Policymakers Must Act to Maintain U.S. Smart Grid Jobs Lead

April 5, 2010 at 4:16 pm

As the world transitions to a clean energy economy and fights climate change, we’ll need a smarter power grid to make it work – and put Americans to work.  The US today leads the world in the development of smart grid technology, but we must act decisively to leverage our early smart grid advantage to help create millions of American green jobs.

Yes, millions: a new report from the American Solar Energy Society estimates that aggressive deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency can create up to 4.5 million new US green jobs by 2030.

Moreover, according to ASES, “many of these jobs cannot be easily outsourced [to other nations] due to their on-site nature.”

We’re already on the road to realize these opportunities. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act invested over $4 billion in smart grid development. On Dec. 15, 2009, Vice President Joe Biden released a progress report indicating that the immediate employment payoff on this could be up to 104,000 new, near-term jobs. These are a big part of an estimated 826,000 new jobs created by energy-related ARRA stimulus investments so far. This could reduce the number of unemployed workers by 6%, and lower the overall US unemployment rate from 10% to 9.4%.

But the smart grid jobs picture isn’t just about inventing, manufacturing, selling, and installing smart meters and associated technology here and abroad. Much like the Internet, the smart grid will become a crucial economic platform. It will create entirely new business opportunities based on better ways of making, using, and understanding energy.

Because of its vast potential benefits, the smart grid will happen. But will the US continue to lead?

Our smart grid lead is at risk. We face serious competition from China, which has already made major inroads into solar and wind technology.  China already has the highest carbon emissions and will soon be the leading global energy consumer. China has a strong motive to deploy a smart grid fast — and is already working to beef up its capacity to develop and deploy this technology.  And, critically, China has committed to 100% deployment of the Smart Grid by 2020.  The US?  No commitment and no date.

China’s top-down approach to both technology development and power grid policy allows it to move fast. US technology companies have the needed innovation horsepower, but US policymakers – including state utility regulators – need to commit to the right smart grid deployment policies.  If not, the US may well cede to China the global smart grid technology market opportunity, estimated at half a trillion dollars over the next 20 years.

As a delegate to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, I saw firsthand that the fight about climate change has little to do with the environment and everything to do with jobs and economies.  Ultimately, job growth is up to the business sector. But government policy and incentives play a dominant role in guiding business strategy, especially in electricity. Because the smart grid is an obvious linchpin of energy-related green job growth, state and federal policymakers need to make the strategic choice to commit now to this sector.

And, while we’re at it, we just might help save the planet. Not a bad investment strategy.

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Entry filed under: Chris King, consumer benefits, Energy Efficiency, Energy regulation, Reliability, Smart Grid, smart grid benefits, Stimulus Package, Time of Use (TOU) prices, Utility benefits. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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