Our leaders should know it. Our candidates should know it. Our policymakers should know it. Clean energy is America’s most dynamic job-producer today. That’s not all. It reduces air pollution, improves public health, prevents energy price shocks, gives us greater energy independence, offers consumers energy choice, increases disposable household incomes, boosts business profits, makes our industries more competitive, and much much more. Here in detail are many of the reasons the United States should make a rapid transition to clean energy.
As the 2018 midterm elections approach, six of every 10 Americans say the U.S. government is not doing enough to protect the environment. Three-quarters of Americans favor the production of wind and solar energy over more oil, gas and coal. Most say they want higher emission and pollution standards, stronger enforcement of environmental regulations, mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions and a national carbon tax to encourage less carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution. A majority of Americans say they want environmental protection even if it risks economic growth. As experience proves, however, economic growth need not be sacrificed for environmental protection. In fact, good public policies conserve ecosystem services that provide trillions of dollars of often-uncounted benefits for human society.
All of these priorities expressed by the American people can be met with a sensible economy-wide transition from fossil fuels to low-carbon renewable fuels like solar, wind and other low- and no-carbon renewable energy technologies. Unfortunately, current federal government policies are pushing us in the opposite direction, back to the fossil economy of the last century. Entrenched special interests try to persuade us that shifting from CO2-intensive fuels to zero-carbon energy will ruin the economy and cost good-paying jobs. In reality, the transition to clean energy already is underway and it is proving to be America’s most dynamic economic and jobs engine.
Here is some of the evidence:
- Nearly 3.2 million Americans – more than the entire population of Chicago — go to work every day in solar, wind, energy efficiency, clean vehicles and other clean energy Clean energy employs more workers than the fossil fuel industry in 42 states and the District of Columbia.
- The clean energy sector has been creating new jobs faster than almost any other part of the American economy. Solar and wind energy alone employed 450,000 Americans in 2017, nearly as many as in fossil and nuclear fuels extraction.
- Solar energy jobs grew nine times faster than jobs in the overall U.S. economy from 2012 to 2017. The solar workforce grew by 168% between 2010 and 2017. One in every 100 new jobs was a solar job.
- Although solar energy provides less than 2% of America’s electricity, it employs nearly four times as many workers as coal generation, five time as many as nuclear power and nearly as many as in the natural gas industry. (SEIA)
- There are an estimated 9,000 solar companies with employees in every state. (Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA))
- The growth of solar-related employment could absorb coal-industry layoffs and provide full-time careers for coal workers over the next 15 years, with salaries that would surpass what workers made in coal.
- Wind energy employed 107,000 Americans worked in in 2017.
- Nearly half of the nation’s installed wind power capacity is located in Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma (all red states) and in California. But wind farms are becoming more prevalent. Forty-one states had wind farms as of January 2018.
- Jobs at wind farms, wind-manufacturing facilities or both are located in 70% of U.S. congressional districts. The 10 congressional districts in the U.S. that produce the most wind energy are in Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, North Dakota, Oregon, and California — all represented by Republicans (AWEA). Republicans represent America’s 10 congressional districts with the most wind.
- Wind energy can attract other economic development. Iowa’s wind farms have attracted early $10 billion of data -center investments by Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook.
- Despite policy changes including trade tariffs and the phase-out of federal tax credits, Moody’s says demand for wind energy will likely remain strong because of falling prices and advances in technology. Declining capital costs, expanding state renewable portfolio standards and a growing number of corporate power purchase agreements also will support demand for wind energy.
Renewable energy provides multiple benefits for rural America
- Energy efficiency employs workers in more than 3,000 of the nation’s 3,007 counties. More than 300,000 of these workers live in rural areas.
- At least 400 U.S. counties in 41 states had wind farms as of January 2018. That’s more than double the number of localities that had wind farms 10 years ago.
