The end of the summer brings with it the sense, if not always the reality, of the western world returning to work.
For a lot of people in the US today, there simply is no work, as unemployment numbers and straggling economic growth continue to make clear. President Obama gathered Congress together to announce his own plan for the war on unemployment, and his suggestions met with mixed response from the energy industry. In previous speeches, Obama has singled out the energy business as a major provider of jobs; in this one, with the exception of a passing reference to an Infrastructure Bank, he largely avoided the subject.
No company announcement or even strategy discussion can be held today without the shadow of structural and widespread unemployment looming over. The spooling up of the 2012 election cycle in the closing days of summer and the aftermath of the great debt ceiling debacle kept jobs at the forefront of public discussion, despite earthquakes and hurricanes.
The renewable energy business has been promoted as a source of job creation, and the turfing in of tens of billions of dollars in federal grants and loan guarantees has been justified by the promise of long-term employment and economic gains. But the failure of solar companies Solyndra and Evergreen Solar, both of which had received federal or state government funds, reverberated across the week as the first sign that promises might not be fulfilled.
But the shake may be a natural growing pains. The solar industry is having to grow up in a very public spotlight and many in the industry say the shakeout is a natural part of an evolving market, and that the falling price of solar panels that is impacting individual solar firms is actually a benefit to the market, and the sector, overall.
A Drop In An Ocean Of Gas
In the meantime, solar generation has barely made a dent in overall new generation being brought online. Power plants built today will set the basis for decades of future electricity supply, and the predominance of natural gas is immediately apparent on a review of the data from the first half of 2011.
Natural gas development transfixed the industry this week, particularly in the Northeastern US where New York's state government released a long-awaited but largely inconclusive report on hydraulic fracturing, and Pennsylvania's gas industry gathered in Philadelphia for a discussion of the Marcellus Shale.
The natural gas industry is desperate to develop the Marcellus further, and to access its neighbor, the Utica shale. Development may take forced land leases, and could drive widespread shifts in generation from coal to natural gas. The outcome of that degree of change is debatable, but the scale of change underway is self-evident.
Photo Caption: Unemployed Americans line up to enter a job fair on the first day of the Labor Day long weekend in the City of El Monte outside of Los Angeles on September 4, 2010. US unemployment jumped to 9.6 percent in August, the Labor Department said, showing the recovering economy is still struggling to create jobs.