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The Clean-Energy Transition is Powering the U.S. Economy

The federal government has an important role facilitating the acceleration of a clean, modern 21st century energy system. Ignoring that role or diminishing its effectiveness go against the tide of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that is creating U.S. jobs and helping the economy flourish.

Companies, states, and cities are all pursuing clean energy and energy efficiency because it makes economic sense. The federal government needs to encourage this innovation, not try to slow it down.

Consider that clean energy is the fastest growing energy sector in the United States. Renewables have accounted for more than half of new U.S. power capacity for the past three years in a row. Thanks to market forces, including falling prices for renewables and relatively low and stable prices for natural gas, the U.S. energy system is getting cleaner.

The drive for clean energy and sustainability is also putting Americans to work. The latest U.S. Department of Energy report shows the solar workforce increased by 25 percent to about 374,000 in 2016, while wind employment increased by 32 percent to about 102,000. Almost 2 million Americans are employed in the design, installation, and manufacture of energy-efficiency products and services. The U.S. nuclear industry directly employs about 50,000, and growing global demand could generate thousands of U.S. industry jobs.

Private enterprise is leading this clean-energy transition. Since the election, Google announced it will meet its goal this year of running on 100 percent renewable power. HP pledged to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from its global operations by 25 percent from 2015 levels by 2025. NRG completed the first retrofit of a U.S. coal-fired power plant to capture carbon emissions in Texas – on time and under budget.

Many states and cities are also embracing clean energy and clean transportation.

  • Twenty-nine states have renewable portfolio standards requiring utilities to deliver a certain amount of electricity from renewable or alternative energy. Since the election, several states, including Maryland and Michigan, have taken steps to raise their standards.
  • Eleven states already have limits on carbon dioxide emissions, and are using effective, market-based approaches to achieve the reductions economically.
  • Several states, including California, Connecticut, and New York, have created Clean Energy Banks or Green Banks to facilitate more private investment in clean energy projects.
  • More than two-dozen U.S. cities have committed to switch entirely to renewable energy.
  • About 30 cities have told U.S. automakers they want electric street sweepers, trash haulers and other vehicles, potentially generating $10 billion in sales.

These steps by businesses, states, and cities are significant. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates the average city alone could reduce its carbon footprint nearly 20 percent by taking steps like improving building codes, increasing access to public transit, practicing “smart” growth, incentivizing solar and localized electricity systems or “microgrids.”

But all these steps are not enough to address the climate and energy issues we face. Without federal leadership, we won’t maximize the benefits of state policies and we’ll see more lawsuits and regulatory uncertainty that slow business decision-making and investment.

Delaying federal climate action also increases the risk of climate impacts such as frequent and intense extreme weather, rising sea levels, droughts and heat waves that many communities are already experiencing. Failing to act now means paying more later.

In the near term, there are opportunities for bipartisan steps at the federal level that could help both the environment and the economy, including:

Incentivizing carbon capture. Bipartisan support is growing on Capitol Hill and beyond to accelerate carbon capture deployment on power plants and industrial sources like steel and cement plants. Senate and House lawmakers introduced bipartisan bills in April to help unleash private capital to scale up the number of carbon capture projects. This is the crucial first step to bring down capture costs, which could help create a market for using manmade carbon dioxide in useful products.

Advancing nuclear energy. Nuclear, our largest source of zero-carbon energy, will have to play a role in any long-term climate strategy. There’s bipartisan support for preserving existing nuclear plants, and spurring the research and development that will lead to the next generation of nuclear energy. House and Senate lawmakers have reintroduced the bipartisan Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act to enhance collaboration between private sector innovators and the Department of Energy’s national labs.

Modernizing our infrastructure. This key goal of the new administration could create jobs and improve climate resilience. A modernized grid and support for energy efficiency can make communities more resilient while reducing their carbon footprint. We could expand charging and refueling networks for electric, natural gas and hydrogen vehicles. And as we rebuild our roads and bridges, let’s make sure they’re built to last and can withstand more frequent extreme weather.

Empowering states. Reasonable people can debate the relative roles for state and federal government in environmental regulation, however it is unreasonable to expect states to take on more responsibilities with less federal funding and support. We urge Congress to include funding for states and important agency support at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.

