The International Energy Agency has just published its IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives 2023 report, in which the IEA states that clean energy manufacturing is primed for substantial growth as world enters a “new industrial age.” The report published an estimate that clean technology manufacturing could soon be worth “hundreds of billions of dollars per year.” Across the globe, there has been a major (roughly 50%) increase in investment in clean energy. The IEA is reporting that today’s clean energy investment across the globe of 1.3 trillion U.S. dollars will rise to roughly 2 trillion dollars, in only a few years.
This incredible growth in investment in sustainable technologies will boost growth in the energy sector and in auto manufacturing with the transition to EVs. Plus, it will contribute to growth in available products in solar, hydrogen, nuclear and wind power.
How quickly is sustainable energy growing in the U.S.? China is currently dominating the production and trade of most clean energies currently, but the U.S.’s recent Inflation Reduction Act and other energy bills are encouraging investment in U.S. energy infrastructure and clean energy manufacturing, so the U.S. is expected to become a major center of sustainable energy usage and manufacturing in the coming decade. Will current supply chain issues affect the growth of this budding sustainable industry? Here is the state of clean energy in the U.S., and where it is expected to go in the near future.
The current state of clean energy in the U.S.
The IEA’s report referred to “the dawn of a new industrial age,” and examined the state of manufacturing for wind turbines, heat pumps, batteries for electric vehicles, solar panels and electrolyzers for hydrogen power. The conclusion of the report was that “the global market for key mass-manufactured clean energy technologies” will be worth about $650 billion per year by 2030, a more than three-fold increase in size from today’s clean energy industry. And unlike previous reports from other outlets, this change is predicted to happen this decade, not half a century in the future. It is already happening now.
“The related clean energy manufacturing jobs would more than double from 6 million today to nearly 14 million by 2030 and further rapid industrial and employment growth is expected in the following decades as transitions progress,” the IEA said.
For comparison, eight million is the same number of jobs lost in 2 years at the beginning of the Great Recession. In March of 2021, by contrast, there were eight million job openings available as the COVID-19 pandemic shuffled the job market to remote and more flexible work arrangements, the peak of demand for talent. That’s a lot of jobs.
Diversifying the supply chain for clean technologies would help bolster and protect the growth of the clean energy industry. But there are other challenges to this new industry’s rapid rise.
Challenges to clean energy industry growth
A notable recent challenge surely is still the supply chain instability. Disruptions to supply chains have been legendary in recent years due to COVID-19 disrupting manufacturing supply lines and facility operations. The IEA report warned of “potentially risky levels of concentration in clean energy supply chains — both for the manufacturing of technologies and the materials on which they rely.”
The U.S. also will see China as a competitor for production of clean energy technologies and market control of global energy consumers, as it currently dominates 70% of both clean production and clean energy markets. World leaders have focused on their own country’s plans for energy independence, rather than working together globally to solve climate change. Competitive markets, while great for inspiring competitive product development, waste a lot of time and resources when countries need to compete over energy market control rather than collaborate. As climate change worsens, it is likely to cause more civil unrest, which further complicates the issue.
Also problematic is the mining for rare minerals and metals critical to current battery technology to power clean energy devices. This mining is concentrated in a small number of countries, which leads to instability in the supply chain if mining runs dry or is interrupted by natural disasters or geopolitical conflict. The Democratic Republic of Congo produces over 70% of the world’s cobalt, and just three countries — Australia, Chile and China — account for more than 90% of global lithium production. What could help in this case is the development of technologies that don’t rely on rare materials, the science to synthesize needed materials, or the improvement of battery technologies to be more efficient, which is in progress.
what could change in the new industrial age
So where do we go in the new industrial age? Clean energy is predicted to change nearly everything about how we live, which isn’t a bad comparison with the last century’s rise of factories, the automobile, and unionized workers. Clean energy will change everything: the balance of global power, the way we move and cook and harvest electricity, how interdependent we are and our awareness of our impact on the planet. Here’s to hoping that the new industrial age will look like flying cars that make not one speck of pollution. It really could be coming this time. Maybe by 2030?
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