Meeting global climate goals will require a massive increase and acceleration of green energy production capacity and infrastructure. The scale of this challenge is unprecedented, and we have a lot to lose by getting it wrong. Changing the basis of the global economy – carbon-based fossil fuels – is scary and will inevitably have hiccups. Finding the right balance between decarbonization and energy security will therefore be essential to a successful clean energy transition.
Right now, the climate for energy security is particularly tricky. Years of volatility from the Covid-19 pandemic have been compounded by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Europe’s dependence on Russia to keep the lights on has plunged the European Union into an energy crisis as the war in Ukraine rages on and the flow of energy from the Kremlin (or lack thereof) becomes a strategic bargaining chip.
And in our globalized and interconnected world, a crisis in Europe is actually a global crisis. Both Covid-19 and the current energy crisis have thrown the vulnerabilities of global supply chains into a harsh spotlight, and global geopolitics are shifting accordingly. We are increasingly seeing a move away from globalization and free trade toward nationalism, protectionism, and “friend-shoring,” in which countries limit their economic and trade partnerships to countries with similar values and strong alliances.
There is now a renewed focus on the relative resilience of short supply chains, both in policy and research circles. And some of the arguments for keeping supply lines short and simple are compelling. In one example, a new study from Cornell University finds that nationalizing United States solar energy supply chains would greatly reduce their carbon footprint and energy use.
In a study published in Nature Communications, a team of researchers from Cornell Engineering found that if the U.S. were able to transition to manufacturing all of its own solar panels by 2035, this would cut emissions by 30% and reduce energy consumption by 13%, compared to 2020 when imports were at an all-time high. Producing solar panels on its own hom turd would reduce cost and emissions of shipping the panels from overseas, and will reduce lag times as well. Working within a smaller geographic area with fewer middle men will allow solar panels to get connected to the grid faster. And the timing has never been better for beefing up domestic green energy manufacturing, as Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act has put forward billions of dollars of subsidies and incentives for doing just that.
Fengqi You, a co-author of the study, explained in a press release that “the US will see a larger share of renewable power accounting for primary energy consumption and an overall lower primary energy consumption over the years for solar panel manufacturing.” And lower greenhouse gas emissions in the United States is good news for everyone, everywhere. The United States is the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, behind China. Together, China, India, and the U.S. contribute 42.6% of total emissions, while the bottom 100 countries (that’s more than half of all countries in the world) account for just 2.9% all together.
The authors also contend that re-shoring solar panel supply chains would help to rectify some of the significant setbacks that the solar industry is currently facing. These hurdles include massive delays thanks to supply chain bottlenecks, trade tensions, bureaucratic red tape, securing sufficient land tracts, and delays in connecting to the grid. Furthermore, the U.S. currently relies on China for at least 80% of its solar panels, which is frightfully reminiscent of the European Union’s reliance on that other volatile authoritarian regime. And we’ve all seen what can happen when diplomatic relations fail and a tyrant holds all the supply chain leverage.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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