At the tipping point: clean energy in the mainstream
October 10, 2019

By Charles Hernick, Lisa Jacobson, and Dylan ReedOnce considered “alternative energy,” the facts are clear: renewable and low-emissions energy technologies have entered the mainstream. Over the past decade the economy has grown consistently while energy consumption has declined or stayed steady. Natural gas and renewable energy resources accounted for 53 percent of U.S. electricity in 2018, up from 35 percent in 2009. The clean energy and energy efficiency industries now support over 3.5 million jobs and growing. And energy has remained affordable by historical standards to consumers. More and more companies are spending advertising dollars to market their comparative advantage in clean energy. Who would have thought that beer brewers, large and small, would label cans with their commitments to 100 percent renewable power?

This mainstreaming of clean energy is a key highlight of the third-annual National Clean Energy Week. It is an opportunity for state and federal officials, industry associations, business leaders, non-profit organizations, and energy advocates to share innovative ideas and policy achievements. There is much to celebrate and continue the discussion around as the nation has embraced clean energy to a greater extent than ever before.

But it is also an occasion to keep up the momentum. Emerging energy resources and technologies can’t be taken for granted. In 2018, after decades of advances, energy productivity improvements stalled; overall energy consumption went up last year, however slightly; and carbon dioxide emissions rose.

Now is the time to enact a new set of practical public policies to build upon the great work of the private sector as well as municipal and state governments to leverage an ever-competitive marketplace.There have been dozens of ideas that have proven to be effective in the real world, yet our current politics seem to be fixed on more speculative approaches that are more often distractions and discourse than actual solutions.

So, what’s working? Examples include major American companies financing their own energy projects, with 193 companies having joined the RE100 initiative, committing to “100% renewable.” More and more states and municipalities are making similar commitments to 100 percent clean energy over the next two decades. And communities of all sizes are attracting millions of dollars of investment into local clean energy projects through power purchase agreements (PPAs). Certainly, it is time to seize that momentum and double down on these concepts.

Good work is also being done that isn’t being recognized. We cannot forget to continue to pursue every avenue, a true “all of the above” approach that provides long-term policy support for a broad range of emerging clean energy sectors, including biomass, biogas, waste-to-energy, geothermal, hydropower, fuel cells, combined heat to power, and energy storage. These technologies are poised for growth and may prove to be the turnkey solutions we need.

Key policies to unlock further growth and investment in clean energy include extending tax credits for emerging renewable energy sub-sectors and energy efficiency investments, removing market barriers for advanced energy, continued investment in research and development, and programs that spotlight the growing voluntary actions that states, municipalities and the private sector are making to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Importantly, developing clean energy in America should not be a partisan issue. There is something in it for everyone regardless of politics.

Yes, climate concerns are obviously central to our perspectives on clean energy, but so is economic growth, job creation, and national security. We have seen that the enthusiasm behind clean energy in the private sector and at the state and local levels is often due to such concerns. That’s okay; we are looking for win-win situations. It is a good thing to encourage entrepreneurs to seek clean energy solutions, whatever their motivation.

That is why National Clean Energy Week is so important: It is an opportunity to put politics aside for once and have bipartisan conversations that celebrate our achievements to date and have open conversation about what to do next. We cannot rest on our laurels; there is much work to do to take American clean energy to the next level. Like it or not, the demand for energy will only continue to grow, so we must keep investing, innovating, and integrating real solutions.

Charles Hernick is director of policy and advocacy at Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Forum; Lisa Jacobson is president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy; and Dylan Reed is a Director at Advanced Energy Economy.