- The property taxes paid by wind farms reduce the tax burden on rural citizens and provide localities with revenues for investments that may have been deferred in the past. Examples include Adair County, Iowa where construction of 10 new wind farms has caused the tax base to grow nearly 30%; the Webb Consolidated Independent School District, Texas where wind farms are paying over 40% of the district’s debt service; and Jackson County, Minnesota, where a wind production tax generates nearly 20% of annual operating revenues.
- Wind farms paid an estimated $267 million to farmers and ranchers in 2017. By 2030, rural landowners expect to receive $900 million a year for land leases for turbines. Seventy percent of these drought-proof dollars goes to counties with below average incomes.
- The U.S. wind industry invests an average of $14 billion in new projects each year, most of them in the nation’s rural areas. Moody’s says that as wind energy capacity grows, rural counties and school districts will continue to profit the most as wind farms tend to be located outside cities.
- Many rural communities are surviving because of the growth of renewable income and jobs. They are depending on the continued growth of renewable energy production. Traditional sources of farm income are unreliable. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts that inflation adjusted net farm income will decline nearly 14% from 2017 to 2018 producing the lowest real-dollar value since 2009.
- Wind is the “new cash crop” for farmers, in more ways than one. Turbines have been found to increase the production of conventional crops. They act like giant fans that circulate air around crops, allowing more CO2 movement that produces faster growth, reduces dew formation that can lead to fungal diseases, increases photosynthesis, and helps plants use water more efficiently.
- Freshwater resources are a major concern in the U.S. In rural areas, ranchers and farmers must compete with cities for water supplies. Water also is necessary for drilling and mining operations and for cooling in conventional power plants. Technologies like solar and wind power require no water, however.
- The bioproducts industry also provides significant benefits in rural areas. In 2015, USDA issued the first quantification of economic impact from the bioproducts industry. In that year alone, bio-based products were a nearly $370 billion industry that supported 1.5 million direct jobs. By one estimate, the ethanol industry already supported more than 357,400 jobs across the economy in 2015. DOE estimates that by 2030, there will be sufficient biomass production to displace 25% of all transportation fuels in the U.S while generating more than 1 million direct jobs.
- The Trump Administration plans to relax the historic fuel efficiency standards that were supposed to take effect in 2025. Yet vehicle efficiency is a major employer. More than 476,000 Americans produced motor vehicle parts that increase vehicle fuel economy.
- 650,000 (26%) of the nation’s jobs in motor vehicle manufacturing focused on increasing vehicle efficiency or transitioning to alternative fuels.
- Electric vehicles (EVs) are seeing sales that could exceed the nearly 200,000-unit sales record from last year. nearly 120,000 units have been sold through June of 2018.
- India, France, Britain and Norway all want to completely ditch gas and diesel cars in favor of cleaner vehicles. At least 10 other countries have set sales targets for electric cars, among them Austria, China, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Korea and Spain. The United States doesn’t have a federal policy, but at least eight states have set out goals.
- In October 2017, General Motors announced that it will work toward an all-electric, zero-emissions future. Volvo, Aston Martin, and Jaguar Land Rover have announced similar mov
- Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) predicts that the upfront cost of EVs will become competitive on an unsubsidized basis starting in 2024. By 2029, almost all segments reach parity as battery prices continue to fall.
- BNEF’s latest forecast shows global sales of electric vehicles increasing from a record 1.1 million worldwide in 2017, to 11 million in 2025 and then surging to 30 million in 2030 as they become cheaper to make than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. China will lead this transition, with sales there accounting for almost 50% of the global EV market in 2025.
- The price of the lithium-ion battery packs used in hybrid and electric vehicles tumbled in recent years. BNEF says average battery-pack prices were $1,000/kWh in 2010. At the end of 2017 average prices hit a low of $209/kWh, a 79% drop in seven years. Average energy density of EV batteries is also improving at around 5-7% per year.
