Renewable energy advocates are eagerly anticipating President-elect Joe Biden’s plans for bringing the US back into the Paris Agreement on climate change, and it looks like his first 100 days in office will be fruitful ones. In one of life’s little ironies, outgoing President Donald J. Trump* talked a good game about saving jobs for coal, oil, and gas workers, but it was all hot air and sleight-of-hand. Fossil energy employment was already on the downswing during Trump’s tenure, and the US clean tech field is poised for rapid growth.
100 Days Of Renewable Energy, Deep State Edition
Trump did slow down the nation’s decarbonization timeline and block more than a few important US Department of Energy reports, but apparently the DOE did not get the full memo. Paris Agreement or not, for the most part the DOE carried on its clean energy mission right on through from Trump’s poorly attended inauguration ceremony on January 20, 2017, all the way up to Election Day on November 3, 2020.
In fact, some of the most consequential developments attributable to the DOE occurred in the weeks leading up to Election Day, and they will continue to ripple out for months if not years into the Biden administration.
November 3, 2020: The DOE chairs a virtual summit — yes, right on Election Day — convened by the International Hydropower Association, under the banner of the new International Forum on Pumped Storage Hydropower. Pumped storage is by far the leading platform for bulk, long duration energy storage in the US. The DOE has a suite of programs under way to unlock more pumped storage potential, which is good news for wind and solar fans but bad news for fossil fuels.
November 2, 2020: The DOE can take credit for an Obama-era R&D effort that launches the new DERConnect test bed at the University of California – San Diego. The new initiative will provide grid stakeholders across the nation with a first-of-its-kind, plug-and-play model for assessing renewable energy integration along with other distributed energy resources including electric vehicle batteries and building systems. Again, not great news for fossil fans.
October 20, 2020: The DOE joins in the creation of the multinational Global Power System Transformation Consortium, which aims at accelerating renewable energy integration alongside EV adoption and other clean tech around the world, with a particular focus on developing markets. That’s especially bad news for US coal, oil, and gas exporters. Texas’s wind-friendly ERCOT system is also a partner in the endeavor.
October 6, 2020: The DOE launches a green hydrogen collaboration with the Netherlands, the idea being to split hydrogen from water with renewable energy. That’s a real nightmare for fossil gas, which is the primary source of hydrogen today. Among other capabilities, hydrogen is a transportable form of energy storage, which means that it can bring renewable energy to areas that have roads, railways, pipelines or waterways but lack transmission infrastructure. Aside from helping to decarbonize the energy sector, green hydrogen will also help other industrial sectors shed carbon emissions.
And so on. Other key DOE activities in 2020 include a new energy storage initiative and a renewed push for affordable solar power, partly with an assist from the nation’s sprawling network of rural electric cooperatives.
Then there’s the high risk, high reward foundational research side of things, where the DOE is egging on new clean tech like solid state EV batteries and low cost perovskite solar cells, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.
Big Business Hearts Renewable Energy
President-elect Biden will also have the considerable weight of A-list US corporations and global business leaders on his side.
During the run-up to the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, scores of top US companies leveraged their dollars in a coordinated advocacy effort for clean power. Since then, the list has ballooned into the hundreds, partly with the help of a corporate-supported organization called the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance.
In October, REBA unveiled a new set of proposals for accelerating the clean power trend among US businesses by reforming wholesale energy markets, so stay tuned for more on that.
US Cities & States Like Clean Power, Too
The business angle on clean power gives the lie to President Trump’s promise of saving fossil energy jobs, but that’s just part of it. The other part has to do with the ability of US states and cities to set energy policy regardless of what the Commander-in-Chief professes to control. State and local governments are yet another ally that President-elect Biden will have in his pocket come Inauguration Day.
Over and above California’s notable influence on US energy policy, various state-based consortia have sprouted up in support of decarbonization. That includes the northeast’s long-running Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the midwest’s 2019 Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Coalition, and a brand new bipartisan offshore wind agreement between Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware.
President-elect Biden can also count on the support of hundreds of US mayors who are looking to clean tech for economic development and community well-being in addition to preventing catastrophic climate change.
The US Conference of Mayors 2020 “American Breakthrough” vision statement provides a hint about the potential for the pace of decarbonization to pick up under the Biden administration.
“Our cities are catalysts for change and it is up to us, as mayors, to seize this moment with both passion and compassion, refuse to settle for incremental improvement, and pursue a true American Breakthrough – a radically constructive breakthrough that begins in our cities, cultivates economic growth, and operates as the heartbeat of the American economy,” the mayors write.
Green infrastructure is among 10 priorities detailed in the 2020 statement, and on this topic America’s mayors have much to say.
“The need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a world-wide imperative not only to maintain our ecosystems but to also protect our most vulnerable citizens who will be the most severely impacted by a changing climate. Science tells us that we are at the tipping point and action is needed to combat permanent changes to our climate,” they warn.
The mayors also take note of a laundry list of areas in which cities are already leading on climate action, including “lower-carbon transportation options and smart water systems, expanded the use of renewable and alternative energy sources, investing in energy conservation programs, and designing more resilient communities,” while advocating for more aggressive action on a national level.
Support Our Troops, The Joe Biden Edition
President Trump’s “make America great again” slogan never really did hold much water, and nowhere is that more apparent than in his reluctance to champion renewable energy, energy efficiency, and clean tech for the Department of Defense.
After all, US military might is joined at the hip with technology and innovation, especially as it relates to counterbalancing emerging threats attributed to climate change.
As if to underscore the President’s failure to promote new technology for military readiness and sustainability, in the weeks leading up to Election Day, the US Air Force issued an open call for innovators to come up with ideas for achieving carbon negative status — yes, carbon negative — for the entire US Department of Defense.
That’s certainly something to keep in mind on the eve of Veterans Day, when the Commander-in-Chief is all but certain to tout his record on veteran’s affairs. If you have any thoughts on that topic, drop us a note in the comment thread.
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Photo: US Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory “InSPIRE” program combines solar panels and agriculture (photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL).