Barack Obama unveils solar energy drive despite setbacks

President Barack Obama unveiled new solar energy plans on Friday, hailing the measures as a vital job-creating tool in the fight against climate change.

Washington: President Barack Obama unveiled new solar energy plans on Friday, hailing the measures as a vital job-creating tool in the fight against climate change.

Obama, wrapping up a three-day fundraising tour of California, announced commitments to develop solar power and energy efficiency by more than 300 private and public sector groups.

"We know generating more clean energy using less dirty energy can be good for business and consumers," Obama said. "It`s also good for the world we leave for our children."

Separate energy efficiency investments will lower utility bills for more than a billion square feet (93 million square meters) of buildings, according to the White House. 

Obama also unveiled new executive actions set to provide for an extra $2 billion in energy efficiency investments, improved buildings and smarter appliances.

The executive actions will cut carbon pollution by more than 380 million metric tons -- the equivalent of taking 80 million cars off the road for a year -- provide $26 billion in energy savings for businesses and support training programs for 50,000 people to enter the solar industry workforce by 2020.

About a quarter of new power generation capacity was from solar energy last year, making it second only to natural gas. And the cost of a solar energy system has dropped more than 50 percent during the past three years.

The White House said the United States has also increased its solar electricity generation by 10 times and tripled its electricity production from wind power since Obama first took office in 2009.

But solar energy still only accounts for a tiny portion of US electricity production -- about 0.5 percent. About half comes from utility companies and the remainder from people who have installed solar panels at their homes.

Renewable energy (hydroelectric, wind, biomass) accounts for 12 percent of total energy production, according to the latest official figures of the US Energy Information Administration.

The EIA expects that number to reach 16 percent by 2040.

Obama`s announcement follows a major White House report released Tuesday that warned of the serious environmental damage human activities are already causing across the United States.

"Climate change is real and we have to act now," Obama said Friday.

"It`s happening now and causing hardship now. It`s affecting every sector of our economy and our society, more severe floods and violent wildfires. It`s already costing states and cities money.

"Inside Washington we still have climate deniers who shout loud but they are wasting everybody`s time. Climate change is a fact."

In June, Obama unveiled a wide-ranging initiative to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gases and boosting the use of renewable energy sources, with a goal of cutting those emissions by 17 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2020.
Despite being a major pledge of Obama`s 2008 presidential campaign, so-called "green" jobs have struggled to materialize in large part due to the financial crisis that hampered his first term and Chinese competition on equipment.
Obama`s Republican foes have also targeted his administration over the Solyndra affair that saw the solar panel maker go bankrupt in 2011, swallowing more than $500 million in public loans with it.

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