- The rapid expansion of electric vehicles has a profound effect on global oil consumption. As electric vehicle sales surpass 50% of all new vehicles sold by 2040, BNEF expects 7.3 million barrels per day of transport fuel will be displaced.
- According to Bloomberg, “Big Oil just woke up to [the] threat of rising electric car demand… OPEC quintupled its forecast for sales of plug-in EVs, and oil producers from Exxon Mobil Corp. to BP Plc also revised up their outlooks in the past year.” Many are concluding that the “growing popularity of EVs increases the risk that oil demand will stagnate in the decades ahead, raising questions about the more than $700 billion a year that’s flowing into fossil-fuel industries.”
Advanced energy technologies
- The advanced energy sector employs 3.3 million Americans. It generated $200 billion for the U.S. economy in 2016 including nearly $70 billion in the building sector, $52 billion in the electric generation sector, and $30 billion in alternative fuels.
- Advanced energy storage systems are expected to achieve an 8% compound annual growth rate from 2018 to 2022. The key drivers will be government initiatives to promote the technology; additions of renewable energy to the grid; and the development of microgrids.
Renewable energy provides good and stable jobs
- Renewable energy jobs are immune from the kind of disruptive swings we see in fossil energy supplies and prices. Employment in solar and wind, for example, continued growing rapidly in the United States even while low oil prices resulted in the loss of nearly 100,000 jobs in the oil industry due to low oil prices in 2014-2016.
- S. Bureau of Labor data show that wind turbine installers are earning about $60,000 a year. The electrical technicians who install solar panels typically earn about $73,000, while solar engineers earn well over $100,000. Even the lowest-paid solar installers earn about $40,000, more than oil roustabout workers.
Clean energy is one of the economy’s most dynamic sectors
- The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), known for its conservative projections, has dramatically raised its projections for the growth of renewable energy in the United States. Even without the Obama-era Clean Power Plan to limit emissions from power plants, wind and solar energy will account for 64% of new electric generation through 2030, the EIA estimates. If the Clean Power Plan were left in place, renewables would account for 93% of new generation.
- 55% of new electric generation capacity in the United States came from renewable resources in 2017, the fourth consecutive year in which renewables accounted for more than half. Electric generation from renewable resources is projected to increase 139% between now and 2050 (EIA).
- While supplies of wind and solar energy are variable, their prices are not. At zero dollars per kilowatt, wind and solar are the least expensive energy on the grid. That’s one reason that wind and solar power accounted for 98% of the new generation capacity added in the first two months of 2018. (EIA).
- There are more than 1.7 million solar installations in the U.S. and they are expected to grow to 2 million by late 2018. One reason is that photovoltaic module costs have dropped 84% globally since 2010. Wind turbine costs are down 32% over the same period. Installed wind power is expected to quadruple by 2030, creating 300,000 new jobs.
- These growth estimates are encouraging investors to bet on wind and solar energy even with the phase-out of federal tax credits. The investors include big oil and gas companies that are under environmental pressure from shareholders, board members, customers and portfolio managers. (Bloomberg).
- America invested $58 billion in all types of clean energy in 2017, about six times higher than in 2004. (Statista)
- By July 2018, corporations around the world had broken the annual record for long-term contracts to buy solar and wind energy, and the number of companies doing this continues to grow. One factor is increasing corporate comfort with “virtual power purchase agreements”, which allow companies to buy renewable energy at a fixed long-term price. These bulk purchases allow companies to avoid the volatility of conventional energy supplies while also earning clean energy credits. The bulk purchase arrangement makes the cost of solar and wind energy competitive with conventional energy in wholesale markets. (Bloomberg New Energy Finance)
Energy efficiency was the fastest-growing sector of the energy economy in 2017
- Energy efficiency will have to contribute half of all greenhouse gas reductions through 2040 to keep global warming below 2o (IEA)
- The United States has enormous untapped potential to improve its energy productivity in every sector. McKinsey & Co. estimates that a $520 billion national investment in energy efficiency would save more than $1.2 trillion and avoid annual greenhouse gas emissions equal to replacing 1,000 conventional 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants with renewable energy.
