By Sandy K. Johnson
The Trump administration’s official notice to withdraw from the Paris climate accords was expected, and three energy experts were sanguine about how that decision could play out over the 2020 election year.
“I don’t think this changes anything about the trajectory we were on,” said Ryan Fitzpatrick, director of clean energy at Third Way. He noted the U.S. was already moving from coal to natural gas, “and that shift is going to continue because of economics.”
Blake Sobczak, deputy editor of Energywire, pointed out that for business, “one year is a flash in the pan.” There are larger economic forces at play in the shift away from fossil fuels, he said.
Jennifer Layke, director of global energy at the World Resources Institute, said the decision is at odds with the public, as three-quarters of Americans support the accords. “It puts our technology, our companies, our policies out of step with the rest of the world,” she said.
Their comments came in a webinar focused on clean energy and politics, and the one-year Paris accords notice frames the issue for the election year.
Trade wars are another element. The solar industry has been hugely impacted by the trade war with China, for example, and steel tariffs impact the cost of metal in a wind turbine.
The speakers encouraged journalists to take the issue from macro to micro. “Connect the dots for people” and show them tangible results with clean energy, Fitzpatrick said. Sobczak said it is helpful to portray energy issues in terms of “why does it matter to me?” – your utility bill, for example.
Jobs are another facet. Layke said utilities face massive retirements in coming years as the current workforce ages out; beyond that, there is a need for new workers in energy IT, technology, modeling and forecasting. She said energy efficiency is the biggest driver of jobs in the sector, from the weatherization of homes to the upgrading of office buildings and plants to save money.
Sobczak offered some advice for reporters covering tech startups in energy. “There’s a lot of snake oil in this space,” he said, with companies claiming the next new breakthrough. He suggested reporters ask these questions: Does it have federal support? What do academic experts think about it? Does it have private investment?