United States and Australia Join in Pledge to Make Solar Energy More Affordable

A meeting in Melbourne brought together U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, to discuss a number of common issues facing their countries. Dependence on foreign oil and the need to invest in alternative energy sources was one topic where the dignitaries could find common ground. The Prime Minister and Mrs. Clinton together pledged to make solar energy more affordable in the next five years. “We have a common goal of making solar energy competitive with conventional sources by the middle of this decade, 2015,” said the Secretary of State.

As technology and production has improved, the price of photovoltaic modules has fallen almost 50 percent in recent years. Mrs. Clinton said the price needs to drop even lower to meet the joint goal. Prime Minister Gillard added, “The price of solar technology has come down in recent years but we need to accelerate that trend.” She acknowledges the great potential solar offers, but recognizes the enormous government push that is necessary to make the industry affordable.

The Australian government is expected to invest $50 million in joint research projects with the United States.  Investments by both governments will help reduce the costs of solar energy production, making it more competitive with conventional power sources. In a slow economy, price is the greatest determining factor for use, and solar has not proven competitive with coal and fuels for the average consumer.

The lack of a clear alternative energy policy in the U.S. has made investments even more difficult. After the U.S. mid-term elections, President Obama has little chance of passing cap-and-trade legislation. Secretary of State Clinton encouraged Australia and other nations to continue working on alternative energy policies despite President Obama’s setback.

Julia Bishop, Australia’s Deputy Opposition Leader, argued, “There’ll be pressure on the Labor Government to drop its price on carbon policy,” now that cap-and-trade is likely to fail. Mrs. Clinton responded that the setback was limited to the U.S., saying, “Decisions in Australia are up to the Government of Australia and the people of Australia.”

Prime Minister Gillard agreed with the Secretary of State. “We will determine our own national strategy in our own national interest,” she said. The Prime Minister said the Australian government is still determined to place a price on carbon emissions; emphasizing independent government policy is possible within a joint effort for solar research and cost reduction.