Fact Sheet: 6 Things You Should Know About The Value Of Renewable Energy

by Adam James

Clean energy should play a central role in revitalizing our economy, putting Americans back to work, and keeping America on the cutting edge of innovation and growth. Recently a slew of misguided attacks on the merits of clean energy have exchanged petty partisanship for hard facts.

Here are the top six things you really need to know:

  1. Clean energy is competitive with other types of energy
  2. Clean energy creates three times more jobs than fossil fuels
  3. Clean energy improves grid reliability
  4. Clean energy investment has surpassed investments in fossil fuels
  5. Investments in clean energy are cost effective
  6. Fossil fuels have gotten 75 times more subsidies than clean energy

Here are the supporting details:

1. Clean energy is competitive with other types of energy

  • Renewable energy is cheap today.
    • In California solar developers have signed contracts for power below the projected price of natural gas from a 500-MW combined-cycle power plant.
    • Some wind developers are signing long-term power-purchase agreements in the 3 cents a kilowatt-hour range, far cheaper than any other new power source.
    • New analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects wind will be “fully competitive with energy produced from combined-cycle gas turbines by 2016″ under fair wind conditions.
    • Renewable energy competes well with natural gas. Even with unsustainably low prices for natural gas, large-scale renewable energy is still nipping at its heels and in some cases keeping pace.

2. Clean energy creates three times more jobs than fossil fuels

  • A national study showed that job creation in clean energy outdoes fossil fuels by a margin of 3-to-1 — every dollar put into clean energy creates three times as many jobs as putting that same dollar into oil and gas.
  • Wind energy has already created 75,000 jobs, which could grow to as many as 500,000 if we transitioned to getting 20 percent of our energy from wind.
  • Job quality is better. Twice as many medium- and high-credentialed jobs are being created in the clean economy as in fossil fuels.
  • Median wages are 13 percent higher in green energy careers than the economy average. Median salaries for green jobs are $46,343, or about $7,727 more than the median wages across the broader economy. As an added benefit, nearly half of these jobs employ workers with a less than a four-year college degree, which accounts for a full 70 percent of our workforce.
  • The clean energy sector is growing at a rate of 8.3 percent, nearly double the growth rate of the overall economy. Solar thermal energy expanded by 18.4 percent annually from 2003 to 2010, along with solar photovoltaic power by 10.7 percent, and biofuels by 8.9 percent over the same period. Meanwhile, the U.S. wind energy industry saw 35 percent average annual growth over the past five years, according to the 2010 U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report.
  • In Europe 1.1 million people are employed in renewable energy. Reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Brookings Institute show that this kind of employment has already started to take hold here and shows enormous promise and potential for the future.

3. Clean energy improves grid reliability

  • In Texas a 2011 power emergency was averted due to the state’s commitment to wind farms, which picked up the slack from failing power plants and prevented catastrophe. Tripp Doggett, the chief executive of the nonprofit Electricity Reliability Council of Texas, responsible for controlling the flow of electricity to 23 million consumers in Texas, thanked the wind industry by name for their contribution.
  • We could reach a point where 20 percent of our energy comes from wind with no negative impact on electric grid reliability. Wind power is easier to manage when we have more of it. Case in point: Energy can be predictably delivered across the 350 MW of German wind farms, showing that renewables can be managed well without serious effects to consumers. Spreading wind farms across wider geographic areas, which we are able to do in the United States, would increase predictability even more.
  • Other countries are proving that large-scale integration of renewables is possible, with 21 percent of Denmark’s electricity now coming from wind. There are times when wind power fulfills more than 100 percent of demand in western Denmark.
  • Any additional costs of integration will be small. The “balancing cost,” or how much it costs to provide backup power for a resource, of wind is less than 10 percent of total wind generation costs, and the effect on consumer power price is close to zero.

4. Clean energy investment has surpassed investments in fossil fuels

5. Investments in clean energy are cost effective

  • U.S. government investments in clean energy have been vital to meeting their goals of keeping America on the cutting edge of innovation and competitiveness globally without added risk. The Loan Guarantee Program brought important clean energy projects across the valley of death — the apt description of the financing gap between creating a product and commercializing it — and has helped create a vibrant and valuable market.
  • The production tax credit has successfully lowered the cost of wind power by 90 percent since the 1980s.
  • An independent report conducted by Herb Allison, ex-national finance chairman for John McCain, found the Department of Energy loan guarantee program will cost $2 billion less than initially expected.
  • The five states with most solar and wind installed capacity have actually had the lowest rise in electricity prices from 2005 to 2010. Rate increases in these states were 1.35 cents over five years, against the national average of 1.8 cents.

