean energy could be key to U.S. economic growth. A report by The Pew Charitable Trusts states that China has developed the world's most aggressive strategic plan for clean energy adoption. China became the worldwide leader in clean energy with $34.6 billion in investments in 2009. China vows to have 500,000 electric, hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles on the road by 2015 and five million by 2020. The government is employing tax incentives, Cash for Clunkers, feed-in tariffs and government spending to promote the adoption of electric vehicles, next generation information technology, energy efficient products and renewable energy. According to Yang Jiechi, the minister of foreign affairs, People's Republic of China, who spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting on Sept. 21, "It is very important to build environmentally friendly mechanisms. We have spent a lot of capital on hybrid cars and electric cars."
Focusing on fuel efficiency made Toyota Motors the No. 1 automaker in the world. U.S. automakers like Tesla Motors, General Motors and Ford are banking on having a strong EV presence going forward -- with the Chinese market directly in their sights. Is this the time to cut funding to The Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program?
In cities like Beijing, Los Angeles, New York and even Las Vegas, it's not just a question of being on the right side of global warming. It's a question of reducing pollution and cutting down on respiratory illnesses.
Oil prices are sky high, but the cost of fuel in lives is even higher. According to Thomas Hicks, the deputy assistant secretary of energy for the U.S. Navy, who spoke to me at CGI, "For every 50 fuel convoys, we have one American killed or wounded. For us, that's just too high a price to pay for fuel." Bringing fuel into "the theatre" means sending convoys from Pakistani ports through insurgents and IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) to Afghanistan.
To reduce the risk and save lives, Ray Mabus, the secretary of the Navy, has outlined five energy goals, including:
1. Incorporating "green" evaluation factors when awarding contracts
2. Sailing the "Great Green Fleet"
3. Reducing petroleum use in non-tactical vehicles
4. Increasing alternative energy ashore
5. Increasing alternative energy use department-wide
The Navy will cut their petroleum use in their non-tactical fleet (commercial vehicle fleet) by 50 percent by 2015. By 2020, half of the energy used by the Navy will come from alternative sources and half of the installations will be net zero energy. And to ensure that these goals are met, Mabus just launched a new new dedicated energy masters degree program. "Through the the masters program and the executive energy series, [Naval Postgraduate School] will ensure that energy is fully integrated," said Mabus. "As a result, NPS students will guide the Navy and the nation toward a better, more secure energy future."
Is alternative energy reliable enough for our national defense?
Tom Hicks advised me that the U.S. has a 270 MW geothermal plant in California that we have been operating for 20 some odd years. "Most people don't know about it," Hicks told me. "It's enough power to power the base in China Lake, but also to provide 200 MW of power to the grid," he said.
The spike in oil prices during the Arab Spring sank the average American's budget, but it had a similar affect on our defense budgets (and any business involved in transportation as well). Based on June oil prices, fuel costs will increase by a billion dollars to the Navy this year, according to Hicks. "That impacts our flying hours, our steaming hours, our ability to sail our ships and to fly our planes," Hicks warns -- making energy independence a national security priority.
One of the most important pieces of going green is energy efficiency -- something old buildings are very deficient in. The Better Buildings Initiative, a policy that U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced at CGI America in June of this year, will upgrade the energy efficiency in up to 300 million square feet of office space -- from military housing to college campuses. According to President Obama, who spoke at CGI in New York City on Wednesday, Sept. 21, this will "create jobs, while saving billions for businesses in energy bills, and cut down on our pollution." It also trains out-of-work constructions workers -- who make up one of the largest unemployed industries in the U.S., at 11.3 percent in August of 2011 -- to have new skills that are valuable for 21st century construction jobs.
In his speech at CGI, Obama also told the crowd, "The CEO of Southwest Airlines estimates that if we put in the new generation of GPS air traffic control, we would save 15 percent in fuel costs. Think about what that would do overall for the cost of the ticket... Maybe they could start giving out peanuts again." Indeed the cost of fuel is not peanuts to the airline industry. Fuel costs were over $3.6 billion in 2010 for Southwest Airlines.
Companies, countries and individuals alike suffer when the price of energy is the most expensive budget line item -- and can be increased significantly at the drop of a hat by countries that are not friendly to American interests. Innovation, research and development and even failures are all part of the solutions needed for the many challenges that America, and the world, face today. With trillions being spent worldwide on solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels, electric vehicles and other clean energy products, continuing the U.S. commitment to R&D, private enterprise, public policy and consumer incentives is an investment in economic growth, national security, the security of our armed forces and a better world.
There are many successful clean energy projects and companies that are as news and water-cooler worthy as the one green company that failed.
Natalie Pace is the author of "You Vs. Wall Street" and the founder and CEO of the Women's Investment Network, LLC. She is a blogger on HuffingtonPost.com and a repeat guest on national television and radio shows such as "Good Morning America," Fox News, CNBC, ABC-TV, Forbes.com, NPR and more. As a philanthropist, she has helped to raise more than two million for Los Angeles public schools and financial literacy. Follow her on Facebook.com/NWPace. For more information please visit NataliePace.com.