The recently introduced Green New Deal resolution has reshaped the nation’s climate debate, mobilized activists and garnered high-profile support from Democratic presidential candidates.
The ambitious renewable energy transition at the heart of the initiative is designed to respond to the urgency in the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is consistent with the administration’s own National Climate Assessment. In December, the IPCC climate scientists called for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over the next dozen years to avoid catastrophic impacts on our planet’s climate.
The feasibility of a rapid transition to renewable energy has been questioned by skeptics and is a matter of grave importance, given warnings that the long-term viability of our planet is at risk. The good news is that there is sound reason for confidence.
For starters, the renewable energy sector is thriving today, with annual U.S. investment consistently exceeding $40 billion and scoring a record $46 billion last year. Americans who do not follow the energy sector closely might be surprised to learn that renewable energy has been America’s largest source of private sector infrastructure investment for each of the past seven years. Notably, the nation’s two fastest-growing job categories are solar power installer and wind energy technician.
This booming growth is fueled by increasing cost-effectiveness, as continuing technological innovation and growing economies of scale have made wind and solar power the cheapest sources of electric power in many parts of the country. Meanwhile, demand for renewable power from American businesses and residential electricity consumers continues to grow at a stunning pace. Last year, American companies contracted for more than 8,500 megawatts of new renewable power, more than triple the previous annual record.
These factors position the renewable sector for continued dramatic growth. A survey of the nation’s biggest renewable energy investors undertaken last spring by the American Council on Renewable Energy affirms the continuing attractiveness of clean energy investment. Based on the survey results, ACORE last summer launched $1T/2030 — a campaign to promote the investment of a trillion private sector dollars in U.S. renewable energy and the enabling grid technologies between 2018 and 2030, roughly double ACORE’s business-as-usual projection.
Achievement of the $1 trillion private investment target would foster a massive change in America’s electric power infrastructure and move us far along the road to the renewable energy future called for in the Green New Deal. Getting there won’t be easy, but over the past decade, the renewable sector has consistently outperformed expectations.
When they were first established, many state renewable energy goals were derided as unrealistic. Yet today, after more than a decade of experience, we have yet to miss a state renewable energy target, even as 29 states and the District of Columbia now have renewable energy mandates.
Building on this success, most states have strengthened their renewable targets, often repeatedly, as prices for wind and solar power have continued to decline. California has set a 100 percent carbon-free electric generation goal, and Hawaii and the District of Columbia are both committed to a 100 percent renewable grid.
America’s renewable energy future — and the $1 trillion investment needed to catalyze it — is realistically achievable through common-sense policies and market steps to accelerate renewable growth. Among the key steps identified in ACORE’s Pathway to $1T are measures to upgrade our antiquated grid, allow for large-scale deployment of energy storage technologies, and create a level playing field in the electricity marketplace that fairly recognizes the value of flexible, pollution-free renewable power. These steps complement ambitious state renewable programs that continue to play a key role in our ongoing transformation to a thriving clean energy economy.
The Green New Deal’s goal of meeting 100 percent of national power demand through renewable sources will be an ambitious undertaking, but the renewable sector has demonstrated it is economically competitive and ready to grow at scale. We can meet the nation’s power needs with a combination of renewable generation, an advanced grid to distribute and store power, and a level playing field.
Our renewable energy future is no longer a question of economics or technology. It is a matter of smart policy and political will.
Gregory Wetstone is president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, a national nonprofit that unites finance, policy and technology to accelerate the transition to a renewable energy economy.
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