Ever since the Paris Agreement was signed at COP21 in December 2015, the 195 countries involved – including the U.S. – have hurried to take measures to decarbonize their own economies. Though the agreement does not enter into force officially until 2020, the Department of Energy (DoE) has been proactive in reporting on America’s progress toward a carbon-neutral economy, one of the provisions of the agreement is consistent public reports by governments on how well they are able to implement their targets. In this vein, the DoE released a new report titled “Revolution… Now: The Future Arrives for Five Clean Energy Technologies” in September (1). The report highlights impressive increases in capacity and decreased costs for key technologies, painting an overall optimistic picture of the U.S. clean energy landscape both today and in the coming years.
The report focuses in on several key energy technologies that are gaining traction in the U.S.: wind power, solar PV (distributed and utility-scale), LEDs and electric vehicles (EVs) (1). All of these have made great headway in the U.S. market since 2008. Costs of each technology have been reduced by between 41% (land based wind) and 94% (LED bulbs), which in turn has stimulated much more widespread adoption of all technologies (1). Investment into R&D in recent years has already led to increases in capacity and higher market penetration; nearly half a million EVs drive on U.S. roads today, and solar PV generates sufficient energy to power more than 2 million homes (1).
In highlighting these accomplishments, the DoE references back directly to the Paris Agreement, emphasizing that “the clean energy revolution is already underway, is already providing real-world benefits, and continues to promise new solutions on the horizon to address our most pressing energy challenges” (1). This tone speaks to the great urgency that the U.S. feels to comply with the commitments of COP21, positioning itself as a leader in the global climate change regime by underlining domestic accomplishments. In fact, the Mission Initiative announced at Paris binds participating countries to double their clean energy R&D by 2020, and the U.S. seeks to publicize its progress along and commitment to this benchmark.
Along this theme, the report stresses great opportunity for growth through increased research and investment in clean energy technologies in the near future. Beyond emphasizing the accelerating expansion of the five established technologies outlined above, it also pinpoints several more futuristic technologies that do not enjoy widespread use today, but the DoE nonetheless remains confident they will gain traction soon with further development. These technologies, grouped under the heading “Revolution Next,” include super trucks – increased efficiency 18-wheelers – smart buildings, and lightweight material for the purpose of decreasing car mass and thereby boosting fuel efficiency (1). In addition, the report discusses four other emerging technologies: fuel cells, grid-connected batteries, energy management systems and 3D printing, all of which are positioned “on the cusp of wider deployment in the coming years” (2). Though not the main focus of the report, this section positions the U.S. energy sector as forward-looking and constantly striving to harness and develop new innovations.
In addition to emphasizing the U.S.’s advances along the path to carbon neutrality and cutting emissions, the DoE underscores the growing energy independence of the U.S. and how homegrown clean energy technologies facilitate this transition. As the concluding section states, “with the continued progress in critical renewables and energy-efficient technologies like these, we can look forward to a future of clean, American-made energy” (1). Unpacked, this phrase speaks to the two key points of the report: the U.S. is making good progress on its COP21 commitments, and it is working to become less reliant on foreign energy imports. The first point addresses mainly an international audience and certain components of the American civil society particularly concerned with climate change while the second speaks more directly to a domestic audience, showcasing throughout the report how investment in clean energy can benefit the U.S. economy by adding jobs and decreasing import reliance. As the DoE report implicitly argues, there are no real losers in the advancement of clean energy – from domestic consumers to American workers to future generations who will grapple directly with the effects of climate change, all can benefit from the increased development and implementation of clean energy.
(1) Donohoo-Vallett, Paul. “Revolution… Now: The Future Arrives for Five Clean Energy Technologies.” Department of Energy, September 2016. http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2016/09/f33/Revolutiona%CC%82%E2%82%ACNow%202016%20Report_2.pdf.
(2) “Secretary Moniz Releases Report Showing the Cost Reductions and Rapid Deployment of Clean Energy Technologies.” Energy.gov, 28 September 2016. http://www.energy.gov/articles/secretary-moniz-releases-report-showing-cost-reductions-and-rapid-deployment-clean-energy-0.
(3) Cuff, Madeline. “DoE trumpets clean tech ‘energy revolution’.” GreenBiz, 11 October 2016. https://www.greenbiz.com/article/doe-trumpets-clean-tech-energy-revolution.
(4) “Paris Agreement.” European Commission, 15 October 2016. http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/international/negotiations/paris/index_en.htm.
Image: © Arinahabich08 | Dreamstime.com - Solar Panels in a Power Plant
Katya is a third-year USC student, journalist and researcher currently at Sciences Po Paris for the semester. She covers a broad range of topics: sustainability, innovation, economic development and trade, and political and social trends. Her current research interests focus on gender in development, American politics and civil society in Eastern Europe. Her work and internship experience includes marketing at a LA-based startup, working as a legal intern, researching at a EU think tank in Brussels, and teaching English to French children in Paris. In addition to writing for GIT, she contributes to several publications, including IR journal Glimpse from the Globe and Mogul USC. For the past year, she has also served as Director of Project Management for USC’s only full-service, pro-bono, student-run digital marketing agency, Trojan Marketing Group.