2018 Factbook: Clean Energy Positively Impacts U.S. Economy, Infrastructure And Environment

The rapid deployment of energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy in 2017 generated economic benefits without requiring increases in energy consumption or greenhouse-gas emissions. Over the year, the growth of sustainable energy industries contributed to greater economic competitiveness, job creation and the expansion of the American economy, according to findings from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE).

BNEF and BCSE have revealed their 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, the result of a comprehensive review of energy statistics.

BNEF summarizes the 2018 factbook as follows: “The massive and historic transformation of the U.S. energy sector clicked into a higher gear in 2017, despite new policy uncertainties. Renewable deployment grew at a near-record pace, energy productivity and GDP growth both accelerated, and the U.S. became a serious player in the global liquefied natural gas market. All of this combined to squeeze U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions to a 25-year low, while keeping costs in check for consumers.”

The 2018 factbook is the sixth edition of an annual resource that outlines key energy trends contributing to American economic competitiveness. This year’s demonstrates yet again that the rise of clean energy positively impacts the American economy, energy infrastructure and the environment. Key findings are summarized below, according to BNEF and BCSE:

The transformation of the energy sector escalated in 2017.

  • Natural gas remained the primary source of power generation in the U.S., and wind and solar additions, combined with increased hydropower generation, drove renewable generation up from 15% to 18% of the total electricity mix in one year.
  • Energy productivity, which is the amount of GDP produced by a unit of energy, climbed 2.5% in 2017.
  • Costs remained low: Consumers devoted only 1.3% of their spending toward electricity, smaller than at any time ever recorded. This offset a rise in the share of spending devoted to gasoline and motor fuels (up to 2.1% in 2017 from 1.9% in 2016), allowing the total percent of household expenses dedicated to energy costs to hover under 4%, near an all-time low.
  • Emissions from the electricity sector plummeted again, falling 4.2% year-on-year to the lowest level in more than 27 years.

The U.S. remains globally competitive for energy-intensive industries, thanks to low industrial power prices, and U.S. players continue to invest in clean energy.

  • Historically, industrial power prices in the U.S. have been among the most affordable in the world (averaging 6.76 cents/kWh in 2016). The U.S. had the second-lowest prices of the G-7 countries in 2016; Canada was No.1.
  • Corporations are playing a stronger role in the energy transformation – increasingly demanding cleaner energy and seeking to capture gains from energy efficiency. In 2017, corporations signed new deals for 2.9 GW worth of off-site renewable capacity.
  • Global clean energy investment rose to $333 billion, the second-highest amount on record. U.S. investments tracked 2016 levels, at $57 billion, but saw a shift in capital deployment toward wind and energy smart technologies.

The U.S. energy transformation is impacting the economy, including jobs and investments in infrastructure and grid resilience.

  • The renewable energy, energy efficiency and natural gas sectors employed approximately 3 million Americans in 2016. Energy efficiency, with nearly 2.2 million jobs, was the largest single employer within the sustainable energy sectors.
  • American economic growth is picking up steam, without a parallel jump in energy consumption. Since 2008, primary energy usage has shrunk 1.7% even as GDP has accelerated by 15.3%.
  • Utilities and independent developers continue to invest in infrastructure to improve grid operations and support the growth of clean energy. Investor-owned utilities and independent developers spent an estimated $22.9 billion on electric transmission in 2017, a 10% rise year-on-year and a 91% increase since 2011. Investment in midstream natural gas infrastructure (e.g., transmission, distribution and storage) climbed 19% from 2015 to 2016, with distribution accounting for nearly half of the escalation in spending. Total investment in distribution hit its highest level yet at $13.4 billion, a 16% expansion from 2015 levels.

“The performance is proof that clean energy delivers for the American economy,” Lisa Jacobson, president of BCSE, says in summarizing the findings of this year’s factbook. “The 2018 factbook demonstrates that energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy are generating jobs and cleaner air while reducing energy use and boosting the productivity of the American economy. The focus of national energy policy in 2018 and beyond should be to further enhance and promote the continued growth of these clean energy sectors.”

“Sustainable energy deployment soared to record levels in 2017, cementing its role as a key contributor to U.S. energy,” adds Rachel Luo, the lead BNEF author of the report. “At 18 percent of the power mix, renewable energy resources, including hydropower, are making nearly as large a contribution to U.S. electricity generation as the country’s nuclear fleet. Meanwhile, the falling price of newer technologies such as lithium-ion batteries is fueling the transformation of both the transportation and power sectors.”

The full factbook is available for download here.


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