- Doubling America’s energy productivity by 2030 would save the average household $1,000 a year on its utility and transportation costs. At the same time, it would create more than 1 million new jobs and cut our oil imports by a third. (Alliance to Save Energy (ASE))
- The money saved from energy efficiency measures is the equivalent of a new tax-free paycheck every month. Energy efficiency increases the disposable income of middle-class workers and families whose wages have been stagnant and who are on the wrong side of the growing wealth gap. (PCAP)
- Energy efficiency is especially important for low- and moderate-income households. Low-income households typically spend a higher percentage of their income on energy, taking money away from other essential expenditures such as rent, food and medicine.
- Energy efficiency measures in homes and businesses boost local economies because most of the money that people save on their energy bills is spent locally.
- Despite all of the benefits, current federal policy emphasizes energy production at the expense of energy efficiency. The result is that energy efficiency policies and their economic benefits have stalled at the national level, from appliance standards to higher fuel-efficiency requirements for vehicles.
Clean energy technologies have strong state and local support
- As of August 2017, 29 states and the District of Columbia have adopted or increased their renewable energy portfolio standards, which require that significant percentages of power generation must come from renewable resources.
- A declaration called “We Are Still In” was initiated in 2017 by 2,800 leaders representing more than 160 million Americans in red and blue states. In an addendum added during the summer of 2018, the group wrote “Resilience to climate change must be prioritized by the federal government and at every level beyond the federal government.”
- Under the Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, more than 7,200 communities with a combined population of 225 million people are committed to reducing emissions 40% by 2030, by increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment. (REN21)
Growing numbers of right-of-center organizations support renewable energy
- The Conservative Energy Network (CEN) was launched in 2016 to support and connect state-based conservative clean energy and energy efficiency organizations throughout the nation. CEN reports that there are conservative groups supporting renewable energy in at least 16 states and says conservative support for clean energy is now a national movement. Ultimately, its members say, this movement will change the culture of the GOP and will lead to a depoliticized energy landscape where bipartisan support for policy is attainable.
- Other conservative organizations founded to support clean energy include Clear Path, Conservatives for Clean Energy, the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, Deploy/US, and The R Street Institute.
- “The bottom line is that rank and file Republican support for clean energy policies at the state level is growing,” according to Mike Franklin, consultant to the Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum. “Clean energy represents an opportunity for the GOP to build a bridge to key independent voters such as millennials, college educated and minorities that are critical to the party’s ability to win elections in the future.”
- Two conservative leaders writing in the publication The Hill, explained why renewable energy is attracting support from the Right: “Family values are paramount for conservatives, and well-paying jobs are key to creating healthy, stable families. Wind energy offers good career opportunities in all 50 states, with more than 100,000 Americans working in wind. Many of these jobs are in conservative strongholds in the rural U.S. and Rust Belt. Nearly all wind farms are built in rural areas, which creates demand for operations and maintenance jobs. That means America’s fastest growing profession flourishes in the rural U.S.—wind turbine technician.” (The Hill, October 2017)
- Post-election polling by CEN in 2016 found that 75% of Trump voters support “taking action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy,” and 71% of Trump voters think that “our state should pursue an all-of-the-above energy strategy, which means lowering our heavy dependence on fossil fuels and allowing an increase in electricity generation from emerging technologies like renewable energy as well as more energy efficiency.” (CEN, November 2016)
Clean energy is a national security priority
- Both the national security establishment in the United States and the Congress recognize that climate change is a direct threat to national security. Congress included this assertion in the Fiscal Year 2018 Defense Authorization Act, affirmed it in a bipartisan vote in the full House of Representatives, and it was signed by President Trump in December 2018.
