As election day dawns, clean energy comes out on top.
One industry stands to gain no matter who wins the election
Many people assume that the next President will greatly influence the energy landscape in the U.S. In reality, no matter who wins this election, clean energy will continue to win due to its strong fundamentals. As the CEO of a large solar company based in Houston, I spend time talking about energy with fellow Houstonians, many of whom are in the oil and gas industry. There is an assumption by many of these people that I am pulling for one candidate over another because one of them would be better for clean energy. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Over the past ten years, renewable energy has been on a meteoric growth trajectory. We’ve seen this firsthand in Texas, which produces more wind power than any other state. In the past year, wind power accounted for more than 10 percent of the electricity generated in the state.
And now, Texas has the fastest growing utility-scale solar market in the country. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has estimated that going forward, solar will make up nearly all of Texas’ new power capacity. Texas isn’t unique in this regard. Utilities around the country are shuttering their expensive coal plants in favor of cheaper alternatives like wind and solar. In fact, last year, renewable sources accounted for nearly one-third of all new electrical generation built. Renewable energy sources now account for nearly 20 percent of generating capacity in the U.S. Demand for residential rooftop solar continues to be incredibly strong too. The industry recently hit the 1 million solar installation mark earlier this year. It’s expected that it will only take two years before we reach 2 million solar customers.
Given the continued decrease in prices for clean energy, it will win on its own merits. Regardless of who wins the presidency, clean energy providers will continue to offer the most cost-effective energy options to utilities, businesses and homeowners around the country. The ambivalence regarding the election can be seen across the energy industry. Oil and gas industry workers in the U.S. have contributed about the same amount to both presidential candidates. The American Gas Association has also declined to endorse a candidate. Why is that? It’s because energy markets are, for the most part, open markets that can only be marginally influenced by politicians and their policies. Hillary Clinton wants to make the U.S. a “clean energy superpower”? Great. Donald Trump wants to get rid of regulations for energy companies and try to revive the dying coal industry? No threat. No matter what policies the eventual candidate supports and enacts, the fact remains that clean energy is the most popular and cost effective option for new generation. Other sources of generation just can’t compete in the market. As T. Boone Pickens, one of Texas’ biggest energy investors, has said about the oil and gas industry, “Obama hasn’t shut down drilling–what has shut down drilling is price. I don’t know what Trump can do to help the industry.” Some advocates are worried about what will happen with the Clean Power Plan—Obama’s plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants—depending on who gets elected. But right now, eighteen states are on track to hit the CPP’s 2030 targets with no changes to their current trajectory. It is because of the respective energy costs of each energy source (such as shale gas), not regulations, that the coal industry now employs less than 150,000 people while the solar industry employs more than 200,000 workers. Regardless of who wins, our next president must support competitive energy markets and a modernized grid infrastructure that will allow consumers to become more active participants in the energy market. Competition and consumer choice have been sorely lacking in the U.S. power industry over the past century. More competition in the energy sector and engagement by customers means that consumers come out ahead by getting access to cheaper, cleaner and safer electricity that will help create jobs and grow our economy. Ultimately, the energy sector is being driven by market forces and consumer demand, not by politicians who make promises bigger than they are able to fulfill. The market will ultimately dictate which sources of energy our country will rely on in the future and we fully expect to see the continued expansion of clean energy based on its own merits. I’m looking forward to the election because either way, clean energy will emerge the winner. Commentary by John Berger, the CEO and co-founder of Sunnova. He has more than 20 years of experience in the power industry and previously co-founded SunCap Financial, Standard Renewable Energy and Contango Capital Partners.