Promoting American energy, putting Americans to work, and powering the American economy shouldn’t be partisan issues. Putting “America First” also means recognizing the climate risks to U.S. communities and companies and the economic benefits of a clean energy future. As an organization committed to building bridges, C2ES is prepared to work with the private sector and public officials at all levels of government to find practical climate solutions.

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Bob Perciasepe's picture

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Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on Apr 27, 2017 5:46 pm GMT

Consider that clean energy is the fastest growing energy sector in the United States.

RealClearEnergy disagrees:

wind and solar together still supply less than 1.5% of America’s energy. Fast growth from a small number is like winning $100 in Vegas on a $10 bet. Nice, but not life-changing.
To find a “radical and pervasive” change in energy markets we have to look elsewhere. Over the same decade noted above, the amount of energy added to America from shale hydrocarbons was 2,000% greater than the additional supply from solar and wind combined. That actual revolution also happened because of the maturation of new technologies. But, notably, in this case it took place without the stimulus of special subsidies.

http://www.realclearenergy.org/articles/2017/04/26/energy_revolutions_hi...

Mark Stout's picture
Mark Stout on Apr 27, 2017 6:52 pm GMT

Your argument ignores the billions in subsidies given to the fossil fuel industry. GIve that same amount to the renewable and energy efficiency industries, and the adoption rate would be much much higher. Plus the ROI is so low that production costs are eliminated and we are left with maintenance and transportation costs. These are much less than current costs and there’s no need to spend additional monies on exploration.

If you could buy or build a house that paid for itself in 5 years under normal operating conditions? You’d eliminate the need for a 30 year mortgage overnight. Would you scoff at spending money to make that the industry norm and not the exception? Would you not redirect dollars spent maintaining the status quo to grow this new market? Would you not be excited?

More jobs are being created renewable and energy efficiency industries than any other industry and is on track to powering most of the U.S. That’s something we need to be investing in. Not trying to stop it in favor of some old outdated technology. That’s just asinine.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 27, 2017 7:21 pm GMT

Jarmo, key is “energy”, not “electricity”.

According to EIA, wind and solar together provided 7% of electricity last year, and could provide a greater share of total energy if Great Plains states subsidized EV sales – hundreds of thousands of EVs charging overnight would make a conspicuous dent in wind curtailment.

Unfortunately, those states are big on sucking fossil fuel out of the ground – don’t hold your breath.

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on Apr 28, 2017 6:53 am GMT

Bob,

The reason I presented “energy” statistics was to point out that solar and wind are “electricity”.

But I believe that by 2030 EVs are competing with ICE vehicles without subsidies. Wind generation and solar generation will also grow, thanks to subsidies and falling prices. Electricity will have a larger share of “energy” simply because in most places we will replace fossil fuels with electricity.

However, I also believe that renewable costs won’t fall as much as some predict. Solar panel manufacture is largely controlled by few huge Chinese companies. Wind turbine manufacture is the business of the Chinese and 4 Western companies. Consolidation and cost-cutting has been impressive, the industries are mature which says that further improvements are much harder to gain.

By 2030 wind and solar expansion costs and practicality (intermittency problems etc.) will be a known quantity. Numbers will decide which way energy policy goes.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Apr 28, 2017 12:59 pm GMT

The question is, how long does it take to double, and how many doublings do you need to get near 100%. Not that it will be that simple, due to hurdles like saturation but also breakthroughs in things like storage.

If it’s 1.5% now, you’d get 3%, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96% so 6 doublings. If it doubled every two years, then 12 years.

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on Apr 28, 2017 2:38 pm GMT

The drive for clean energy and sustainability is also putting Americans to work. The latest U.S. Department of Energy report shows the solar workforce increased by 25 percent to about 374,000 in 2016, while wind employment increased by 32 percent to about 102,000.

Interestingly, the trend in Germany is opposite:

Und nun sieht es auch noch so aus, dass den Befürwortern der Energiewende eines ihrer wichtigsten Argumente abhanden kommt: dass die Energiewende nicht nur ökologisch gut, sondern auch ein Jobmotor für die deutsche Wirtschaft ist.