- National security risks from climate change are diverse:
- It acts as a “threat multiplier” by adding stresses like food and water shortfalls, economic displacement, and climate-driven migration to existing global hotspots;
- It threatens DoD assets and infrastructure through sea-level rise, wildfires, and increased storm intensity;
- It is expanding DoD’s responsibilities by opening up the Arctic Ocean – for trade, fishing, resource extraction, and military operations.
- Climate security is a nonpartisan issue in the security community. Each of these security impacts will be magnified in the coming decades as climate change progresses. In response, the United States must not only manage the unavoidable security threats the global warming; it must also find a way to reduce emissions in order to avoid an unmanageable acceleration of these threats.
- The federal government has recognized and planned for the risk of climate change since the first term of the George W. Bush Administration. It continues today during the Trump Administration. Notably, Secretary Mattis and nearly 20 other senior defense officials have acknowledged the risks of climate change to national security in this Administration alone. As Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.”
- Clean energy should be supported because it is the most important risk management measure for climate change. The risks of global climate change cannot be managed without a national transition to non-fossil energy.
- Renewable energy supports military operations. Top defense officials regard the U.S. military’s use of clean and renewable energy as a strategy to increase America’s war-fighting capability and to reduce American casualties in the field.
- Solar arrays at forward bases in Afghanistan, for example, are saving lives by reducing the need for vulnerable fossil fuel convoys (attacks on convoys have caused a significant number of U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan).
- The U.S. military also believes that multiple climate impacts, including sea level rise, competition for fish stocks, and food and water security concerns, could all have negative security impacts. For example, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, identified climate change as “the biggest long-term security threat” facing the Asia-Pacific region. “If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.”
- DOD has considered similar threats in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Arctic. The concern is so acute that the USDOD is actively investing resources to comprehensively map the security implications of climate change in Africa and South Asia – two regions of increasing strategic interest to the U.S. due to increasing flows of refugees, terrorist networks, and other security risks.
- The Department of Defense still intends to receive 25% of its energy production from renewable resources by 2025. However, according to a report published in May 2017, only 27 of its 400 domestic military sites have installed or planned to install solar photovoltaic microgrids – i.e., electricity not from central power plants but rather from solar arrays close to the place where the power is consumed.
Renewable energy improves homeland security.
- Critical defense and government infrastructure are almost entirely dependent on conventional private energy systems. These centralized and complex systems are vulnerable to interruption from maintenance issues, severe weather and cyber-attack.
- Because they are dispersed, distributed renewable energy systems such as rooftop and community-scale solar are much harder to disrupt, particularly if they are “islanded” – i.e., able to disconnect from the conventional grid and operate on their own.
- Islanding is underway at several U.S. military installations so they can keep functioning during outages in the civilian grid.
- Power interruptions are a risk now and are expected to increase as weather becomes more severe. DOD facilities experienced 127 power outages that lasted eight hours or longer in FY 2015. Between 2012 and 2014, 90% of power outages at military facilities lasted for 2-3 days and 15% lasted for more than five days.
- The proliferation of automation throughout the grid makes it an even more tempting target for cyberattacks. Recent successful attacks in places like the Ukraine in 2015, or the sniper attack in 2013 that brought down a Silicon Valley substation for nearly a month, and events like a public utility in Vermont detecting likely Russian malware on an employee’s computer in December of 2016 are symptomatic of the growing risk to the sector.
- In 2012, the US Department of Defense reported about 200 cyber incidents across critical infrastructure systems and nearly half targeted the electrical grid.
- The same type of microgrids that military bases are installing can keep critical civilian facilities, businesses and even neighborhoods safer from power disruptions.
Renewable fuels improve America’s economic stability
- American transportation is nearly 90% dependent on oil. Although the United States imports only 19% of the oil it consumes today, oil imports came from 84 countries in 2017.
- The U.S. currently pays $155 million a day to OPEC countries for oil. We send nearly $93 billion to oil-producing countries every year, enough money to provide free college tuition
- We also pay $65-85 billion a year to protect oil supply lines. The $3 trillion-dollar Iraq war was fought to protect U.S. access to oil supplies.
