Fossil fuels are in favor in Washington DC these days, with new opportunities for coal mining and oil and gas drilling. But markets ultimately drive decisions, and green energy is slowly but surely becoming price competitive with brown energy.
James Redford is an award-winning documentary filmmaker (and the son of actor Robert Redford). His forthcoming HBO film, Happening, explores the revolution taking place in the clean energy industry.
“Solar arises initially as this cute thing that’s easy to greenwash that the existing utilities can pet and approve,” says Redford, explaining how solar energy faced uphill battles in places like Nevada, where the state-owned utility sought to drive rooftop solar out of the state. More recent legislation, however, has reversed decisions made by the Nevada utilities commission to the favor of rooftop.”
Redford notes that politicians and consumers alike are discovering more and more how policies that favor renewable energy translate into tax revenue and jobs. “People want clean energy,” he says, “and a lot of corporations are feeling pressure to deliver the goods in that way to their constituents and their customers.
But while states may be embracing clean energy, the federal government has taken the opposite tack. As to whether the current administration could actually slow the growth of green energy with its embrace of fossil fuels, Gia Schneider, CEO of Natel Energy, a hydropower startup, says the numbers are now decidedly in favor of renewable energy.
“Overall the industry has made such strides coming down the cost curve over the last decade in particular on solar and on wind,” she explains. “The economic rationale exists now and the arguments in the past that it was too expensive or more expensive, I really think the economics say otherwise.”
But what about investors who hesitate when it comes to renewables, given the failures of would-be solar superstars like Solyndra? “Those that know the industry know that this is one of the greatest wealth generating opportunities in the history of humanity, not just in our lifetime,” says Emily Kirsch, co-founder and CEO of Powerhouse, which helps solar entrepreneurs with money and advice.
Kirsch points out that it’s not just professional investors who are embracing renewables. “Things change when consumers demand that they change,” she notes, “and we’re seeing incredible divestments in fossil fuels from university endowments and pension funds and a move to renewables.” She adds, “when business is on board when we’re creating jobs, the industry is unstoppable.”