By Eric Loth
Richmond Times Dispatch
June 5, 2019
A network of 56,000 turbines, which are producing nearly 100,000 megawatts nationwide, has propelled the wind industry to new heights. Today, it represents the largest source of renewable generating capacity in the country. It also is supporting 114,000 jobs across all 50 states.
And the next potential for tremendous growth will be along our coasts, where the energy resources are even higher since the wind is faster and more consistent. New hurricane-resilient technology that can take advantage of this offshore wind, along with other renewable energy sources, can shape the growth of our nation’s manufacturing future .
With a growing global appetite for renewable energy, there is a rapidly increasing demand for higher-efficiency, lower-cost wind and solar energy systems. We already have the infrastructure to develop and manufacture this technology; from research at our federal labs and universities to turbine manufactures and utilities to modernize our grid. By strengthening partnerships across these sectors, our nation can become a global leader in the development, and export, of clean, cost-effective energy systems.
And if we can take this giant step forward in energy production, we can transform the economic future of our region and nation.
Consider a recent report, which projected that offshore wind energy will generate nearly 20 gigawatts of cost-competitive power in seven Atlantic Coast states by 2030, creating nearly $70 billion in potential revenue and impacting nearly all the region’s homes and businesses.
The offshore wind industry also is expected to create more than 36,000 full-time U.S. jobs in the Northeast corridor alone over the next 10 years, spanning a wealth of occupations that leverage the various stages of planning, development and operation of offshore wind farms. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Energy just announced more than $28 million in funding for wind energy projects, and plans to unlock up to 404 gigawatts of wind energy capacity by 2050, which would fulfill one-third of our entire nation’s energy needs.
If we can drive this technology forward and showcase the economic benefits of offshore wind, we can coalesce the public viewpoint around a common strength and vision for the future of energy technology and manufacturing.
And we can look to a proven playbook from the aerospace industry to realize this vision. Research-intensive partnerships between NASA, the Air Force, universities and aerospace corporations have generated a 20-fold return on investments in software, hardware and global positioning research and development. Similarly, billions of dollars in medicine and health-focused research have paved the way for cost-effective, transformative breakthroughs.
With additional, research-focused investment, we can generate a similarly significant return in the form of renewable energy and energy storage breakthroughs. Such advances will not only help the United States secure its energy independence, but also ensure the nation emerges as a leader in clean manufacturing.
The Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) represents an important step in this direction. The alliance consists of companies, such as Walmart, General Motors, Google and Johnson & Johnson, that are committed to purchasing renewable energy and reducing our reliance on carbon. Coalitions like REBA can leverage their purchasing power to push utilities to expand access to renewables like offshore wind — and at a lower cost.
These breakthroughs can be fueled by the U.S. Department of Energy’s recent slate of wind energy initiatives. Similarly, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology can — and should — advance research and development in areas such as energy storage technology, clean energy manufacturing and high-efficiency transmission.
These agencies, in liaison with our companies and universities, can position the U.S. to develop storable wind energy technology that is resilient enough to withstand the hurricanes and deep ocean waves . The result will not only revolutionize our energy grid and protect our environment, it will give the U.S. a strong competitive advantage in a critical commodity .
Our nation’s manufacturing industry will stand to benefit, accommodating a slew of new jobs and emerging at the forefront of the future economy of renewables. And our nation’s energy trajectory will point to a bright, thriving and green future.