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​Renewables, infrastructure, and employment patterns reveal sustainable energy growth

March 22, 2018

Bloomberg New Energy Finance has released the latest Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, and the publication is a breath of fresh air for sustainability promoters. According to the factbook, during 2017 total U.S. energy consumption declined by 2.6% while U.S. economic statistics show that GDP grew by 2.3%. The cause was the shifting basis of energy generation in favor of renewables like wind and solar, as well as improvements in efficiency.

Bloomberg publishes the factbook yearly, as a guide to the trends and information about the energy industry. 2017 was a landmark year as the pace of solar and wind installation continued to increase, and the rate of greenhouse gas emissions from legacy generation facilities slowed as old plants closed down.

The factbook shows the impact of changes in the energy industry and up-and-coming technology. The essence of the report focuses on the following four findings:

1. Renewable sources are expanding, and emissions are diminishing

Even though the political climate has turned against it, sustainability is increasingly cost-effective for many organizations. Its contribution to energy generation in 2017 was 18%, a rise from 15% in the preceding year.

This growth is significant because it means that renewables are drawing even with nuclear energy production. New installations of renewable energy generation during 2017 added more than 1,800 megawatts, making it the most significant sources of new energy capacity by far. Simultaneously, greenhouse gas emissions were down by 4.2% during the year.

2. Smart meters and other infrastructure led investments

New energy-transmission infrastructure investment helped to connect users to new energy sources. Utilities and other operators invested 10% more in 2017 than the previous year in support of adding renewables to the energy grid.

Consumers and utilities are increasingly installing smart meters and thermostats to gather better data about resource use and analyze consumption patterns. Incentives from state agencies and utilities, such as rebates for purchasing connected thermostats, have changed the habits of home users enough to create a measurable impact on consumption.

3. Sustainable energy employment grew with the installation rate

The growing share of renewable energy in the economy has had the impact of disrupting relationships and correlations. While energy consumption has declined, the sector has contributed positively to jobs and GDP growth. Improvements in energy efficiency are the drivers for this change, as the growth and jobs have come from the investment in transitioning to renewables.

Since 2010, the workforce that supports solar installation and generation has grown by nearly 170%. Clean energy now supports more than 2.2 million jobs in the United States. Energy storage capacity mostly comprises hydroelectric and batteries. Employment related to non-hydroelectric energy storage grew by 33% in 2017.

4. Battery prices went down as electric vehicle sales went up

In 2017, purchases of battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids have accelerated. There were 23% more of these vehicles on the road at the end of 2017 than at the beginning of the year. According to the report, growth means there was a total of three-quarters of a million electric cars on the road at the end of the year.

The most fundamental change has been in policymaker attitudes at the levels below the Federal government. States and cities are stepping up to reduce carbon emissions. While national officials have pulled back from responsibility, local and state actors are taking policy steps that will continue the trend toward sustainability. Companies have also shown leadership in renewable energy by taking the initiative to pursue 100% reliance on renewable energy.

Sustainable growth in the future

The combined factors of expanding renewable resources, investment in infrastructure and smart metering controls, and shifting employment trends and improved energy storage mean that sustainable energy will continue to grow. With both public and private organizations creating policies and practices that support sustainability, the trend of rising growth and lowering emissions is likely to continue, at least in the near future.

2017 demonstrated that renewable energy presents opportunities for economic investment and rewards. The developments published in the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook reveal much cause for optimism for 2018 and beyond.