America’s clean energy transformation is an investment, not a gamble

By Phil Brennan
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For the US to thrive while achieving its decarbonisation goals, it needs a robust clean energy economy, creating well-paid jobs and a strong trajectory for technical innovation, argues Philip Brennan, CEO of Echogen, an Ohio-based provider of waste-heat recovery systems and electro-thermal energy storage solutions.  

With the United States’ planned investment of between US$2 trillion and US$4 trillion to achieve a net-zero emissions economy by FY2050, what role do clean energy companies play in reaching these goals? To reach a net-zero emissions economy, America requires clean technology to enable resilient, efficient and affordable grids. The investment in pragmatic, clean energy solutions will result in new jobs while attracting talent who want to work in the environmental sector. 

President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan calls for “historic procurement and investments” in storage to realise a goal of 100% clean energy by 2035 for grid operations across the country. Over the past few decades, the Midwest has experienced the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. As the U.S. steel and automobile industries have been reinvigorated by automated processes which require fewer workers, Americans require retraining to find new sectors for well-paying employment in the technology and clean tech markets. 

In December 2020, US Congress passed a historic stimulus package, Energy Act of 2020, with clean energy provisions including tax incentives for government programmes for research and development and companies in the renewable energy and energy storage sector. While this measure was a great start, America’s transformation to a clean energy economy, requires a public/private partnership that ensures our clean tech economy is fueled with well-trained employees.

Clean tech creates jobs while improving the environment

By investing in practical clean energy/energy efficiency, new jobs will be created, manufacturers will become more energy efficient and ultimately more competitive. Energy efficiency leads in new job creation across the nation’s energy sector for the second year in a row, further cementing its’ position as a powerful economic driver. The 2020 US Energy and Employment Report data, found that the “energy and energy efficiency sectors employed 6.8 million people at the end of 2019, adding over 120,300 new jobs in total, outperforming the rest of the economy in job creation.” 

These jobs are a vital part of the clean energy transition. We need skilled people to upgrade our businesses and homes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel pollution. Well-designed policies create high-quality employment with economic opportunity for communities that need it the most. 

Companies that use clean energy sources help reduce harmful emissions which provide healthier air for us all. Clean energy companies need to place a priority on repurposing and training traditional manufacturing and autoworkers for the new skills required in the clean technology sector. We can do this supporting actions like the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act which authorises over US$4 billion for research and development of renewable energy technologies, includes funding to modernise the electric grid, authorises over US$36 billion to improve energy-efficient infrastructure, and establishes a clean energy workforce development programme to educate and train the next generation of clean energy researchers, scientists, and professionals. 

Placing a high priority on incubator companies that can rapidly scale the number of innovators in the clean energy sector, building out their capacity and providing acceleration support for those innovations is vitally important.

The US Department of Energy (DOE)’s National Incubator Initiative for Clean Energy (NIICE) initiative was developed to increase coordination and collaboration among the incubators across the country and develop best practices to raise incubator performance standards. Companies looking to scale and innovate can access information on related incubators and accelerators online at the US Department of Energy. 

Managed by inventive businesses, universities and public policy, our nation’s clean energy economy can continue to drive job growth and attract significant investment. There are distinct economic benefits of a stronger tax incentive for industrial energy efficiency technologies including combined heat and power and waste heat to power and wind and solar solutions. In a nutshell, deploying more industrial energy efficiency helps create jobs, saves manufacturers money, and reduces emissions. 

Post-pandemic, there is no doubt that our collective future requires clean air, a drastic reduction in our CO2 output and our pathway to an environmentally-sound planet demands a global commitment to economically compelling alternative energy plans. A ‘bet’ on clean energy through investments in renewable energy and energy storage is a wager that will deliver a cleaner planet that will thrive for current and future generations.

Cover image: Echogen makes waste-heat recovery systems as well as electro-thermal energy storage. Image: Echogen. 

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