A letter to Mr. Trump: the economic case for energy, equity and climate leadership

Summary: The economic case for clean energy is as compelling as is the climate science. Pursuing both brings together economic advancement and political leadership.

The election of Donald Trump in the United States and the installation of a team at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy who are climate change skeptics stands in the face of not only established science, but also of an unambiguous record of data that clean energy projects simply generate more jobs than those in the fossil fuel sector (Wei et al, 2010).

windmills300With solar and wind energy projects reaching prices in the 2.5 – 4 US cent/kWh range, the economic case for clean energy is as compelling as is the case for clean energy as the fastest way to provide energy access to the global poor, boosting their economic opportunities and capacity (Alstone, Gershenson and Kammen, 2015). This dramatic growth in the capacity and power of clean energy to meet economic needs in the U. S. (Mileva, et. al., 2016) and abroad means that a simple economic argument exists to be bullish on clean energy even before the local and global environmental benefits.  The economic benefits of these clean energy projects are even more profound if combined with domestic manufacturing campaigns around electric vehicles, which brings an entirely new research and company growth angle to the high-tech sector.

In a report we recently released in London, the findings are clear that renewable energy options, in some cases supported by natural gas, and in others without, are a faster route out of energy and economic poverty than coal energy projects, which often get in the way of economic growth and empowerment (Granoff, et. al., 2016).

Many of the challenges we are seeing today globally relate to issues where clean energy can play a vital mitigating role.  The resource demands of mega-cities translate directly into massive costs, economically and heath damaging pollution, and politically costly unrest.  In a recent assessment (Kammen and Sunter, 2016) we have found that the capacity for new technologies to turn urban areas into healthier sites of greater and greater levels of self-generation address all these evils.  The production and export of the mixture of clean energy and water technologies, and of the smart sensors, energy storage technologies, and the efficient systems needed to implement these innovations, is a global growth industry that can make the Paris Climate Accords a new pillar of economic growth and political stability.

A sound, economically empowering, energy plan would not be complete without a focus on these energy opportunities, a situation made more compelling because the global energy markets are embracing the clean energy transition.  Jordan, Kenya, Morocco, Nicaragua, China, and many other nations are examples of places seeing a merging of the business and environmental case to push for and beyond the Paris Climate Accord goals.

My laboratory is modeling the energy transition opportunities in each of these nations (http://rael.berkeley.edu/project/SWITCH), and the results consistently find that the clean energy dominated path is the best economic path as well. These nations are building giga-watt scale clean energy power plants, and ramping up the innovation and industrial sectors at the same time.    Sub-national regionals are pursuing these energy strategies in great numbers, too, with the “Under 2 degree MOU” (http://under2mou.org) an example of the fast and diverse pace of these programs.

The smart money is on clean energy.  The U.S. would be turning its back on both economic and leadership opportunities by not pursuing these goals.  A president who claims to be a populist would be a hypocrite to do anything but actively promote and campaign for a sustainable climate and the clean energy business that goes with it, and to do so in ways that promotes energy access, equality, and environmental justice. These are all pro-business, pro-worker positions.  As the activity at CPP22 in Marrakech attests, the world will be pursuing clean energy and climate friendly goals with or without the United States; it would be folly not to want to lead and profit from this transition.

References:

Alstone, P., Gershenson, D. and Kammen, D. M. (2015) “Decentralized energy systems for clean electricity access,“ Nature Climate Change, 5, 305 – 314.

Granoff, I., Ryan, J. R. Hogarth, Wykes, S., Doig, A., with Bodnar, P., van der Bergh, L., Ganesa, K., Jain, A., Devine, L., Kammen, D., Leopold, A., Locke, A., Krishnaswamy, S., Morrissey, J., Pickard, S., Peuyo, A., Scott, A., Thilakisiri, S., Tumiwa, F., Whitley, S., (2016) Beyond coal: Scaling up clean energy to fight poverty (Overseas Development Institute, London, UK). https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/10964.pdf

Gang He, Anne-Perrine Avrin, James H. Nelson, Josiah Johnston, Ana Mileva,  Jianwei Tian, and Daniel M. Kammen (2016) “SWITCH-China: A Systems Approach to Decarbonizing China’s Power System”, Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T), 50(11): 5467–5473.

Mileva, A., Johnston, J., Nelson, J. H., and Kammen, D. M. (2016) “Power system balancing for deep decarbonization of the electricity sector,“ Applied Energy 162, 1001–1009.

Kammen, Daniel M., and Sunter, Deborah A. (2016) “City-integrated renewable energy for urban sustainability,” Science, 352, 922 – 928.

Wei, M., Patadia, S. and Kammen, D. M. (2010) “Putting renewables and energy efficiency to work: How many jobs can the clean energy industry generate in the U. S.?” Energy Policy, 38, 919 – 931.

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