6. Fossil fuels have gotten 75 times more subsidies than clean energy

  • To date, the oil-and-gas industry received $446.96 billion (adjusted for inflation) in cumulative energy subsidies from 1994 to 2009, whereas renewable energy sources received just $5.93 billion (adjusted for inflation).
  • Renewable energy investments should be put in proper historical perspective. According to the Energy Information Agency, “focusing on a single year’s data does not capture the imbedded effects of subsidies that may have occurred over many years across all energy fuels and technologies.”
  • The U.S. government is showing a smaller commitment to renewables than it showed in the early years of the oil-and-gas industries. A study showed that “during the early years of what would become the U.S. oil and gas industries, federal subsidies for producers averaged half a percent of the federal budget. By contrast, the current support for renewables is barely a fifth that size, just one-tenth of 1 percent of federal spending.”


Renewable energy will be the engine of U.S. economic growth and prosperity for years to come, but it is not without opposition. Leaders in policy and business must get behind the Americans who are and will be empowered by renewable power and work together to overcome market barriers and false information. The facts are in and we should seize this opportunity to put Americans back to work and maintain a place at the cutting edge of innovation and competitiveness.

Adam James is a Special Assistant for Energy Policy at American Progress.

15 Responses to Fact Sheet: 6 Things You Should Know About The Value Of Renewable Energy

  1. Paul Magnus says:

    7. Clean energy is … clean and forever!

  2. Anne van der Bom says:

    Solar thermal energy expanded by 18.4 percent annually from 2003 to 2010, along with solar photovoltaic power by 10.7 percent,

    10.7% CAGR for PV from 2003 – 2010. That is cumulative growh of 103% over these 7 years. That doesn’t pass the smell test.

    Installation figures for what I could find:

    Year – Installed (MW) – Cumulative (MW)
    2009 – 435 – 1200
    2010 – 880 – 2080
    2011 – 1885 – 3965

    So cumulative installed capacity almost tripled from 2008 through 2010 (765 MW –> 2080 MW), while the author would like us to believe it merely doubled from 2003 through 2010.

    Looks like a WSJ job. How well does the author know his subject?

  3. Anne van der Bom says:

    “21 percent of Denmark’s electricity now coming from wind.”

    Denmark generated 27 percent from wind in 2011.

  4. adelady says:

    And we generated 26% of our electricity from wind last year in South Australia. I thought Denmark exceeded that regularly – maybe it was a seasonal or import/export calculation.

  5. David B. Benson says:

    A more careful study will probably demonstrate that wherever wind farms go in natgas burners are sure to follow. That is certainly the case here in the Pacific Northwest.

  6. Hot Rod says:

    Can we stop harping on about fossil subsidies and getting the numbers all wrong? Look at page two of this

    It should be clear from the country names along the bottom, look at the first three alone Iran/Russia/Saudi, that these are not funds going to Exxon et al but countries that produce fossil fuels choosing to dividend to their population by selling below world prices internally – indeed that’s the IEA methodology. They could sell internally at world prices and give a cash rebate, same difference.

    Then watch the Bill Gates video and perhaps have some sympathy for the next two countries, India and China, in choosing to subsidise energy for their populations.

    Then look at ALL the names of subsidising countries and try and find a ‘Western’ one. Hint – you won’t.

  7. Calamity Jean says:

    So? A lot of electricity is generated with natural gas now.

    Adding wind and solar to the power mix will reduce the amount of gas-fired generation, but it will probably take years to reduce it to zero. As part of the transition process, a few more gas burners may need to be built. The important thing is that the gas (and coal) generators spend less and less time running.

  8. Karl Johanson says:

    Some sources are cleaner than others, but there is no clean energy. The UN estimates that smoke from fossil fuels and ‘renewable’ biomass energy is killing around 2.5 million people per year (around 6,850 every day). That’s an older number, so it’s likely higher now. ‘Renewable’ hydro dams have killed hundreds of thousands, due to collapses and other accidents, and due to hemorrhagic fever outbreaks caused by the reservoirs. Two of the solar thermal plants in California (which get a fair amount of their power from natural gas) exploded, near their natural gas tanks, and near tanks of sulfuric acid and caustic soda. The worst solar accident I’ve heard of was a mother and 2 children drowning due to a ‘renewable’ solar pool cover. 3 deaths for around 10 kilowatts of diffuse heat…

  9. jackie chan2 says:

    i found two, Mexico and Argentina.

  10. Hot Rod says:

    Fair enough! Can I slot those into the dividend-paying fossil fuel producer camp then please?

  11. Jaycee says:

    Any time a group or individual gains too much power, it abuses that power and creates corruption and inefficiency. The oil cartels are LOOOOONG past that point, and so the oil-economy is ridiculously expensive for us. The alternative energy people, OTH, are not to that point yet and so costs are significantly lower. In a few years, that picture may change. Why the oil people are fighting so hard against the wind people is obvious from this viewpoint; fear of being cut off from the government teat. Which sounds to me like a good reason to get rid of them. But we must be careful the new boss isn’t the same as the old boss.

  12. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Put the RENEWABLES to WORK: To get inexhaustible,pollution-free energy which cannot be misused.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  13. ibsteve2u says:

    I would observe that in America it is primarily those whose fortunes are tied to Big Carbon that are backing the effort to corrupt – even eliminate – democracy.

