While Trump Train Toddles Back to 19th Century, China Ramps up Clean Energy Future, and Jobs
March 17, 2017
President Trump’s budget slashes investment in clean energy — the biggest new source of sustainable high-wage employment in the world.
Trump’s self-proclaimed “America First” budget released Thursday zeroes out key Department of Energy (DOE) clean-tech programs:
- the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which invests in innovative clean technology
- a program to improve manufacturing for clean cars, and
- the loan guarantee program, which jump-started large-scale U.S. solar deployment, the electric vehicle (EV) revolution, and companies like Tesla.
This should surprise no one. Trump campaigned on zeroing out clean energy funding.
The budget offers this rationale: “The private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies.”
Nonsense. The United States is notorious for inventing whole industries other countries end up dominating — because our private sector under-finances advanced development and commercialization.
That’s a key reason America steadily lost manufacturing jobs while other countries make so many devices we invented. I’m looking at you iPhone, flatscreen TVs, and most consumer electronics….
Similarly, we invented the modern solar cell, but Chinese companies now make some 70 percent of them. We pioneered wind power and had the first megawatt wind turbine — but China now has five of the top ten turbine makers. The only U.S. company in the top 10 is GE.
The Trump administration would slash the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — the dominant U.S. backer of cleantech for decades — in favor of “limited, early-stage applied energy” R&D. That office (which I helped oversee in the mid-1990s) is a key reason for the game-changing cost reductions described in the 2016 DOE report “Revolution…Now: The Future Arrives for Five Clean Energy Technologies.”
These rapid price drops are a key reason clean energy has become a juggernaut — and one way we know tens of millions of new jobs in clean energy are up for grabs, something no other emerging sector can match.
Another reason: The rest of the world has redoubled its pledge to ramp up clean energy and ratchet down carbon pollution, as required by the Paris climate deal. That requires a “tenfold jump” in cleantech investment — perhaps $90 trillion in the coming decades.
No wonder China decided to lead in both building and deploying solar and wind power. And no wonder they have made an equally large bet on batteries and EVs, blowing past us in total sales back in 2015.
The renewable ramp-up has become irreversible, as two GE execs explained in a recent article, “Unstoppable: Why The Next Decade Belongs To Renewable Energy.” They note that “In 2016, wind and solar beat investment in fossil fuels by 2-to-1.” And they list these under-reported achievements:
In 2016, Portugal powered the country with renewable energy alone for four consecutive days, clean power supplied Germany’s power demand for a full day, and Denmark could produce enough wind power to meet its domestic electricity demand and have enough to export power to Norway, Germany and Sweden. The U.K. generated more electricity by wind than coal — the first-time wind has outperformed coal for an entire year.