Early on, the Trump administration announced with some fanfare its “America First” energy initiative, promising to take advantage of the nation’s untapped shale, oil and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands. The White House also expressed a very strong commitment to bolstering clean coal technology.
During those grand pronouncements this past spring, touting our nation’s energy prowess, little mention was made of clean and renewable energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, hydropower and others – despite the persistent growth in the sector over the past decade.
As a result, the reality is that the United States has ceded its position of global leadership in the clean energy sector; largely handing the mantel to China, which is working vigorously to move away from its dependency on coal.
China began its energy transition with several focused policies three years ago that aimed to move the country away from coal, which comprised 62 percent of the nation’s energy mix at the end of 2016, and towards renewable and clean sources of energy. Data analyzed by Greenpeace and other groups shows coal consumption has fallen the past three years in China.
Earlier this year, China’s National Energy Administration set a mandatory target to reduce coal energy consumption, while establishing a goal for clean energy to meet 20 percent of China’s energy needs by 2030. Most analysts contend that the latter target is quite modest, and will be met well before the next decade passes.
China’s surge in its standing as the lead nation in renewable energy development is not surprising, given its position as the largest energy consumer in the world. What makes its growth in the sector even more significant is the aggressiveness that the Asian giant has exhibited in pursuit of its clean energy goals.
While the Asian nation’s consumption of coal-fired power declined in recent years, clean energy consumption rose by some 25 percent in 2016 alone. In fact, power generation from hydro, wind and solar rose in China by 153 terawatt hours last year. That increase over one year approaches Germany’s entire renewable energy generation of 186 terawatt hours.
Beijing said earlier this year that it will spend more than $360 billion investing in renewable power generation from solar, wind and hydro through 2020. It’s an investment that is expected to create 10 million jobs in China, which currently boasts more than 3 million jobs in the sector – by far the most among all nations. On the other hand, the United States comes in third with a little more than 800,000 workers in the sector, falling second to the EU, which employs 1.2 million. China is also a major clean energy manufacturer, supplying more than two-thirds of the world’s solar panels, and almost half of its wind turbines.
China’s surge in the renewable energy sector over recent years, resembles the United States’ vigorous push towards a clean energy future earlier this decade. And while that ambitious approach to clean energy development has seemingly been abandoned at the federal level, the resources, innovation and determination among stakeholders is still strong, and we could easily reignite the intensity needed to meet our 21st-century energy demands.
Despite the Trump administration’s unfortunate bias towards fossil fuels (especially coal) and nuclear, this nation’s renewable energy sector continues to grow, driven by the state and local policies that encourage clean energy development, as well as through the push from successful businesses that recognize the contributions less expensive renewables make to their bottom lines, while also adopting aggressive sustainability goals.
In EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, DOE’s Energy Information Administration’s says that non-hydro renewable energy resources will gain about two percentage points, reaching 10 percent of the U.S. electricity generation market in 2018 (hydro will add another 6.5 percent). Leading the growth will be wind power, growing from 88 gigawatts (GW) this year to 96 GW (6.4 percent) in 2018.
Forward thinking policy makers at the state and local levels, as well as businesses and renewable energy advocates, are refusing to relinquish the clean energy role the United States has long played on the global stage. This country’s powers of innovation and pride are too great to settle for a “participation trophy” in the world’s clean energy market. Even with the policy indifference in Washington, the resources and determination to drive our renewable energy course abound and are ready to be put to use. China may hold the stage today, but the United States will find its way to the top again.