Die Zahlen von McKinsey jedenfalls sprechen eine andere Sprache. „Im vierten Jahr in Folge ist die Zahl der Beschäftigten im Sektor erneuerbare Energien gesunken – von 355.400 auf 330.000.“ Den stärksten Rückgang verzeichnen demnach die Branchen, die in Wind an Land machen (minus 8000 Beschäftigte) und in Fotovoltaik (minus 7000).
https://www.welt.de/wirtschaft/article162600538/Die-Energiewende-droht-z...

The costs of Energiewende are increasing every year but employment has been going down for the fourth year now. And it will probably continue as annual increases in GW installed are going down:

Clearly, the government is working to slow down wind and solar so that Germany does not overshoot its 45% maximum target for 2025. In fact, renewable power will only be able to grow roughly half as fast over the next eight years as it did in the past seven; the annual growth rate will have to fall from 2.6% to 1.4%.
https://energytransition.org/2017/02/germany-still-has-to-cut-renewables...

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Apr 28, 2017 3:57 pm GMT

These things follow logistic curves ( dy = ky(1-y) dt ), not exponential curves.  Each increment picks the lowest-hanging fruit and makes the remaining fraction more difficult to serve.

Major technical issues arise when the intermittent nameplate capacity equals minimum demand minus the must-run generators.  At that point the intermittents either have to start supplying those essential grid services themselves, accept increasing rates of curtailment, or cease their expansion.

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on Apr 28, 2017 6:42 pm GMT

I think Kurzweil hasn’t done his homework. Wireless communication, the Internet…ok, exponential growth happened. Solar – I don’t think it will happen.

The reasons?

First, solar expansion this far has been driven by subsidies. Take away the subsidies and for example Germans wouldn’t have installed 40 GW of solar. Internet and mobile communication did not need subsidies. They offered something that people wanted.

Second, solar electricity is ….well, the same old electricity that Edison generated. Not something totally new and better as the Internet or mobile communication.

Third, solar is limited by seasons, weather and the inevitable night. Germany and all the countries on the same latitude can never be solar-powered because they simply don’t have enough sunshine in the winter. Storage or no storage, which increases costs. Internet works 24/7. Just think of the Internet working only when the sun shines.

Fourth, solar has technological limitations. Solar panel efficiency can theoretically be improved to 86% but that’s it. My Internet connection now is 100 times faster than the first one I had. It will probably be 1000 times faster in the future. Same with my mobile phone download speeds….no, close to 1000 times faster now.

Solar is carbon-free and the costs are falling, that is true. I see solar being the dominant source of electricity in very sunny areas. Globally, no.

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on Apr 28, 2017 7:07 pm GMT

The gist:

1366 Technologies aims to deliver solar at the cost of coal.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Apr 28, 2017 8:25 pm GMT

The cost of coal, minus the all-day and all-weather reliability.

Yeah, like anyone’s going to take that if they’re paying their own way.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Apr 28, 2017 8:51 pm GMT

Stepping back to Calculus 101, what happens in the limit as the cost of solar approaches $0?

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Apr 29, 2017 12:15 pm GMT

If solar gets cheap enough, we can use excess at disparate times and regions to generate methane, for which we already have considerable storage, transmission, generators, and furnaces. Maybe we use algae as biomass input, thus picking up the solar energy it stored.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 29, 2017 2:50 pm GMT

Travis, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and ITER in France are making real progress, but have yet to engineer an energy-positive, sustainable fusion reaction. It will have to be significantly energy-positive – and reliable – to qualify for a role in electricity generation, and remains a goal decades-distant.

We don’t have time.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Apr 29, 2017 3:18 pm GMT

My suspicion is that we’ll use excess power to generate water gas from biomass, but rather than methanating it we’ll make methanol.  MeOH can be transported by truck and has a host of uses including directly as motor fuel; methane’s harder to ship and use.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on May 1, 2017 5:03 pm GMT

Nobody suggests the *installed* cost of solar will approach zero, whatever the cost of cells.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on May 2, 2017 6:49 am GMT

Last year most new generating capacity added was renewable (wind & solar)!
Main reasons:
– 2 – 5 times cheaper than nuclear;
– 2 – 5 times faster to implement than nuclear.
And renewable increase will accelerate as the price decreases of wind & solar (~6%/a) are widely predicted to continue during next decade.

Why risky nuclear which affects genetics and health of our next generations, while we have cheaper methods available that also emit 2 – 5 times less CO2/KWh than nuclear?

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