- Many of the nations from whom we buy oil abuse human rights, have declared themselves to be enemies of the United States and, in the case of Saudi Arabia, are suspected of funneling some of our money to terrorist groups. As a result, we remain vulnerable to economic instability caused by the manipulation of oil supplies and prices by other countries. We do not control the price or global supplies of oil; prices are set by the world petroleum market.
- Research shows that most of the economic recessions in the United States since World War II have been preceded by oil price shocks. Oil price volatility is estimated to have cost the U.S. $6.7 trillion in growth since 1970. Despite more domestic oil production, it is clear that the economy is vulnerable to volatility both in oil prices and supplies.
- The latest proof of our vulnerability took place in 2015-2016 when about 180,000 U.S. workers were laid off from the oil industry in as a result of low oil prices, caused in part by decisions by OPEC nations to keep production low.
- Some workers found jobs in the solar industry, where pay was lower than in the oil fields but the jobs were more stable. Some found other permanent jobs leading to concerns that there would not be enough workers when oi prices went back up.
- Indigenous renewable energy resources such as biofuels and vehicles powered by renewable electricity insulate the United States’ economy from foreign manipulation and the inherent vulnerabilities of oil dependence.
- Scientific studies have concluded that about 80% of the world’s proved reserves of fossil fuels must remain unburned to keep global warming from reaching catastrophic levels.
- The United States is striving to become the world’s principal source of fossil fuels at a time that the world market is moving rapidly to low-carbon and renewable energy. All nations including the United States have agreed to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that comes from fossil fuels.
- The United States will continue to be buffeted by all of these negative impacts unless and until we take control of the situation, in part by improving vehicle efficiency and urban planning, and in part by switching to non-petroleum fuels.
Clean energy is important to public health and welfare
- In its 2018 report on the state of the nation’s air, the American Lung Association (ALA) found that air quality has improved in the United States. Since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, the combined emissions of six key pollutants has dropped 73% while the economy, population and energy consumption have grown. However, four of every 10 men, women and children in the United States are still exposed to unhealthful levels of air pollution, mostly from vehicles and power plants.
- The ALA recommends that EPA’s ability to regulate harmful pollutants remain unimpeded.
- Power plants are the largest stationary source of carbon pollution in the U.S., contributing 40% of all energy-related CO2 emissions in 2013. CO2 limits will also result in reductions of ozone and particulate pollution and can prevent as many as 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 asthma attacks in children in 2030.
- The ALA encourages states to take steps to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, with or without the national Clean Power Plan to create the first-ever federal constraints on carbon pollution from power plants.
- Individual renewable energy projects and energy efficiency measures—particularly those that replace coal for electric generation—will have positive health implications worth millions of dollars, a study at Harvard University found.
- The Harvard study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, evaluated the impact of four different renewable energy or energy efficiency installations in six locations in the mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions.
- Depending on the site and installation, the health and climate benefits of installing renewables in each situation ranged from $5.7 million to $210 million per year.
Energy subsidy reform could fund much of the nation’s transition to clean energy
- The U.S. already provides $27.4 billion in subsidies to fossil fuels each year, the most of any developed country. One the costs of protecting overseas oil routes and oil wars are counted, federal subsidies are several times larger.
- G-20 nations including the U.S. have committed to eliminate fossil energy subsidies by 2025. The U.S. has made no progress in this regard.
- Federal subsidies for carbon-rich fuels are unjustified for these mature industries, except in legitimate cases where national security would be undermined by repealing them. The subsidies work against, if not nullify, progress toward a more secure clean energy economy.
- Fossil energy subsidies cause distortions in energy markets and hobble market forces that would bring the price of energy resources closer to their true costs to society.
- The result is that shareholders, interest groups and consumers are putting pressure on fossil energy companies to factor this risk into their planning and to account in their annual reports to the Federal Trade Commission how climate change is factored into their risk and value assessments.
