The clean energy economy is taking off. It’s bringing new opportunities for U.S. businesses, entrepreneurs, investors and consumers. If President-elect Trump is serious about his promise to create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs, then he should push America toward a strong, clean energy future.
Clean energy means will bring more predictable and lower energy costs for U.S. manufacturers, cleaner air and water for American families, and a more secure country, with more energy choices for every American home. It would also create economies of scale for cost-competitive, American-made clean energy products to be exported abroad.
Clean energy is already putting more and more Americans to work, unleashing the nation’s spirit of innovation and ingenuity. Although renewable energy production accounts for about 7 percent of national capacity (not including hydro and nuclear), states and large companies are expanding their clean energy portfolios and looking for more.
Many state leaders see clean energy as a means to rebuild their manufacturing sectors, as they seek to limit price volatility and protect energy consumers. In 2015, wind power made up more than 10 percent of total electricity generation in 11 states. Iowa led the way with more than 31 percent, followed by South Dakota at 25 percent and Kansas at 23 percent. In Texas, the nation’s largest wind producer, wind power is now cheaper than oil and gas, accounting for 16 percent of electricity capacity over the year. In embracing wind power, Texas created nearly 25,000 jobs and cut air pollution by an amount equivalent to taking 5 million cars off the road.
Solar power is also expanding rapidly. Installed solar power in the United States increased more than 23 times between 2009 and 2015, jumping from 1.2 gigawatts to 27.4 gigawatts. In 2015 alone, the United States installed more than 7,200 megawatts of solar PV, a 16 percent increase over the previous year.
Meanwhile, clean energy prices in the United States are falling. Land-based wind power prices dropped by 41 percent since 2008, distributed solar PV power by 54 percent and LED lightbulbs by 94 percent.
Furthermore, U.S. clean energy employment continues to grow. Overall, renewable energy jobs surged by 6 percent in 2015 to reach 769,000. Solar power jobs jumped 22 percent to 209,000, as wind power employment increased 21 percent to 88,000 jobs in 2015.
The race is on internationally. Global investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency attracted a record $329 billion last year—most of it for solar and wind power—more than any other energy sector. Meanwhile, installation of new renewable energy sources has now surpassed fossil energy.
China is leading the pack. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, China was the largest investor in clean energy in 2015, doubling U.S. investment ($110 billion compared to $56 billion). China’s commitment to clean energy is driven by its need to meet its surging electricity demand, while reducing air pollution from old coal plants. In doing so, China is also positioning itself to expand markets and forge new alliances. China’s leaders would be happy for the United States to sit on the sidelines of this clean energy industrial economic growth opportunity.
Many major U.S. companies get it. Eighty-three multi-national companies have committed to 100 percent renewable energy. Companies like General Motors, Facebook and Walmart are investing in cost-competitive wind and solar to power their operations. Many U.S. companies are looking to situate their operations in states that have favorable renewable energy policies. For example, GM, which has committed to net-zero emissions by 2050, recently made its largest renewable energy purchase to date, including 50 megawatts from a wind farm in west Texas.
American CEOs are not doing this because it’s required, but because it’s saving their companies money. Low-cost renewable energy is a great way to control energy costs and increase competitiveness.
These trends are largely based on market forces, not regulations. Recently, a Shell oil executive declared that “peak oil” could come within five years. Coal production in the United States, meanwhile, has dropped by 10 percent in the last year, with the average number of people working in coal mines falling 12 percent. With the ongoing surge of cheap natural gas, more renewables and other market forces, it’s unlikely that coal will be able to come back.
Clean energy is also what Americans prefer. The majority of Americans want the government to address climate change and promote clean energy. And regardless of their views on climate change, most Americans support energy efficiency and decreasing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
As momentum for American-made clean energy products and services builds, it is clear that actions that would derail progress would be a mistake at many levels. Turning us back to the fossil fuel-focused era would cause U.S. emissions to surge and expose consumers to greater price volatility. It would also hand over a growing U.S. industry to other countries.
In selecting his advisors, President-elect Trump would do well to bring in people focused on what’s best for the country, not just what’s best for the fossil fuel industry. As president, Trump can direct his team to promote investments and policies that create more clean energy jobs, support domestic manufacturers and protect people’s health.
On election night, President-elect Trump promised to be a president for all. He promised to make America’s economy stronger and to “dream big.” In supporting domestic clean energy efforts, he can move the country closer to all of these goals in one swoop.