On Thursday, President Obama traveled to Newton, Iowa to visit TPI Composites, a provider of, among other things, wind energy composites. He spoke on the importance of renewing the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which provides important tax credits supporting American-made clean energy manufacturing across the country. These credits not only support nearly 50,000 jobs, but also have the potential to create more. But the benefit of supporting American-made clean energy extends far beyond direct job benefits and bringing money into the economy.
In 2005, I spent a summer in the small town of Siuna, Nicaragua. Situated in the northwest mountains of the country, flying into the small strip of cleared land was the only reliable way of traveling there from Nicaragua’s capital city. At the center of town, where the two main thoroughfares (read: 1-lane streets) intersected, Siuna was getting its first paved roads. The closest computer with internet access was a 45-minute walk. But perhaps even more isolating were the random days we spent inside the clinic without electricity, trying to examine people’s eyes and the even darker nights living by candlelight.
Last April, I did some work in Northern Uganda when riots broke out across the country because of rising food and fuel prices. Motor bike (“boda boda”) drivers who provide transportation to citizens around the country lined up at closed gas stations, demanding fuel so they could earn their day’s living. There was electricity in most major towns, but its infrequency seemed to parallel the country’s stability.
America has always been an innovator of the next frontier – in cars, electricity, but also in education. The technologies we innovate here at home can save lives abroad. But it can also create greater partners for trade, industry, and even democracy. In Let There Be Light: Electrifying the Developing World with Markets and Distributed Energy, Rachel Kleinfeld and Drew Sloan give an important and nuanced slant to the importance of energy security not just for us here at home but for the ripple effects it has across the global south. They aptly explain that while access to electricity has long been a need in the developing world, centralized technologies cannot get us there. They require cumbersome government oversight and subsidy. And in countries like India, whose population continues to grow at staggering rates, it proves unrealistic to rely solely on governments and international donors to subsidize our way to a clean, energy secure future.
Energy creates an important stability in daily life that many in America take for granted. Kleinfeld and Sloan lay out proven market-based solutions to create energy future that can “light up” the developing world. This includes wind energy, along with solar – technologies that allow for more decentralized sources of power that can, in turn, source more people.
These kinds of innovations start at home and start with the important passage of the PTC. I highly recommend Let There Be Light. (This review lays out the book in further detail.) Creating a greater future for the billions of underserved and underprivileged around the world starts with creating a greater future for America through smarter technologies supported by government, companies, and citizens alike.