The future of energy research and development

Research scientist Deborah Hyman carries some testing samples in the biofuel testing department of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) March 3, 2009 in Golden, Colo.

Jeremy Hobson: Well, now to the defunct solar panel maker Solyndra -- the one that got a half a billion dollar federal loan guarantee and then went bankrupt. In the San Francisco Bay Area today, auctioneers will be selling off many of the
company's assets.

Our senior business correspondent Bob Moon reports now on the effect a high profile failure like this has on other alternative energy companies.


Bob Moon: It's a "tricky moment" for an industry that had just been showing signs of life.

Dan Reicher: I worry that the federal government could very well pull back in terms of funding, political support.

Dan Reicher is an energy policy expert at Stanford University. He says belt-tightening and partisan fighting were already threatening federal research-and-development help, even before the industry's recent failures.

But this might end up attracting private investors. So says Thomas Maslin, an emerging energy analyst at IHS.

Thomas Maslin: Some of them may see the current struggles of the market as an opportunity to gobble up some relatively cheap assets.

Maslin says smaller startups still depend on federal help, though. And President Obama has warned the U.S. risks falling behind.

Barack Obama: Other countries are putting enormous subsidies into these companies.

Stanford's Dan Reicher says America can't afford to surrender its current lead in R&D funding.

Reicher: We could very well lose the race to tap into that market and all the jobs that come with it, if we don't do for these emerging technologies what, for decades, we've done for the more traditional technologies.

Reicher points out fossil fuels continue to receive billions more in subsidies.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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