Climate change is upon us. The signs are everywhere, for anyone not actively denying them. So are the avenues to change our planet for the better, though some nations have not yet resolved to pursue them. So who are the most attractive nations for renewable investments?
The US is a nation divided, when it comes to renewable energy. PV solar and modern wind energy were both invented in America, then left for other nations to develop. Though President Barack Obama’s administration has attempted to catch up, it faces entrenched resistance from a Republican party that now controls both houses of the US Congress. The next Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will probably be a “climate change denier.” The most likely candidate is Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.
Likely Theaters of Conflict
The Republican dominated legislature’s most likely theaters of conflict with the Obama Administration (p 17 of attached):
- the 2015 tax credit for wind energy
- the conditional US$150 million loan guarantee for the Cape Wind offshore wind project
- America’s commitment to cut greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants 30% by 2030.
Though most polls find the majority of Americans do not share the Republican party’s anti-renewable stance, a Gallup poll from last September revealed this was not a major election issue. Neither Republicans or Democrats identified climate change among their top 10 concerns. They were more interested in job related issues, economics, and Islamic militants. All the Republicans needed to seize control of both Houses last November was 52% of the popular vote.
In December, the Department of Energy announced it was continuing the President’s “All of the Above” strategy by making $40 billion in loan guarantee authority to advance US energy projects. A mere 10% of that funding is designated for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, $16 billion is for Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing and $12 billion for advanced nuclear technology, as well as upgrades to existing facilities.
One of the most controversial components, to environmentalists, is the $8 billion to “support innovative advanced fossil energy projects that avoid, reduce, or sequester greenhouse gases.” In the press release announcing this loan, Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “Currently providing 80 percent of our energy, coal and other fossil fuels will continue to be a critical part of our energy portfolio as we move toward a low-carbon future.” The funding will be used for carbon capture, coal bed methane recovery, dry fracking, and increased efficiency projects.”
Progress Under the Obama Administration
Despite the problems, America has made progress under the Obama administration:
- Close to half of the new generation installed in 2014 was wind or solar and the US now obtains +13% of its electricity from renewable sources
- America reached 17.5 GW of installed solar capacity by the end of September and may have about 19 GW for the year. Most of the newest installations were in the residential sector (i.e. rooftop solar).
- US wind farms produced 178 million megawatt hours of energy in the 12 months ending Oct 31, 2014. According to the American Wind Energy Association, that is 20% more than China (which has more turbines) .
- The US leads the world in development of geothermal energy, having produced 16.26 million megawatt hours of energy in the 12 months ending Oct 31, 2014.
- More than a quarter of a million PEVs (hybrids & electrics) were in the US, as of September 2014.
- $519 billion – the UK
- $342 billion – Japan
- $274 billion – The Netherlands
- $238 billion – Canada
- $226 billion – France
- $209 billion – Switzerland
- $209 billion – Germany
- $202 billion – Luxembourg
America’s total foreign direct investment (FDI) stock was worth $4,935 billion.
A year ago, President Barack Obama boasted, “For the first time in over a decade, business leaders have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.”
Since then, China has taken the #1 spot in the Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index (RECAI) and entered 2015 as the world’s largest economy. A new study revealed that the US is continuing to grow more reliant on imports from China and other Asian countries.
“The import value of manufactured goods into the U.S. from 14 low-cost Asian countries has grown at an average of 8 percent per year in the last five years,” said Pramod Gupta, A.T. Kearney principal and study co-author.
China assumed world leadership, in terms of funding renewable growth, in 2012. It invested $57.9 billion, compared to $40.3 billion in the US. The Chinese were #1 again in 2013, spending $54.2 to America’s 36.7 billion.
Despite this, the US was #1 in the Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index (RECAI) from mid 2013 until last September. It is now #2.
The US might be able to resume leadership in the renewable sector, if it could make a concerted effort. Some call for the goal of obtaining 80% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. This seems unlikely, given the Republican party’s control of both Houses, and the Obama Administration’s renewed commitment to developing cleaner fossil fuels. Future generations will most likely look back on Barack Obama’s Presidency as the defining moment in the nation’s energy development. As a nation, America will most likely play an increasingly diminishing role in the renewable sector during the decades to come.
Whether this is a bad thing or not remains to be seen. Many US-based corporations have expanded to the point that they would more accurately called “International” than “American.” This growth into a global economy will continue, regardless of which nations are in the van. Any substantial reductions in global GHG emissions can help curtail the impact of climate change. The US can play a valuable role by cleaning up its’ fossil fuel sector.
Top photo credit: Photo credit: President Barack Obama boards Marine One at Joint Base Andrews, Md., en route to the White House following a trip to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Lakehurst, N.J., Dec. 15, 2014. by Pete Souza, Official White House Photo)