President Obama made a trip today to ZBB Energy, a manufacturer of advanced batteries for energy storage. Such batteries promise to play a key role in the clean energy economy, enabling intermittent renewable energy sources like solar and wind to provide more consistent sources of power.
At ZBB’s Wisconsin factory, the President described the company’s achievements and how they fit into his economic growth plan: “…you’re doing more than just making high tech batteries,” he proclaimed. “You’re pointing this country towards a brighter economic future.”
Obama’s motivation for visiting has as much to do with promoting American manufacturing as it does with promoting the growth of the renewable energy sector. Renewables are a tiny slice of the manufacturing pie. But companies like ZBB Energy offer the opportunity to showcase both, demonstrating how growth in key, well-loved sectors can support job growth and economic recovery. No one is likely to complain about that plan so long as the facts can back him up.
In the case of ZBB, they seem to. The President references the specific example of how a federal loan and special tax credit helped ZBB retain workers and open a new factory, demonstrating the firm’s clear growth trajectory.
When it comes to stimulating the broader American economy, however, the jury is still out. It’s evident that ZBB Energy has notched a series of successes and makes a solid product. The question remains: Can its momentum be replicated on a scale that contributes meaningfully to a broad economic recovery in the near term?
To take just one example: in order to come close to meeting the goals of the President’s Export Initiative, which calls for a doubling of U.S. exports over the next few years, the country would need around 11,000 firms with annual gross sales equal to those that A123 Systems (another, bigger, U.S. battery maker) had last year. And this assumes all sales are exports. When this simplification is tightened, you can begin to see what a daunting task lies ahead.
Nevertheless, the President and his economic team remain optimistic and unshaken, as Bloomberg relays,
“We expect our commitment to clean energy to lead to more than 800,000 jobs by 2012,” Obama said after a tour of the ZBB factory. “And that’s not just creating work in the short term; that’s going to help lay the foundation for lasting economic growth.”