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Gorgeous new WPA-style posters celebrate the US energy revolution


Marking the accomplishments birthed by 2009's Recovery Act (the "stimulus bill"), the Department of Energy's Loan Programs Office (LPO) has released a set of posters celebrating America's energy revolution.

Between 2009 and 2011, the LPO guaranteed $16.1 billion in loans to 25 Recovery Act projects, creating jobs and kick-starting several industries.

The posters are modeled after the art used in midcentury Works Progress Administration materials, and they are gorgeous. As far as I know, they only exist as images on DOE's website. (You can download them as high resolution PDFs.)

1) Utility-scale photovoltaic solar

There were zero solar photovoltaic (PV) plants larger than 100 MW in 2009. The LPO helped fund the first five; 28 more have been financed since, without LPO loans.

utility-scale pv solar (DOE)

2) Wind energy

The LPO program provided key financing for several of the first large land-based wind farms in the US. "Today," LPO executive director Mark McCall writes, "onshore wind can power 15.5 million American homes and drives annual investment of $25 billion."

wind energy (DOE)

3) Concentrating solar power

LPO financed several large concentrating solar power plants (which concentrate the sun's energy on a fluid that boils, creating steam that turns a turbine to generate electricity), including Ivanpah, which was the largest in the world when it opened. A couple of those plants have integrated energy storage, offering nighttime solar power.

Big picture-wise, CSP is losing out to PV, which has plunged in price beyond what CSP can match. But the LPO's seed money created important learning that could help if the industry revives (say, if storage becomes cheaper and CSP becomes a viable provider of dispatchable power).

concentrating solar power DOE

4) Geothermal power

Poor geothermal never really seems to break out, despite its promise as a source of dispatchable zero-carbon energy. LPO helped finance three successful projects, but geothermal remains at 3.5 GW of installed capacity in the US, compared to solar PV's 20 GW, wind's 72 GW, and nuclear's 99 GW.

geothermal power (DOE)

5) Storage and transmission

Transmission and storage are both key to integrating more renewable energy onto the grid. The LPO helps finance the One Nevada Line, which carries wind power from Nevada, Idaho, and Wyoming to power-hungry California.

6) Bioenergy and biofuels

LPO helped finance one cellulosic biofuels plant, Abengoa. The advanced biofuels industry, it is safe to say, has not lived up to expectations, but this is still a neat poster.

bioenergy and biofuels (DOE)

7) Advanced nuclear power

OK, so this one hasn't gone well at all.

The LPO helped finance the new Vogtle nuclear plant being built by Georgia Power, to the tune of over $8 billion in loans. The plant's modular construction method was supposed to save time and money relative to more expensive older plants.

Vogtle's two reactors were originally supposed to cost $14 billion and be online in 2016 and 2017. Construction on the project is now 39 months behind schedule and total costs are now estimated at $21 billion (assuming no further delays). What's $7 billion among friends?

Cool poster though.

advanced nuclear energy (DOE)

8) Clean vehicle manufacturing

LPO's Advanced Vehicles Manufacturing Projects (AVMP) program has issued $8 billion in loans to help build new vehicle manufacturing plants and retool older ones. It helped revive vehicle manufacturing in the US.

A detailed report on AVMP's economic effects can be found here.

clean vehicle manufacturing (DOE)

The Recovery Act, as journalist Michael Grunwald is always reminding us, contained within it the largest clean energy bill in US history, some $90 billion worth of investments, of which the LPO loans were only a small fraction. The legislation helped double US renewable energy production and almost single-handedly created several enduring domestic clean energy industries.

If Obama had won the energy bill on its own, in a separate fight, he would be hailed far and wide as a clean energy champion. But energy was lumped in with the rest of the stimulus and has been lost in the endless political fights over whether that stimulus was too much or too little.

These posters are an example of the kind of creative communication that would have been nice in 2010, when the stimulus was taking a beating in the press. Exciting things are happening in US energy! Seems like the public ought to know about it.