The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

Putting the A123 Bankruptcy in Context

You've probably already heard the news this week about a clean energy company that received a government grant filing for bankruptcy. What you may not have heard quite so clearly is that clean tech is working, for the United States and our transformation to a better, stronger, cleaner energy future.

Yesterday’s announcement from A123 Systems needs to be viewed in the context of federal government support for clean tech to jump-start this sector, and the performance of the industry as a whole.

Many More Winners Than Losers

An important context is one of the main points of the government programs in question: making investments to drive innovation and progress in important areas for the United States. Congress expected to see winners and losers when it passed the relevant legislation in 2009, and the program as a whole has seen far more winners than losers so far. As the Washington Post’s Brad Plumer says, for example:

To date, 30 battery and electric drive firms have received stimulus funding. A full list is here. Two of them, A123 Systems and EnerDel, have filed for bankruptcy so far. (They haven’t disappeared, however: EnerDel continues to operate and A123′s stimulus-funded facilities will remain open under the deal with Johnson Controls.)

Those two companies represent 18% of the vehicle battery grants, which means that 82% of that portfolio is still “performing”.

Plumer also offers as context another stimulus-funded program that’s gotten a lot of attention but has an even more impressive performance to date:

In a similar vein, of the 26 clean-energy projects that have received federal loan guarantees under a separate 1705 program, just three have filed for bankruptcy, including Solyndra, Abound, and Beacon Power. (Though Beacon is still operating and has largely paid back its federally backed loans.)

Even the full amount at risk from those three companies adds up to 6% of the portfolio, meaning that the performing piece of the investments is 94% of the whole.

The Broader Context

Another context in which to consider these developments is what’s happening to renewables in general. In short, as UCS’s president Kevin Knobloch has pointed out, throughout the economic downturn, renewables “have delivered”:

In response to targeted but limited investment (e.g. wind and solar production tax credits and stimulus spending) and policy tools (e.g. renewable electricity standards, now in place in 29 states), the nascent wind and solar industries have delivered. Over the last five years, the wind industry more than tripled its electricity output and solar PV more than quadrupled its output.  

This summer, our collective investments in wind power brought U.S. installed capacity to more than 50,000 megawatts, enough to power almost 13 million homes — “as many as in Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia, Alabama, and Connecticut combined”, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The story is similar elsewhere in the world: renewable energy has been going great guns globally, despite worldwide economic challenges.

Investments in clean energy and clean tech can bring with them jobs and other economic benefits. They also are key to moving us away from dependence on fossil fuels—oil, coal, and natural gas — and the climate change troubles they bring with them.

Beyond the Political

Despite assertions to the contrary, support for clean tech in the U.S. has been and continues to be bipartisan, as Plumer and a UCS colleague point out. The same has been true for A123, as the U.S. Department of Energy reports:

A123’s promising technology has a long history of bipartisan support. In 2007, the company received a $6 million dollar grant as part of the Bush Administration’s efforts to promote advanced battery manufacturing, and the company has used $132 million of a 2009 grant from the Department of Energy.

Some will want to politicize a few failed companies, but don’t be fooled. Investments in the clean tech — private and public — are what we need to get to a responsible, viable, thriving energy future, one that strengthens our economy, enhances our security, and addresses the huge challenge of climate change.

Our greatest investment risk comes from not investing boldly enough.

John Rogers is a senior energy analyst with expertise in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and policies. He co-manages the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative (EW3) at UCS that looks at water demands of energy production in the context of climate change. He holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan and a bachelor's degree from Princeton University.

Lead image: What does it mean via Shutterstock

Untitled Document

Get All the Renewable Energy World News Delivered to Your Inbox - FREE!

Subscribe to Renewable Energy World Magazine and our award-winning e-Newsletter to stay up to date on current news and industry trends.

 Subscribe Now



Evaluating the Case for Module-Level Shutdown

Hannes Knopf With 2014 NEC adoption in full swing, many are anticipating what the next version of the code will hold for the PV in...

A Case Study in Energy-Transition Momentum

Tim King South Australia is clearly at the forefront of the global energy transition as it establishes a fast-moving model oth...

Listen Up: Can I Get Solar if my Roof is Shaded?

The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World Rooftop solar panels only work when they are in direct sunlight. So if you have a partially shaded roof, the output o...

US Senate Democrats Unveil Energy Bill That Restores PTC and Extends ITC

Brian Eckhouse, Bloomberg Senate Democrats unveiled a bill that would provide more tax credits for renewable energy while killing some tax ince...

PRESS RELEASES Welcomes Jennifer Delony as Associate Editor

PennWell Corporation is pleased to announce that Jennifer Delony has joined the company...

Customized Energy Solutions Executes Agreement with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (“MassCEC”) and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (“DOER”) for Important Energy Storage Study

Customized Energy Solutions (CES) has entered into agreements with Massachusetts Clean ...

CleanTX Releases New White Paper on the Future of Texas Solar in Texas

We love this new White Paper from our clean energy partners CleanTX

Sun Xtender® Launches New Website at

The newly designed website for Sun Xtender solar batteries is now live on the World Wid...


energy efficiency

Beyond the Trend: Maximizing the Impact of Your Energy Efficiency Solution

A revolution is happening in the energy sector. From the new regulations pushed out earlier this summer by the EPA’s ...

Northeast States Create Cap-and-Trade Program for Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Northeast states have worked together for several decades to address air quality issues and, more recently, climate c...

Why the Solar PV Industry Should Love Geothermal Heat Pumps Pt 2

It’s a marriage made in heaven: Solar PV and Geothermal Heat Pumps Part 2 of a 6-Part Series Prevailing Heati...

Park District Goes Solar, Saves Big While Preserving Open Space

Not only do community parks provide green space for recreation and leisure, they also increase property values, attra...



Volume 18, Issue 4


To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:


Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon



Successfully Integrating Solar: A Proactive Approach

•      What does the increasing solar penetrati...

Solar Power Northeast

  From the team that produced Solar Power Southeast and the sol...

Solar Power Asset Management and Performance

SEIA and SEPA collaborated with industry leaders to present the first ev...


Fast facts: 4 things you need to know about the state of solar fina...

Fast facts: 4 things you need to know about the state of solar financing...

10 Questions You Should Be Asking

Tony Robbins is fond of saying that the quality of your life is directly...

Join us at the New Solar Power Northeast

From the team that produced Solar Power Southeast and the sold out P...


Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now