The short-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is easy to understand as people have been locked down, business locations have been temporarily shut, and those who are able have been working from home. The longer-term impact is less obvious, but we all can help make the recovery as effective as possible.
The clean energy transformation was advancing before the pandemic hit. And unlike some industries, energy projects continued with appropriate safety precautions as many states recognized that building and construction activities were essential. Although not back to normal, companies like Exact Solar are gradually getting projects back on track while making sure no valued customer or employee is unsafe.
However, this historic period has shined a light on three things: energy progress being made prior to any shutdown was tremendous; the response to the virus showed the ability of most citizens to band together for a common cause; and there is desire for post-pandemic policies that stress fast and sustainable economic growth.
Recent Clean Energy Success
Thanks to large scale wind energy projects and solar energy projects across as sizes from small rooftop to utility-scale, renewable energy production grows . The momentum of this new energy revolution is evident when looking at these production and investment trends:
- In the U.S. 3.6 gigawatts of solar power capacity was installed during the first quarter of 2020, a record amount for the period, according to new analysis from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie.
- In 2019, corporations bought a record amount of clean energy through power purchase agreements (PPA). This represents more than a 40% increase from the previous year’s record, according to new data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). U.S. companies purchased the majority, indicating both the increased focus on sustainability by companies and the fact that solar energy has become a sound financial risk.
- In the U.S., renewable energy consumption has officially passed coal power generated consumption. Coal fired plants are retired at record rates. Overall, fossil fuel power plants are in decline in Europe and the US, with more decommissioned than built in 2019
U.S. Ready for Clean Energy Unity
One of the key lessons to be taken from the response to the COVID-19 virus is the ability of both Americans and citizens across the globe to come together for a common cause. While specific responses have varied, billions across the world agree on a need and are acting on a goal.
And even better, in the U.S. clean energy is no longer viewed that differently along political lines. Pew Research has conducted repeated studies on citizens’ views about alternative energy. As recently as 2019, the survey finds 77% want developing alternative energy to be a priority over expanding the use of fossil fuels. People of all ideologies agree.
Locally, a Pennsylvania voter attitude survey was conducted by Susquehanna Polling & Research on behalf of the Clean Air Council. In it, 89% state that environmental policies that promote clean air are important to them.
Further evidence that clean energy unity is possible, a group of conservative millennials in 2017 created The American Conservation Coalition with an aim to find solutions to protect the environment and address climate change, among other things. From their own surveys, they find 90% of respondents say climate change is important to them and that the U.S. should invest in a modern, clean energy infrastructure.
Common environmental goals exist and can draw everyone together.
The Future Depends on Solar Energy
Even with a period of widespread shutdowns, SEIA and Wood Mackenzie are also predicting that in the U.S., 18 gigawatts of solar power capacity will be installed in 2020. That amount is a 33% increase over last year. There is a momentum for large and utility-scale projects that take months and years to complete, making them endure through the pandemic. Also, because of how easy it is for homeowners and businesses to research, invest, and begin generating clean solar power, many are expected to solarize as the recovery builds. In the remaining 6 months of this year, it is possible that rooftop solar gets back on track.
Like the response to the pandemic threat, most everyone wants a fast and effective recovery. They are willing to be active participants in ways to enhance the speed at which economies get back to normal. Some hope to exceed pre-pandemic levels.
The solar energy future is vital to reaching environment and climate change goals. Emphasizing spending for a clean energy infrastructure is likely to be well-received by most citizens of all views. Of course, the devil is in the details of how and what to do. Any path that accelerates the current energy revolution will inherently also add millions of well-paying jobs to a workforce desperate for rebounding.
With proven ability to unify on common goals, now is the time for action at both state and federal levels to make policies that expedite both the pandemic recovery and meeting the will of the people to make climate change and clean energy a priority.