The wind of change is blowing through the energy market. Regardless of your stance on coal, oil, gas, wind, or solar powered energy, there is no denying that the market has already made its voice known about clean energy. Coal-burning factories are being shuttered in favor of cleaner (and cheaper due to fracking) natural gas. Wind is rapidly gaining a foothold and now powers all the trains in the Netherlands. Even China, currently one of the biggest polluters in the world, is fully on board with the switch to renewable energy; they have recently unveiled the world largest floating solar farm in a flooded former coal town.
This change in attitude isn’t due to the Paris Climate Deal and won’t stop because America has pulled out. The administration's largely symbolic move does little to affect the rapid growth in clean energy jobs. Sure, pulling out of the deal sounds really bad; it is easy to think America will be left on the outside looking in when it comes to the international debate on climate change and the emerging alternative energy market. The deal was hotly debated, and it is no secret that some countries essentially get a pass. The voluntary targets of the agreement don't hold polluters accountable, but the signing of the Paris Climate Deal marked the first time the entire world took any actionable stand against climate change.
The full effects of Trump’s decision will not be known for years, but hundreds of US companies, university officials, and some states have voiced support for the prevailing public opinion. Elon Musk and Robert Iger have both resigned their positions on the president’s advisory council. Tim Cook, head of Apple, and Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, have both expressed their disappointment. And, in a somewhat shocking twist, several energy giants such as Shell and Exxon Mobile have also spoken out against pulling out of the deal.
Most of these companies have long pushed for more advanced, greener technology. Using fewer resources and energy is good for everybody; after all, it lowers manufacturing costs. There has also been a massive push from consumer groups to reduce our impact on the earth, which is another idea many companies embraced years ago. In a matter of decades, entrepreneurs like Musk have helped Tesla achieve a market valuation higher than Ford, one of America’s legacy automakers, because of their focus on advanced energy technology.
This innovation leads to jobs. The day before Trump announced his decision, California state senator Kevin De Leon told his colleagues, "Clean energy is, in fact, a pillar of our economy that employs now more than half a million Californians. That’s nearly ten times more the number of coal mining jobs that exist in the entire nation. So, clean energy is the future." While some still think of electricity in terms of coal plants, nuclear plants, and similar structures, much of the growth in the energy market is in the alternative marketplace. Solar jobs increased by 25% in 2016, and the wind jobs by an astounding 32%.
Gone are the days of the traditional coal miner or the boiler manager. Clean energy jobs are about cost-effective implementation, grid reliability, better storage, cheaper transportation, and manufacturing products with a smaller carbon footprint. New energy jobs require expertise in network administration, information security, computer-assisted 3D design, electrical engineering, managed services, and a variety of technical skills.
Grid managers can now use predictive modeling, advanced weather detection, satellite imagery, and advanced computer software to meet their real-time energy consumption needs. This level of communication between technologies has created opportunities for energy manufacturers that were once just a dream.
Additionally, there is also a market for energy efficient products that will have a major impact on energy consumption. Technology can predict and direct how, when, and where we deploy our energy resources. Smart thermostats like Nest can reduce energy usage for heating and cooling a home by 15%. If utilized in all homes, that sort of reduction in energy would reduce the strain on our current energy system.
Despite the current administration's unwillingness to accept the potential for climate change, Americans still see the value in adopting environmentally friendly practices when possible and practical. The same mentality extends to our manufacturers and energy companies. As the former Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Sheikh Zaki Yamani said, “the Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.” As newer and cheaper alternatives become available, we WILL shift away from fossil fuels. Fortunately, the alternatives – solar, hydro, and wind – appear to be much more environmentally friendly. They also present an opportunity to drastically reduce the cost of energy production. For now, that makes clean energy a win-win.