The world is in the midst of an energy revolution. Growing concerns over climate change have accelerated a transition to natural fuel sources over the past few decades, and there’s no turning back now. Countries around the globe have set Net Zero Goals for the near future, with some countries introducing policies that will completely divest them from the fossil fuel economy. Some fo these policies include carbon taxes, outlawing gasoline-powered motors, incentivizing electrification, and national banks divesting from fossil fuel companies. Even without these policies, solar and other renewable energy sources have crushed the competition and for years now have been the cheapest way to invest in new energy production. Electric vehicles, for example, have taken off in popularity due to technology innovation, maintenance and fuel cost savings, and their beautiful design. The technology is only going to improve and economics is responsible. Consumers want to protect the natural world, enjoy clean air and water, and spend less on energy. When there is a new, exciting, and comparably better product available, consumers vote with their purchasing decisions for what they want. With or without policy help, industries that rely on fossil fuels are responding to consumer demand and transitioning. It is inevitable that the world is moving forward into a sustainable future. However, with a change this monumental, there are bound to be winners and losers if the transition is not managed well. It is up to policymakers to help ease this transition and make it a win-win for everyone. With hundreds of thousands of jobs and the existential threat of climate change on the line, policymakers have to figure out the best way to get to net zero. It is the responsibility of leaders around the world to do what is best for all of their constituents. The challenge is to reduce the pain felt by those involved directly or indirectly with fossil fuels, and ensure that the new green economy works for everyone.
The current policy discussion is centered around a familiar theme: jobs. Policymakers love to use jobs to make their points and push their agendas. One of the most difficult aspects of landscape-changing developments to navigate is what to do about those industries and people who are in the status quo. Renewables, similar to automation and robotics, will retire old methods and have a huge impact on the daily life of everyday people. Coal and oil are easy to retire and divest from when an entire community’s economy doesn’t depend on a pipeline or coal mine. It becomes a lot harder when one policy change could shut down the way families have made a living for generations. We have seen this time and again from a loss of manufacturing jobs. It would be great to implement change over time, spreading out the effect and giving communities plenty of time and support to adjust. However, when these types of jobs and industries threaten the security of everyone, something must be done now. We’ve had decades of opportunity to make this change slowly over time, lessening the impact to the directly affected communities. However, even though the energy revolution is finally happening due to economics, acceleration is necessary. The threat of climate change is now widely accepted, and that is why the focus is not on if the energy revolution will happen and if it is necessary. Instead, the focus is on how fast we should and can get there. Many are pointing to the current and potential losses created by climate change, as well as new jobs being created in the green economy. They are also arguing that fighting climate change requires immediate and enormous change, pushing for policy that is as aggressive as possible, because we can not afford to wait.
This difference in priorities puts everyone involved in a tough situation and needs to be considered when policy is proposed. The good news: everyone agrees that policies and economic solutions need to be focused on both reducing negative impact and increasing the positive. Restrictive policies to eliminate major contributors to climate change are important. Net-zero goals are important, but they have to come with policy and plans to ease the transition and boost the economy, not weaken it. So what policies will accomplish this most efficiently? Is it the restrictive policies that force innovation by necessity, or is it a positive policy that funds the type of change we want to see? The answer to that can be found all around the country right now. The greatest opportunity for economic transition and growth is with renewables and policy should be focused on supporting this. The fastest-growing job in America is solar energy installer. Renewables in general are creating a new type of energy gold rush that is decentralized and not controlled by the few companies that own coal and gas plants. These benefits are shared by everyone. Jobs in local communities, created by local community members, increase local tax revenue and spending. This type of economy, where electric generation is done in every community, leads to huge increases in the number and quality of jobs while distributing wealth more evenly. Every homeowner benefits from predictable energy prices and becoming their own power station, all while supporting local businesses.
This solution, as opposed to just simply transferring generation from a fossil fuel source to a renewable at the utility level, helps create more jobs, saves the average taxpayer the most money, and incentivizes anyone and everyone to transition. Providing policy that protects monopolies and doesn’t empower property owners to share in the benefits of clean energy generation will only continue the status quo. The current state of power is vulnerable. The centralized generation model is open to both cyber and physical attacks, and, although it provides jobs, the wealth is heavily concentrated at the top. A study of 19 of the largest utility companies showed that the CEOs alone made three-quarters of a billion dollars. Rooftop solar companies are quite the opposite. The decentralized generation model means that the traditional power plant is significantly less vulnerable, with generation disbursed among millions of homes. There are also thousands of companies, both local and regional, that inject jobs and money directly into their communities while adding assets to the average homeowners’ properties. These solar arrays also need to be maintained and optimized, and there is myriad ancillary products and services that support the decentralized model. Policy should be focused on providing new job training, tax breaks for clean energy investment for homeowners, and support for new industries. This would ensure that everyone benefits from clean energy, not just the utilities or traditional power generators. Rooftop solar is not the only answer, but because of its unique ability to benefit the largest amount of people with good-paying jobs, added wealth through energy equity, and its ability to provide safe, clean, and cheap electricity, it should be the main focus.