Renewable energy has a key role to play in the global fight against climate change. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, transitioning from fossil fuels to sustainable power sources like solar, wind, and geothermal will lower carbon dioxide emissions, thereby slowing the warming of the earth.
In addition to improving the health of the planet, renewable energy brings with it a number of economic benefits. Keep reading to learn about four of the ways that renewable energy has the potential to transform the global economy for the better.
Already, nearly 10 million people around the world hold positions in renewable energy. The solar industry alone employed over 3 million workers in 2016, while the wind industry employed approximately 1.2 million. The United States has numerous solar and wind jobs: about 260,000 of the former and more than 100,000 of the latter, as of 2017.
Recent growth in these industries has been impressive. In 2016, solar and wind employment in the United States expanded at a rate 12 times that of the overall economy. In fact, the position of wind power technician ranked as the country’s fastest-growing job in 2017, while solar PV installers have also become highly in-demand.
This demand can be attributed in part to the fact that, unlike the often-mechanized technologies of the fossil fuel industry, renewable energy technologies require human labor to operate and maintain. As the UCS states, a unit of electricity produced from sustainable sources creates more jobs than a unit produced from fossil fuels.
Along with greater employment growth, the renewable energy industry offers better-paying jobs than fossil fuel companies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that wind power technicians on average earn $52,000 per year. Equipment operators and construction professions in the coal industry, meanwhile, take home between $31,470 and $43,770 annually.
Some unionized coal miners do receive starting salaries of at least $61,650 per year. However, only 2.5 percent of miners belong to unions, with the rest competing for temporary positions that pay rates as low as $17 per hour.
The good news is that renewable energy companies have the ability to offer jobs to those who have traditionally made their living in coal. In fact, a 2016 study found that the solar industry could absorb nearly every US coal worker. In addition to needing little retraining, each of these workers would enjoy an average pay bump of 10 percent when switching industries.
Fewer Weather-Related Expenditures
Recent years have seen the world experiencing a number of catastrophic weather events. In 2017, three of the five most expensive hurricanes in US history (Harvey, Irma, and Maria) rocked the country’s coastal areas, causing damages of $265 million. These storms came in a year during which severe weather events resulted in costs of $306 billion, a total that exceeded the previous record by more than $90 billion.
Experts predict these events will only increase in both frequency and severity in the years ahead. In California, for instance, global warming will likely lead to wildfires that are not only more frequent but also effect larger areas of the state.
Due to how centralized they are, fossil fuel power systems are particularly prone to damage from extreme weather. As an example, millions of people in New York and New Jersey lost power during Hurricane Sandy when the storm affected the generation and distribution of electricity.
Renewable energy systems, on the other hand, are distributed across large geographical areas. Solar and wind installations are also modular systems consisting of myriad arrays or turbines. These factors result in systems that are less susceptible to large-scale failures. Using the same example, the UCS points out that renewable energy installations largely operated without disruption during Hurricane Sandy.
Shifting humankind’s energy dependence from fossil fuels to clean, sustainable sources of power will thus help to mitigate weather-related costs in two ways: 1) by creating a world in which less global warming means fewer instances of extreme weather, and 2) by drawing energy from systems that are more resilient to the weather events that do occur.
Fewer Health-Related Expenditures
Air and water pollution from coal mining and natural gas extraction has significant ramifications for public health. A process that involves the release of mercury, nitrous oxides, and other harmful emissions, coal mining specifically has been tied to cancer, neurological damage, cardiac arrest, breathing issues, and a number of other significant health problems.
One 2011 Harvard University study put the total health costs of coal at as much as $500 billion annually. In Appalachia alone, the study noted that the annual public health burdens exceed $74 billion.
Simply put, renewable energy technologies do not have similar negative effects on human health. Solar, wind, and hydroelectric systems produce no air pollution in the process of generating electricity, while biomass and geothermal produce very little, especially when compared to plants fired by fossil fuels.
In terms of water pollution, sustainable power sources again have fewer health ramifications. Solar and wind installations operate using essentially no water. In addition to reducing pollution, this means less strain on water supplies.
Geothermal and biomass systems may use some water, and hydroelectric plants do have negative implications for aquatic ecosystems. However, experts note that deploying renewable energy technologies will still reduce overall water consumption and withdrawal in the long term.