THE 2017 INAUGURATION: Empowering a Clean Energy Nation

By Nancy E. Pfund & Kristofer Holz, September 15, 2016

The ener­gy indus­try is at a major junc­tion. We’ve had our grandfather’s elec­tric­i­ty sys­tem for 100 years, with no major changes or inno­va­tions. Now, the ener­gy indus­try is in an inno­va­tion cycle across many sec­tors, from elec­tric­i­ty to trans­porta­tion to agri­cul­ture and beyond. The trans­for­ma­tion is akin to what we’ve expe­ri­enced in phones, com­put­ers, and even music dis­tri­b­u­tion over recent decades. Unique­ly, this inno­va­tion is fueled not just by eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty, but by envi­ron­men­tal imper­a­tive as well – ener­gy-relat­ed car­bon diox­ide emis­sions account for more than 80 per­cent of U.S. green­house gas emis­sions. From indus­try icons like First Solar, Tes­la, Sun­Pow­er and SolarCi­ty to excit­ing upstarts like Util­ityAPI, Farm­ers Busi­ness Net­work, Advanced Micro­grid Solu­tions and Off Grid Elec­tric, our country’s entre­pre­neurs are increas­ing­ly focused on cre­at­ing the 21st cen­tu­ry ener­gy sec­tor. With this focus comes not only a flow of cap­i­tal, but a flood of job cre­ation. The solar indus­try alone offers over 200,000 well­pay­ing jobs as of last year, grow­ing at an annu­al rate of 20 per­cent com­pared to 1.74 per­cent for the rest of Amer­i­can job growth.The growth rate in clean­tech not only exceeds that of oth­er fast grow­ing tech com­pa­nies, but also has been pop­u­lat­ed by a more demo­graph­i­cal­ly diverse work­force than that of oth­er ener­gy and tech­nol­o­gy indus­tries. Despite its promise and remark­able growth rate, the 21st cen­tu­ry ener­gy sec­tor is still a bud­ding indus­try – solar only rep­re­sents about one per­cent of U.S. elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion and elec­tric vehi­cles are still less than three per­cent of U.S. auto sales. Main­tain­ing U.S. lead­er­ship in clean ener­gy and the atten­dant growth rate in job cre­ation will require America’s next pres­i­dent to think holis­ti­cal­ly about the indus­try and take a broad­ly strate­gic approach to ener­gy policy.

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