Last week, I shared a blog about the benefits of teaching children the concepts of sustainability, with the belief that in doing so, we provide them with tools to lead a better future, and instill in them an appreciation for the environment. Likewise, these concepts apply to discussions about renewable energy. Many acknowledge that our dependence on fossil fuels has a limit which cannot sustainably match the rate of growth of our global populace; further, that our use of these resources are harmful to the world around us and affect our changing climate, hence debates about global warming. However, one of the lesser known benefits of investing in renewable energy is the positive impact it has on our economy.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimated that by 2015, an estimated 7.7 million worldwide were employed in the renewable energy sector, with that number expected to more than double in the next 15 years to 16 million by 2030. Most of this growth has been in Asian countries, with China, India, Japan, and others leading the way. However, the United States has seen growth in recent years, with an increase in wind and solar jobs, the latter of which has seen an influx of jobs available to women. Subsequently, the country ranks in the top 10 as one of the largest providers of jobs in renewable energy, and a leading innovator in the sector.
This has been particularly true for the Midwest–a sector the United States which has seen a decline in employment due to changes in technology, a shift from factory work, and problems within the automobile industry. A recent report suggests that over half a million people (568,979 to be exact) have been employed by some form of renewable energy efforts, with the total number available jobs continuing to grow in areas like, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Ohio. Empowering this economic growth is small business, which account for 75% of the firms creating clean energy jobs in the region. Business owners have credited government policies with inspiring a focus on renewable energy, and expanding work opportunities for thousands of individuals as a result.
From an expense standpoint as well, renewables are more sustainable than fossil fuels, because costs are more stable, and don’t fluctuate on the basis of scarcity. Additionally, costs have fallen over time for sources like solar, hyrdo, and wind, which costs three times less than nuclear power, according to Bloomberg. General Motors, which uses multiple forms of renewable technologies, has reported savings of more than $80 million from its switch to such programs.
Despite these known benefits, however, the country’s overall investment in renewable energy has fallen. While the global total of money spent on developing clean energy hit a record high last year, according to a report from Frankfurt School – UNEP Collaborating Centre, the amount of money invested by the United States fell by 20 percent compared to 2014. Still, it makes economic sense to continue investing in a system that is not only adding to the number of jobs for Americans, but also lowering the total cost we spend on managing our dependence on non-renewable sources. It’s time to chart a new path into the future.