    Scratch a right-wing PAC or SuperPAC, and your find an oil man, a coal man, or someone who is in an ancillary industry or who profits by artificially manipulating the price of energy…throw in those whose fortunes are tied to building housing in regions that profit by enforcing America’s addiction to the burning of carbonaceous forms of energy, and you have the backbone of the nefarious group that we politely call “the right”.

    If you have any fondness whatsoever for the vision of America’s Founding Fathers, you cannot help but see alternative energy as a means of freeing American from the encroachment of unrestrained capitalism and the private taxes that monopolies such as energy levy.

  14. Mostly missing from this discussion is the huge potential impact of CSP — concentrated solar power (AKA solar thermal) — with heat storage in molten salts. CSP plants can run 24/7 because the stored heat produces electricity throughout the night — up to 15 hours in a plant that’s already operating in Spain.

    Power from these plants can be transmitted via high tension DC lines with only a 10 percent voltage drop in 1500 miles. There is way more than enough sunlight in the Southwest to provide backup power for the entire country.

    This will obviate the need for fossil-fuel backup for renewables.

    Check out the Desertec website for more information.

    And thanks, by the way, for not including nuclear in “clean” energy sources.

  15. Kent Otho Doering says:

    I second the recommendations by Philip Wenz. However, there are other technologies: deep geothermal, shallow geothermic, power management systems, building energy management systems, opposed magnet field aided motors and power generation, brown´s gas and steam ignition – aqueous fuels systems, that cut fossil fuel consumption while increasing performance.

    Merely replacing all older appliances- i.e. refigerators and air conditioners – or at least replacing their motors-(especially in elevators and escalators) with a +++ rated motors… would slash domestic and commercial power consumption by up to 50%.

    Further cuts can be achieved by power management systems.

    Most installed generators are older with lower efficiencies. Some are close to a century old with very low efficiencies. Replacing all older generators with A +++ rated generators would boost efficiencies by at least 50%, i.e.: 50% more power out of the same mechanical imput.

    As for transportation, old and new aqueous fuels technologies enable up to 100% cuts in consumption (brown´s gas systems, water-fuel emulsion systems, internal combustion- magnetic resonance ionized steam combustion systems (in conjunction with brown´s gas” will change equations in conjunction with electro-catalytic demineralisation systems which make them even feasible.

    The front-end near future of renewables will be mostly in bio waste gas systems and aqueous fuels systems because they are so available and very cheap.

    Imagine replacing the heating oil furnace on an American woold frame single family dwelling with a small, internal combustion engine running 90% on aqueous fuel systems.driving a three to four kilowatt generator… with the exhaust heat providing the home heat and hot water. Imagine it being installed and leased by VW and the participating utilities, or Honda and particapting utilities. For larger, multiple family units, imagine a four cylinder VW Blue motion engine, running 90% aqueous systems, 10% natural gas, for building power, heat and hot water… in the winter when the sun cannot provide electricity and heat (there is always geothermal)

    A look at the revised German building codes would reveal a few surprises. They mandate:
    1. extensive insulation.
    2. building passive heat collection-retention.
    2. hook up to urban long distance heat hot water lines where ever possible or
    passive solar heat collection.
    4. active combined solar heat and geothermal systems.
    4. deep winter augmented systems- but with mandated coupled co-generation “blockhouse” systems, i.e.: either fuel cell heat augmenting systems, internal combustion engine augmenting systems. or Stirling motor power and heat augmenting systems.

    Then there are the methane recapture systems. Methane has a greenhouse warming effect 29 times higher than co² so it makes sense to burn it. German farms are now starting to be equipped with silo, cesspool, and manure methane recapture systems- burnt on either fuel cells or in internal combustion engines- in addition to solar heat, solar voltaic, and wind systems.
    An average mixed production small family farm -grain – dairy- will be able to generate up to 100 to 150 kw in aqueous aided- methane recapture power- (and heat). By cutting methane with magnetic resonance steam ignition on fuel cells- the systems will have sufficient power to generate additional hydrogen- and mix that with excess methane going into the gas grid.

    When all German farms are equipped with local wind, solar, solar heat, methane recapture, hydrogen generation- we can expect reliable 24/7/52 p.g. Not only that, they will have the suprplus power to hydrogen enrich cow manure and run that though a “pressure cooker system” for bio-waste crude.

    I am amazed at how the U.S. discussions manage to overlook aqueous fuel systems, bio-waste systems,heat recapture systems, power management systems, building energy management systems, motor and generator upgrade potential savings. There is a broad syneergy of measures that can be applied for cutting fossil fuel consumption while increasing performance.

    Take another example: penta-poly combined cycle systems- 1 nat gas- ionized steam ignition powered – gas turbine cycle,2 rankine steam turbine cycle, 3 kalinka ammonia turbine cycle system, 4 deuterium gas heat modulator- alpha stirling cycle, 5 tubular turbo-thermo-coupling Doering cycle. Now imagine 4 of those five cycles also equipped with Howard R. Johnson opposed magnet field motor – generators- added to the A ++++ rated generators for even more power output.
    The U.S. also has enormous potentials for anchored floating, hydro-electric.