- Seeing the writing on the wall, some of the largest oil companies are beginning to invest in clean energy. Motley Fool calls companies like ExxonMobil and BP “one of the most important allies for renewable energy” because of their enormous ability to capitalize clean energy projects. For example:
- BP has acquired a $200 million 43% stake in the solar company Lightsource
- Royal Dutch Shell has acquired MP2 Energy, whose portfolio includes utility-scale solar, distributed solar, wind and landfill gas
- Total owns 56% of SunPower and spent more than $1.3 billion to acquire renewable energy and energy storage companies
- ExxonMobil is working with the nation’s largest biodiesel developer, Renewable Energy Group, to develop fuel from waste, and is involved in projects to develop fuel cells that capture and consume CO2 and to manufacture plastics with 50% fewer CO2 emissions
- According to the Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “decarbonization of the global energy system can grow the global economy and create up to 28 million jobs in the sector by 2050.”
- Energy sector analysts say that renewable energy is now among the “well entrenched trends” in the power sector. The trends include rising demand for renewables, the proliferation of distributed electric generation and a deepening commitment to greater resilience in the grid. (Deloitte)
- With the correct policies in place, the global power sector could be emissions-free by mid-century. (REN21)
- However, the global decarbonization of the energy economy is moving much too slowly to achieve the goals in the Paris climate agreement. (Deloitte’s power industry outlook for 2018).
- Energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions rose last year by 1.4%, the first increase in four years, at a time when climate scientists say that emissions need to be in steep decline.
Climate impacts on agriculture & food supplies
- One of the principal risks of climate change will be its effects on agriculture, world food supplies, hunger and climate refugees moving from areas affected by food shortages.
- Less than one-quarter of Earth’s total cropland produces nearly three-quarters of the staple crops that feed the world’s population – especially corn, wheat and rice, the most important cereal crops. (Figure 3) Climate change is expected to generate heat waves and drought that could cause crop lossesin most of these breadbaskets. Indeed, failures could occur simultaneously in several of these key regions.
- For example, regional droughts and heat waves in the Ukraine and Russia in 2007 and then again in 2009 damaged wheat crops and caused global wheat prices to spikeby substantial amounts in both years. In 2012 heat and drought in the United States slashed national corn, soybean and other crop yields by up to 27 percent.
- Scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have concluded that global warming could reduce agricultural production as much as 2% each decade for the rest of this century, at the same time food demand rises as much as 14% each decade because of population growth and increased wealth. (NYT)
- Nearly 3 billion of the world’s people are expected to live in water-scarce areas by 2025, leading to food shortages.
- Food shortages will hit the world’s poor the hardest. This already has happened with increases in food prices. This means that risks are greatest for tropical countries where climate impacts are expected to exceed adaptive capacity and higher poverty rates in those countries. (Ibid)
- There is increasing evidencethat in very poor countries, food price increases and shortages can lead to civil unrest and worsen other social and political stresses. More wealthy countries are not immune, given the concentration of world food production and the global nature of trade.
- Food shortages caused by climate change are also expected to increase tensions as climate refugees cross international borders in search of adequate food. Food shortages are one of the factors behind the refugee problem in Europe.
