By Thomas Rausch
In recent decades, renewable energy (i.e., solar power, wind energy, geothermal energy, etc.) has become a topic of partisan discussion. Both conservatives and liberals argue about whether renewable energy production should be pursued. Opponents contend that it’s too expensive and impractical. Proponents say that it’s profitable and easier to implement than traditional energy sources. These sides can’t seem to agree; however renewable energy has many benefits that would be worthwhile to those on both sides of the aisle. While many don’t seem to realize it, renewable energy encourages competition and innovation in the energy market, and it strengthens energy security for the U.S. and its allies.
Renewable energy catalyzes competition and innovation in the energy sector due to principles of simple economics. As the number of firms in a particular industry increases, competition grows. Because of this, companies are forced to innovate to remain in business. As the number of renewable energy companies grows and they expand into different geographic areas, the existing energy companies – both renewable and non-renewable – must innovate to stay in business.
This innovation has caused the price of some renewable energies, like solar and wind, to drop drastically in the past decade. The price of fossil fuel energy has also dropped, partially in response to competition from renewable energy. Thus, the growth of renewable energy has led to lower prices and higher efficiency for many types of energy: two things that liberals and conservatives alike, can get behind.
Renewable energy has also helped the United States obtain energy security by making the nation less reliant on foreign energy sources. At one point, the United States was, incredibly dependent upon external sources of energy — mostly petroleum. This is clear through events such as the oil embargo of 1973 where American political decisions supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War caused backlash from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Their refusal to supply oil eventually led to a recession in the U.S. This brought an issue into the spotlight: the United States’ energy supply was in the hands of foreign powers.
Renewable energy production in the United States has increased dramatically in recent years, primarily due to its lower price and the large capacity for this type of energy production in the United States. Because of this, along with an increased production in some non-renewable energy like natural gas, the United States has become much less reliant on foreign, and often hostile or politically unstable countries for its energy needs. The United States has obtained an enormous amount of energy security with the use of renewable energy.
Lastly, a further increase in renewable energy production in the U.S. could also aid U.S. allies in obtaining their own energy security. For example, a majority of continental Europe purchases large portions of their energy from Russia, a country with which Europe and the United States have an unstable relationship. If the United States was able to export energy to Europe, it could help European nations wean themselves off of their Russian energy supplier, thereby leading to higher energy security for the U.S. and its allies. For example, German energy companies are planning to build a liquified natural gas facility along its North Sea coast. The main motivation behind this is to lessen Germany’s dependency on Russian fuel, and instead turning to a political ally (the U.S.) to supply some of its energy needs. With an increased production of renewable energy in the U.S., American energy exports could be used to decrease Russian influence in Europe. Helping American allies in a way that is beneficial for both sides, especially in this manner, has traditionally been supported by both sides of the political spectrum.
Renewable energy has benefits upon which both conservatives and liberals can agree. It provides more players in the energy industry, thereby increasing innovation and competition. It also allows more energy to be produced within the country, leading to greater energy security for the U.S. and its allies. Regardless of one’s stance on climate change, renewable energy has the potential to change how the U.S. handles its international affairs, and fostering the growth of this industry is greatly beneficial to the nation as a whole.
Thomas Rausch is a first-year student in the School of Foreign Service studying International Politics and Public Health