President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement on June 1, 2017, and exactly a year later, also directed his administration to take steps that would prevent the closure of coal and nuclear power plants in the country. Meanwhile, the production of U.S. shale is at record highs (the price of gasoline in the domestic market is also at its highest in several years) and crude oil production heavyweights, like Russia and the Saudi Arabia-led Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), are also mulling increasing their output. Despite the virtual stranglehold on global production of crude oil by OPEC and Russia, and the pursuit of environmentally-unfriendly policies by the Trump administration, a new study found there is an economic "carbon bubble" forming, one that could lead to the sudden loss of up to $4 trillion in the global economy by 2035, mostly accounted for by "stranded" fossil fuel stockpiles. Economists and policy experts from Cambridge and the Open universities in the United Kingdom, Radboud University in the Netherlands, Macau University, and Cambridge Econometrics ran detailed simulations that showed technological changes in the energy and transport industries would lead to a significant decline in the global demand for fossil fuels in the coming years. This change in the near future would occur even if major nations did not adopt climate-friendly energy policies, leading to a slump in fossil fuel prices and stocks of associated companies.
The solar energy sector lost 8,000 jobs in the US last year, the second consecutive year of declines, hit by uncertainty over the Trump administration's energy and trade policies and a 30% tariff on imported solar panels, according to a report released on Tuesday. But according to the Solar Foundation the future is still bright for solar. Despite the two-year dip, solar employment has grown 159%, from just over 93,000 to more than 242,000 jobs in all 50 states over the past nine years and the report concludes the long-term outlook for solar energy production is positive. Solar, which currently represents about 2.4% of overall US electricity generation, already employs twice as many workers as the coal industry and almost five times as many workers as the nuclear industry. States hit hardest by the slowdown were some of those with well-established solar industries, including California, with almost 10,000 job losses, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Arizona, while 29 states – many with less established solar penetration, including Florida, Texas and Illinois – continued to see job growth.
The disconnect between production inspired by individual actors and infrastructure that needs collective action to be approved and built is nothing new. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, settlers streamed across the Appalachian Mountains to farm the fertile Ohio River Valley, long before financiers and government officials arranged for the construction of roads and canals that would carry the grain efficiently and economically to New York City and other markets. In the late 1850s and 1860s, oil pioneers started drilling and producing oil in rural Pennsylvania before railroads and pipelines had been built. More recently, entrepreneurs and companies have rushed to build huge wind farms in Texas and the Plains--often far in advance of the construction of transmission lines to carry that power to market. The reality is that mapping out a big interstate infrastructure project takes a degree of planning and coordination between governments and multiple states that isn't necessary when you're just, say, drilling for oil or setting up wind turbines but becomes a requirement once those activities reach a critical mass.
The plan would make Diablo Canyon the latest nuclear plant to close in the face of cheap and abundant natural gas, falling prices for wind and solar, aging plant infrastructure, and an expensive and uncertain licensing renewal process – one that would also likely encounter serious opposition in California, where environmental advocates and some leading politicians, including the state's lieutenant governor, have urged regulators to close nuclear plants.
Casual observers of clean energy are often surprised by its limitations. Greenhouse gas emissions have fallen in California by 13 percent since 2004, even as the economy has grown by more than a quarter. That unprecedented reduction is partly the result of increased dependence on natural gas, which is cleaner than coal, but mostly because of the falling costs of renewable energy. The change is wonderful: Between 2008 and 2015, the price that energy utilities paid for solar energy fell by 77 percent, and wind decreased 47 percent, according to a report by the California Public Utilities Commission. Those falling costs encouraged energy providers to construct solar and wind farms all over the state.