Around the world, the renewable energy sector has become a major growth industry: according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), employment in this sector rose by 5 percent in 2015, accounting for 8.1 million jobs around the world. The industry is projected to add another 24 million positions by 2030, as the world’s population clamors for alternatives to fossil fuels. In the US, jobs in solar power increased 12 times faster than overall job creation, and now employs more people than either the oil and gas or coal sectors.
But the new federal budget, titled "America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again", has drastically cut funding to numerous clean energy programs, including the elimination of programs like the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, an agency that invests in innovative clean technologies. As Trump promised, it’s out with the new, and in with the old, bolstering support for the coal and oil and gas industries. Unfortunately, this move hinders Trump’s promise to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US, as the budget seems determined to exempt America from employment growth in the renewables sector.
The rationale for cutting the government’s interest in such a lucrative growth industry? According to the budget itself, "The private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies." Unfortunately, this is a private sector that has historically sent jobs related to such innovative products overseas. Dr. Joe Romm, founding editor of Climate Progress, responds to the budget’s claim:
"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…"
As it stands, the only US company amongst the top ten wind turbine manufacturers in the world is General Electric, with half of those top-ten companies being found in China. China currently has more than 40 percent of the world’s jobs in the renewables sector, while the US has less than 10 percent. In contrast to Trump’s apparent intention to reduce that number in the US, China has recently allocated $361 billion toward the renewables sector through 2020, estimating that that investment will create 13 million new jobs.
In his article for ThinkProgress, Romm explains that one of the key reasons for renewable energy growth is the price decreases in the production of the technology involved, decreases that were made possible by backing from the US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — one of the agencies now in the crosshairs of the new budget.
These price reductions made these technologies more accessible for use, with the price of consumer-level solar cells dropping by half since 2008, and industrial-level cells by nearly two-thirds over the same period. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that investment in solar energy alone will reach $3.4 trillion by 2040 — outstripping funding for new fossil fuel and nuclear projects combined.
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