The US and the economy of renewable energy

The US and the economy of renewable energy

Giacomo Maniscalco
Share
The US president is setting his hopes on oil & gas, but broad bipartisan support and Chinese growth may force his hand

In keeping with the rhetoric of his electoral campaign, President Trump’s "America First Energy Plan" makes no mention of green energy. It does mention the country’s estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale oil and gas, claiming the revenues from this type of energy production will fund public infrastructure, roads and schools, creating new jobs. Renewable energy could prove Trump’s Achilles’ heel. This week a group of 12 Democratic governors and eight Republican ones penned a letter to the president urging him to support the development of renewables. In particular, the Governors’ Wind & Solar Energy Coalition asks for more substantial investments in offshore wind turbines and improving the USA energy grid. The letter states that "expanding renewable energy production is one of the best ways to meet the country’s growing demand for energy." Wind and solar enjoy broad bipartisan support in the United States, and numbers put out by the US Department of Energy make it clear why: solar currently represents 43% of jobs in the US energy sector, and this year saw an increase of 30,000 jobs. Wind and solar together employ more Americans than the oil, natural gas and coal industries combined.  According to the American Wind Energy Association, the US wind energy sector grew by 20% in 2015, creating 88,000 jobs. The biggest concern is that those very jobs will end up going abroad. The governors’ letter asserts, "If the United States does not continue robust federal research and development programs in wind and solar energy, we will cede leadership in these critical technologies to other nations that have demonstrated ongoing high priority commitments to these technologies, such as China." In recent years, China has invested $100 billion in renewables (more than double what the US has spent), and the Asian giant plans to add to that another $360 billion by 2020, potentially creating over 13 million jobs in the process. For Ranping Song of the World Resources Institute, the matter is cut and dry: "China actually sees really good global opportunities to export this green technology..." Many had worried that with Trump in the White House, China too would abandon its climate efforts, but the opposite scenario is unfolding. Now it’s up to the US president to set his country’s strategy, but green energy’s momentum may not wait. In the words of Doug Herr, sales VP of turbine parts maker AeroTorque, "Whether or not you’re a believer in global warming, the economics wins."