I realize that “non-environmental reasons for clean energy” is a bit of an oxymoron since clean energy automatically means environmentally friendly by definition. However, it’s worth exploring all the reasons for the technologies that comprise clean energy, particularly solar and wind generation.
Clean Energy needs backing from multiple supporters. Environmental reasons for clean energy have provided the initial and most apparent impetus to drive adoption of clean energy sources such as wind and solar. Clean energy’s economic case has been analyzed and made to work for numerous projects. The long-term economic case for clean energy can even be made through social cost of carbon studies as is being done at EPIC at the University of Chicago. However, a vast majority of clean energy development and growth has not been driven by economic or environmental reasons.
If we explore some of these driving factors, we can better understand the catalysts that can spur more clean energy and get more people to support its adoption. This cultural buy-in is ultimately what’s needed as the first step to driving the implementation of policies and projects. It can create a multi-pronged approach to push renewable, distributed, and clean energy forward. The liberal greenies already have good reason to support clean energy. The benefits need to be framed up in a new way for other groups to support it. It needs to be sold in a way that doesn’t contain the green associations. The Clean Energy Group recognizes in their Solar Marketing Strategies Report that environmental reasons may not be the most compelling reason.
- Jobs – One of the biggest reasons given in political contexts for clean energy is the jobs it can provide. Most of the new job growth in the energy industry has come from solar and wind projects (Bloomberg). The argument is made in the state political setting that if pro-clean energy policy aren’t put in place, states can miss out on jobs. These jobs can come in the form of system installers, project developers, or hardware manufacturers. States that support the industry will be the ones to reap the benefits. As E&E News says, “Get on board now with solar and wind or miss out on jobs”.
- Energy Independence – America is very proud of its independence. Clean energy can serve as a manifestation of this ideal. Solar and wind energy sources are largely distributed sources. This means that they have a natural independence from the grid. Residential solar in particular takes the form of home-cited solar panels that can decouple a homeowners reliance on the grid and the powers that be who control this system. This is particularly attractive to large groups of people who want to take control of how their system operates. Integrating a battery into the system can give even more control of when and how you pull energy from the grid. Clean Energy Conservatives in North Carolina recognize this as an appealing trait for people.
- Decrease Dependence on Foreign Oil – Going along with personal energy independence from the system is global energy independence. This comes in the form of developing independence from foreign oil. While America’s foreign oil dependence has waned with the development of domestic shale and the oil price drops which reflect this, the US still imports 8 million barrels of oil a day. Reducing foreign oil dependence reduces foreign diplomacy complications, keeps money out of the hands of detrimental interests, and helps develop the domestic economy. In HelioPower’s blog, Nicolette puts it succinctly saying, “Reducing the oil we buy from around the world keeps our money here and out of the hands of some seriously anti-American countries”.
- Price Stability – Inherent in solar and wind’s cost structure is that it has no marginal costs. While natural gas, coal, and oil have variable fuel costs that continue to rise, clean energy does not have this risk of rising fuel costs. It certainly has other risks, such as when the sun will shine and how much the wind will blow, but the only cost is its upfront capital cost. The Clean Energy Group cites rising fuel cost risk in fossil fuels as a major argument when marketing clean energy. It is attractive for people to not have to worry about how much they will be paying for electricity.
- Religious/ Moral – Even if the environment is not of the highest importance to a person, but devotion to religion and God is, there is good reason to support clean energy. Pope Francis recently released the encyclical Laudato si supporting the protection of the planet. The 42,000 word document addresses how we are supporting our “common home”. This is an excellent way to garner the support of people who’s top priority is religion, thus diversifying the interest groups advocating for clean energy.
All in all, there are more diverse ways to market clean energy other than environmental reasons. This gaining of support from diverse interests can better drive policy, funding, technology, and adoption of these sources.
While the decision to install clean energy is ultimately an economic decision for many people, support from multiple sources can affect the economics of that decision. A Solarcity survey cites “saving money” as the biggest reason at 82% of the respondents for homeowners to buy clean energy products and services. These final economic decision is affected by the cultural support for technology development and policies. Thus, this cultural buy-in is the first step to creating a new, clean energy world.