Region Forward Blog

Clean energy's (non-environmental and non-climate) benefits

Oct 12, 2011


In a weird way among the most frequent themes we return to on this blog when discussing the environment and climate change are the non-environmental and climate benefits of taking action on these issues. Even if we decide to completely neglect the moralistic arguments put forth by environmentalists and/or the scientific evidence put forth by researchers for why we should diversify our energy sources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions there are still two huge reasons to do so: economic growth and energy security.

Not only is renewable energy shaping up to be a major growth industry in the 21st century but the vulnerability of traditional power and its ongoing price volatility demonstrate why reliance on one or two fossil fuels is not a sustainable policy.

At a recent workshop on how local governments in the DC area can increase their own use of solar energy as well as its use by the private sector the non-environmental and non-climate benefits of solar energy’s growth were front and center. Presenters including solar experts from the Solar America Communities program as well others from the manufacturing installation and financing aspects of the industry made it clear that the “good Samaritan” phase of renewable energy has passed. In other words – for all the reasons we mentioned earlier – employing renewable energy is no longer simply a statement of goodwill or environmental stewardship it’s a necessity.

Countries around the world are competing ferociously to grab a share of and develop a niche in the ever-increasing renewable energy market. For example Germany a country which is not generally thought of as a bastion of sunlight has nonetheless become one of the world’s leading solar powerhouses. How? In addition to providing incentives to reduce the initial costs of setting up solar power plants the country has also streamlined permitting process and reduced permit costs. Seeing as permitting costs can be prohibitively high in the US this is a good and simple place to start if the goal is increasing the percentage of energy that comes from solar. The solar industry in the United States is booming and is the source of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the country; however without proactive policy it risks losing ground to more energetic competitors.

Another important tool for increasing solar energy utilization is the renewable energy portfolio. Several states have established these portfolios requiring the state to get a certain percentage of its energy from renewable sources by a certain time. Maryland and the District of Columbia both have such portfolios in place while Virginia has a voluntary agreement. Workshop attendees and presenters agreed that the existence of mandatory portfolios strengthens the case for solar energy and makes it easier to move forward in those states.

Much like the concept of placing an economic value on the environment removing the moral aspect from environmental and climate policy riles many dedicated advocates. Environmental action should be taken simply because it’s the right thing to do they argue. However sometimes it’s necessary to provide additional rationale in order to garner support for what should be a straight forward matter. In this period of economic uncertainty low growth and energy insecurity the growth of renewable energy just makes good sense.

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