Opportunity for regional policymakers to accelerate clean energy innovation

February 27, 2020
By: Konni Lorenz

Clean energy innovation provides an opportunity for state-level policymakers and other stakeholders to expand economic opportunities and increase the impact of federal activity on climate and energy while also creating local economic development opportunities, according to a new report. Regional Clean Energy Innovation, produced by the University of Maryland in partnership with Energy Futures Initiative (EFI), identifies a multi-step process for state-level policymakers to strategically advance clean energy innovation, based on a 50-state assessment and case studies of Colorado and Maryland.

Clean energy innovation offers many benefits to regional and state policymakers such as the opportunity to grow in-state research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) and manufacturing firms, reduced costs of electricity for consumers through new technologies, and an environment with clean air and water. A number of key recommendations are made in the report; a few are highlighted here.

Regional policymakers need to include not only wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels in their definition of clean energy, but also technologies for decarbonization such as low-carbon agriculture, which provides a pathway toward new opportunities. State economic development and energy agencies both enact clean energy policies, but with different goals. The economic development-oriented approaches tend to focus on in-state clean energy RD&D, startups, and businesses, while efficiency and environment-oriented approaches focus on deployment, which may not reflect in-state manufacturing or related employment. Regional policymakers and local agencies need to integrate their goals for clean energy and economic development. Regional policymakers also need to offer targeted support for clean energy RD&D and deployment through small seed grants and non-financial, developmental support such as incubators. According to the report, it is also crucial to develop monitoring processes to ensure clean energy policies are resulting in the intended outcomes.

One area in particular of the clean energy sector, solar, has seen a revival after facing two years of job losses. According to the National Solar Jobs Census recently released by The Solar Foundation, the U.S. solar industry employed approximately 250,000 workers in 2019, up 2.3 percent (5,600 jobs) since 2018.

According the Regional Clean Energy Innovation report, the U.S. has an unmatched infrastructure for clean energy innovation and collaboration among key players as well as an understanding among those players that energy innovation is a critical contributor to economic growth, energy and national security, and environmental stewardship. However, this does not dissipate the significant challenges that accompany it, meaning constant innovation is necessary.

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