The main argument for U.S. energy independence based on renewables, other than the environmental, is economic. Investing heavily in renewable energy in the U.S. can not only create jobs but create better jobs. While wind and solar are rapidly growing industries, much of the current job growth in the U.S is coming from the restaurant industry and the medical industry, and many of these jobs are either low-paying or require a large amount of schooling to do. Jobs in renewables tend to be skilled, so they are higher paying than restaurant jobs, but don’t require as many years of expensive schooling as a higher-paid medical position. In addition, jobs in the renewable branch of the energy sector are safer and healthier for workers than jobs in the coal and oil industries.
In addition to adding jobs in the renewables sector, some economists predict a shift back to American manufacturing as American shale pushes energy prices down, making it possible for American manufacturers to compete with the E.U. and Asia in the face of rising energy costs (E.U.) and wages (China). While it’s great to hear that manufacturing jobs may be coming back to American shores, it must be pointed out that shale production will eventually slow and then stop altogether, leaving American scrambling for a new source of cheap energy to prevent losing manufacturing once again. As Richard Anderson from the BBC points out, “Remember also that shale oil and gas are finite fossil fuels. If the US is to achieve energy independence in perpetuity, it will need to do so using renewables.” Shale is a temporary solution to American energy needs, and both the public and private sectors should take the time provided by shale use to further research and invest in renewable energy, ensuring American energy independence is a steady state and not just a brief blip.
Nathan Jovanelly, of IGS Energy in Harrisburg, Pa., agrees. IGS started 30 years ago focused on selling gas commodity but has evolved its vision to include renewable energy, a solution that, Jovanelly says, “gets right into the future of energy.” “Natural gas is a bridge fuel,”he notes. “Solar and wind have reached an inflection point and are getting cheaper. Energy independence is an economic benefit to the country.”
Increased energy independence could also help lessen the U.S. trade deficit. According to Paul Dales of Capital Economics as quoted by Richard Anderson, because the U.S’ oil import bill makes up about 2% of the country’s annual economic growth and its economy averages about 2% growth per year, “the annual benefits [of energy independence] over the next 10-20 years would range from 0.2%-0.1%,” a small but not insignificant amount. Switching from foreign oil to renewables could also save money domestically, as renewable prices are predictable and stable over much longer periods than oil. Renewables can also act as a money maker for farmers and landowners, as renting land out to wind and solar companies is a more reliable form of income than crops, allowing farmers to supplement their incomes in poor harvest years.
The most unexpected yet important effect of U.S. energy independence may be greater national security. Lack of reliance on foreign oil could mean huge gains in safety both within our borders and abroad. Within our borders, switching to renewable energy especially energy unattached to the grid, can protect us from cyber attacks that may knock out our traditional energy systems. The U.S. military is already working to increase their renewable portfolio, with Fort Hood in Texas getting nearly 50% of its energy from on-base renewables. This allows the base not only to keep functioning in the face of a possible attack on the U.S. energy grid but also is projected to save $100 million in the next 30 years. Renewables also help manage energy costs and their price can be projected out over several decades, whereas foreign oil changes year to year, month to month, and even day to day.
Abroad, reducing dependence on foreign oil could help stem terrorist attacks and overall terrorist activity. Many terrorist organizations are dependent on oil money to fund their operations and spread their message around the globe. According to Steve Yetiv at the Christian Science Monitor, investing in renewable energy to reduce oil dependence while supporting economic development in the Middle East outside of oil is key to reducing terrorist activity.
In addition to protecting us from terrorism, renewable energy can also aid U.S. national security interests by increasing resilience. A terrorist attack is not the only event that could knock out the energy grid, and not even the most likely: that would be a natural disaster.
Natural disasters such as tornadoes, flood, earthquakes, and hurricanes can take out large swatches of the grid for long periods of time, putting people in danger. An excellent example of this is in hospitals, which rely on consistent, uninterrupted electricity to run life-sustaining systems. In the past, outages have resulted in deaths for patients on life support or ventilators. Renewable energy, as a backup or main energy source, could help prevent this. “This isn’t too long after Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey, and everyone wants that independence, that resiliency,” says Jovanelly of IGS, talking about his own company’s shift into solar and their explorations of battery storage in Ohio. In today’s interconnected and energy-dependent world, energy independence may be the key to stability and resiliency in the face of unexpected disaster.