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Clean Energy Analyst: Renewables Are 'Here To Stay' Under Trump Presidency


For the last eight years, President Obama has put the weight of the executive branch behind clean energy. Donald Trump emphasizes fossil fuels instead. That does not mean the end of renewables, though. Many clean energy analysts say wind and solar power have enough momentum to keep growing, even without encouragement from the Trump administration. Amy Myers Jaffe is executive director for energy and sustainability at the University of California, Davis. Welcome to the program.

AMY MYERS JAFFE: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: So when President Obama took office, wind and solar energy were much more expensive than fossil fuels, and government incentives helped encourage companies to invest in renewables. Today, does that cost gap between fossil fuels and renewables still exist?

JAFFE: You know, it varies from technology to technology. Obviously the subsidies help the sector, but in the end, in some markets, solar is competitive against natural gas and wind is competitive. And I think that what we're going to see over time is that even for states that we all might characterize as red states, they still have the incentive to offer renewable energy as part of their electricity grid because many Fortune 500 companies find that saying they've made a pledge to go 100 percent renewables is material to their business.

SHAPIRO: And so how big a driving force is the private sector? What kind of commitments have we seen, and are those likely to change depending on the government?

JAFFE: I think those commitments are here to stay. They're huge commitments made by companies like Wal-Mart and Google and Apple. So if you're a state, you basically have to offer renewable energy to those corporations. And I don't see that changing, regardless of whether the Trump administration focuses on the fossil fuel sector or not.

SHAPIRO: I've heard a lot of people say oh, well, now that Donald Trump has won the election, there's no chance of the U.S. upholding the commitments that it made at the Paris climate summit to limit carbon emissions. Do you think there actually is a chance of the U.S. upholding those commitments under a President Trump?

JAFFE: A lot of these kinds of policies are made on a state-by-state basis. And so the United States may not get to 100 percent of the commitment that President Obama made, but, you know, we do know that renewable energy is being adopted in the United States faster than expected.

And so the best way for the coal industry to address the cost pressures of very cheap natural gas and increasingly cheap solar energy is actually to automate and go to robotics. And so all these coal jobs that people think might come back might actually still be jobs where you have to retool and learn how to use a computer. So I think when we get to the real meat, there's going to be less than meets the eye.

SHAPIRO: So if you take a step back and look long range, what impact do you expect a Trump administration to have on the future of clean energy in the U.S.?

JAFFE: You know, it could slow it down a little bit, but this is the analogy - I was just giving a speech in Houston to the oil industry and this is what I said. If for the next four years President-elect Trump would announce that everyone in the United States is going back to a landline and we can't use smartphones anymore, it wouldn't slow smartphones down. All that would happen is we would waste a lot of money spent on having landlines.

But truly, it becomes a jobs issue. It becomes a competition issue. It becomes a national security issue. So even if we make this detour, it will be just a detour. You know, the train has left the station. We're going to those technologies, and we'll either going to them very quickly, if the administration realizes there's a sort of a national security jobs implication and they should get behind it, or we will go to it as the market dictates without assistance. But we are definitely going to it.

SHAPIRO: Amy Myers Jaffe is executive director for energy and sustainability at the University of California, Davis. Thanks for speaking with us.

JAFFE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.