- Immigration already is causing political changes including nationalism and the empowerment of right-wing groups in Europe and the U.S. (Jeremy Grantham)
- The United States is not exempt from these problems. Crops grown in the U.S. are critical for the food supply not only here, but also around the world. U.S. farms supply nearly 25% of all grains (such as wheat, corn, and rice) on the global market. Changes in temperature, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather could have significant impacts on crop yields. (Ibid)
- Climate change poses threats to U.S. as well as global food production in several ways: drought; excessive heat; soil erosion from intense rainfall; floods; increases in weeds and pests due to warm weather; and the loss of nutritional value in many crops when atmospheric CO2 reduces the concentrations of protein and essential minerals in most plant species. (Ibid)
- Climate change’s impacts on crop yields may force as many as seven million Mexicans to emigrate to the U.S. over the next 70 years, according to research publishedin the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Scientific American, 2010)
- Climate change and clean energy policies can help prevent, or at least lesson, these negative outcomes. Renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar power do not require water consumption as conventional thermal and nuclear power plants do. “Carbon farming” – for example, low-till farming, the use of cover crops, rangeland regeneration, rotational grazing, bio-char and the restoration of riparian areas on working lands – prevents soil erosion, increases soil organic content and productivity, reduce water demands and sequester carbons. (Carbon Cycle Institute)
Renewable energy is important to conserving America’s freshwater resources
- Fresh water is an increasingly precious resource in the United States. Fresh water supplies are threatened by drought in many regions of the U.S. – a problem expected to become more severe as climate change progresses.
- The operation of the energy sector accounts for more than 40% of freshwater withdrawals in the United States. Drought has a direct impact on the nation’s ability to produce energy. At the beginning of 2018, more than 38% of the continental U.S. was in drought.
- There are two types of water consumption in the energy sector. The first is fresh water lost through evaporation, seepage or contamination. The second is water used, then returned to its original source, as is the case in most water used to cool thermoelectric power plants – the plants that produce electricity by burning fossil fuels or nuclear reaction.
- The ~40% of freshwater withdrawals by the energy sector refers to water removed from its source regardless of whether it is lost or returned. Water lost by the energy sector amounted to about 10% of total U.S. freshwater consumption in 2014, the most recent year for which data were available.
- Shortages in fresh water have already caused disruptions in power production.
- In 2010, Hoover Dam’s generating capacity was reduced by 23% due to falling water levels. This has become a persistent problem during dry times– the dam’s capacity was reduced 30% in 2016, due to drought.
- Among energy resources, biofuels require the most water. In 2012, U.S. corn harvests were expected to be as low as 75% of normal yields, with a direct impact on biofuel production.
- The National Renewable Energy Laboratory identified 43 incidents of work-related power plant issues from 2000 to 2015. They are affecting coal and nuclear power plants across the United States. In addition, U.S. power plants reported 35 incidents in which high water temperatures exceeded standards from 2012 to 2015.
- More than two-thirds of energy-related withdrawals was used to cool thermal-electric power plants – in other words, power plants that use fossil and nuclear fuels. Although some of that water is lost to evaporation, about 70% is returned to its original source.
- The major consumers of water in the energy sector (i.e., water not returned to its original source) are biofuels production including corn ethanol; coal production; oil and gas production; and hydroelectric generation (evaporation and seepage).
- Wind and solar technologies use almost no water to produce electricity. The exception is concentrating solar power – the systems that focus sunlight to produce steam and turn turbines — which like other thermoelectric technologies uses water for cooling.
- Despite the fact that water is an increasingly precious resource, the average cost of municipal tap water in the U.S. is only $o.002 per gallon. Bottled water requires 5 to 11 times more water to produce than the bottle holds.
What individuals can do to support clean energy
- Although global climate change is a worldwide challenge, individual actions can make a difference if enough people use them. The same energy efficiency measures we have heard about for years, many of them requiring little effort or cost, but paying returns for every household.
- Examples include improving insulation and caulking; using programmable thermostats; replacing conventional light bulbs with CFLs and LEDs; better trip planning; good vehicle maintenance; using dishwashers only when they are fully loaded; turning off lights when they are not needed; unplugging phone and computer chargers when they are not being used; replacing furnace filters regularly and keeping furnaces in good shape; turning down water heater temperatures; considering the use of teleconferencing rather than air travel for business meetings; and many other personal steps.
- More costly measures that also pay returns include purchasing the highest-efficiency Energy Star appliances; buying highly efficient, hybrid or electric vehicles; considering the energy efficient performance of a home when purchasing one; strategic landscaping to block winter winds an