Washington Can’t Kill Solar Power
6 Reasons to be Optimistic About the Future of Solar
The Trump administration recently announced that the U.S. will be implementing a steep tariff on solar panel imports. Taxing those solar panels up to 30 percent will destroy U.S. jobs, because far more Americans are involved in installing and maintaining panels than in manufacturing them. It will also raise Americans’ electric bills, by making the energy marketplace less competitive. And it will hurt our environment and public health, by slowing the transition away from heavily polluting, carbon-emitting fossil fuels.
Congress should stand up for American workers and consumers and overturn the administration’s harmful decision. But although that is unlikely to happen, there are still many reasons to be optimistic about the future of solar and America’s transition to a clean energy future, as Carl Pope and I write about in our book, Climate of Hope.
Here are six reasons we are optimistic about the future of solar energy even in the face of the Trump administration’s actions.
1. We’ve been through this before.
In 2012, the Obama administration levied tariffs on Chinese solar panels. That hurt both our economy and our ability to fight climate change — but it did not stop the advance of the solar industry. In the U.S., energy production from solar panels increased more than six-fold from 2012 to 2016. Today, nearly 260,000 Americans work in solar, more than twice the number the industry employed in 2012.
2. Solar jobs are surpassing coal jobs.
More than five times as many Americans work in the solar industry than the coal industry. The idea that the federal government can “bring back” coal by taxing solar panels — or taking any other steps to rig the market — is just wrong. The reason? Keep reading.
3. Solar technology is rapidly advancing.
Innovative new products decline in price as competition drives technological advances. Think of handheld calculators, which could cost $100 in the 1970s — or flat screen TVs, which are far less expensive today than they were 15 years ago. The same trend is happening with clean energy. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that from 2008 to 2016, costs dropped 41 percent for wind, 64 percent for solar, and as much as 94 percent for energy-saving LED lights. Lower costs are pushing greater investment in clean energy worldwide: Two-thirds of new electricity capacity installed in 2016 was wind or solar.
4. Communities prefer clean energy.
The market operates on the basis of consumer demand and the fact is that when given the choice, consumers would rather buy clean energy than dirty energy. The reasons are simple. First: They do not want the air they breathe and the water they drink to be polluted with toxic chemicals. That is why citizens all over the country have joined together in pushing their local utilities to phase out coal plants and replace them with cleaner forms of energy. Over the last six years, more than half of U.S. coal plants — 266 out of 530 — have closed or announced plans to. Those closures are the main reason why the U.S. has reduced carbon emissions more than any other developed country — and they have saved lives. In 2011, 13,000 Americans were dying from the effects of coal pollution. Today, the number is down to around 7,000. Even one death from coal pollution is too many, but we’re making progress.
Second: Consumers prefer clean energy because it’s increasingly cheaper than coal. Want proof? Last year, the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum — which documents the history of the industry in one of America’s biggest coal-producing states — switched to solar power to save money.
5. Businesses see the opportunity to invest in solar, too.
At Bloomberg, we have saved about $40 million over the past decade by reducing the emissions of our operations and information systems by nearly half. And, between our wind and solar investments, we obtain 23 percent of our electricity from renewable sources. By 2020, we aim to reach 35 percent, with a goal of powering our business with 100 percent renewable energy by 2025. This commitment also helps us attract talented employees, because people want to work for companies that are helping to build a bright future.
6. There is enough sunshine and wind across the United States at any given moment to meet our electric needs, if we can just get it to where it is needed.
Some parts of the U.S. get enough sunshine to produce huge amounts of solar power, while others get lots of wind. In our current, outdated electrical grid, there’s no way to transport that clean energy from regions that produce it to those that need it — but that’s a fixable problem. Scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded that building a network of modern, high-voltage transmission lines would enable the United States to access such abundant and cheap wind and solar that by 2030 the cost of electricity would fall by 10 percent — while the carbon dioxide released by each unit of electricity would fall by 80 percent. Think of it this way: A grid with no coal, and 80 percent less carbon emissions, costs less than the one we will have if we just keep on doing business as usual.
Imposing tariffs on imported solar panels is the wrong thing to do — but it won’t stop our progress. America’s future will be powered by clean energy. The sooner Washington stops fighting the transition, the stronger our economy will be, the more lives we can save, and the better our chances will be in the fight against climate change.
Michael R. Bloomberg is the co-author of “Climate of Hope” and the Founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies.