The science is clear on climate change. It is not hard to experience this crisis for ourselves, just walk outside. The top polluters in America’s economy—the transportation and power sectors—have the technology to help us decarbonize at scale. However, as the U.S. economy decarbonizes, many clean tech solutions—including new renewable energy projects—are only benefiting some communities and states, while leaving vast swaths of the United States behind. Ironically, the “Sun Belt” of the United States has some of the lowest penetration of solar energy capacity.
Emissionality and Equitable Access to Clean Energy in the United States
The uneven distribution of clean energy projects across the country means that the environmental and health impact of flipping on the lights are starkly different depending on where in the country you live.
Clearloop, Downstream Strategies, and WattTime are releasing research mapping out the best places to build new solar capacity in the United States and remove the carbon out of our economy. The white paper titled, “Solar in the Shadows: Expanding Access to Clean Energy in Forgotten America” builds on the thesis that we need more investment in clean energy capacity to clean up our grid, and illustrates that the communities getting left behind today from the clean energy revolution have the greatest potential for investment in new clean energy infrastructure.
Despite the 100%+ growth in renewable energy from 2000 to 2018 in the United States, only 8% of the electricity consumed in the United States comes from wind and solar power, with less than 2% of electricity produced from solar power. Today, more than 85% of solar development in the United States is concentrated in 10 states, including some common-sense sunny states like California, Nevada, and Texas, but also unusual states like Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey. What’s driving this uptake in new clean energy capacity is not the availability of the sun for electricity generation, but rather structural incentives—like regulations or an open wholesale electricity market—that make it easier for companies to invest in clean energy infrastructure.
WattTime has introduced a new quantitative concept to help measure the positive impact a new clean energy investment can have on carbon emissions reductions: emissionality.
The idea is straightforward: Although renewable energy itself is emissions-free, where such projects get built greatly influences their true net impact on overall grid emissions—because it matters what existing generation they’re displacing. For example, yet another wind farm in a region of the country already saturated with—and perhaps even curtailing surplus—wind energy isn’t going to reduce total electricity sector emissions as much as a solar farm built in a region of the country where its output will displace coal-fired electricity.
Where Should the United States Invest New Clean Energy Infrastructure?
In the absence of federal government action, the private sector has been at the forefront of climate action. Voluntary corporate investment in renewable energy has been a powerful force in decarbonizing our electricity grid and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
However, limits in the options available to companies has resulted in the majority of this investment being concentrated in certain parts of the country—leaving entire communities behind from experiencing a clean energy revolution. The research in this white paper is intended to highlight more tools to help them fight against climate change.
By shifting the focus of corporate investments in renewable energy to regions of the country with disproportionately carbon-intense electricity production (i.e., dirty grids), we can achieve deeper, faster emissions reductions per installed MW capacity, bring good-paying clean energy jobs, and spur economic investment in regions of the country that vitally need them.
Clearloop is focusing on the communities with the dirtiest grids and opening up the investment opportunity to small and medium-sized companies that would otherwise not have direct access to decarbonizing the grid.
With companies looking to build a cleaner economy in the wake of COVID-19, there is a great opportunity to open up clean energy markets to investments from businesses of all sizes with a focused goal: decarbonizing our grid and expanding equitable access to clean energy across the United States.
To read the entire white paper, click here.
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