As one of the world’s most vibrant innovation hubs, it is incumbent upon Massachusetts to invest in clean energy to address climate change and grow our economy. Although gas prices are relatively low right now, we need to focus on expansive, long-term thinking as the state crafts a strategic, clean energy plan.
Massachusetts is home to game-changing, ambitious work in life sciences and information technology. Our clean energy sector continues to churn out amazing startups as well. Just look at two of this year’s InnovateMass awardees: Resolute Marine Energy Inc. uses ocean waves to generate clean energy and WindESCo leverages Internet of Things (IoT) technology to make wind turbines more efficient. Powering our economy through waves and wind is the way of the future.
The benefits of energy innovation are threefold: cleaner energy reduces our impact on climate change, innovation in our electrical grid has the potential to lower energy costs and, finally, we can create new jobs and drive economic growth. Massachusetts’ clean energy industry boasts nearly 100,000 jobs including skilled laborers, electricians, accounting analysts, marketing coordinators, business operations specialists, control systems engineers, and lead scientists. Those are accessible, middle and high skill jobs, putting our citizens to work.
Beacon Hill faces a long list of issues warranting attention, but clean energy must be a priority. Tesla founder and CEO, Elon Musk, recently observed “How can people argue against the move towards renewable energy? To argue that is to say that eventually we will run out of energy and die or civilization will collapse.” Happily, death and the end of civilization are not imminent, but the threat of falling short of our legally mandated clean energy requirements is. Massachusetts must reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, an ambitious and important requirement that will be tough to meet without aggressive investments in clean energy.
Business and legislative leaders alike are paying attention to this important topic. One of the smartest strategies to hit those targets is for Massachusetts to continue to lead on energy efficiency. In 2015, Massachusetts was named the most energy efficient state by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy for the fifth straight year. But California — in the No. 2 slot and with a “most improved” designation — is nipping at our heels. New York is anxious to become the top state for offshore wind — and it will be if we don’t move quickly.
On the international scene, we lag behind much of the rest of the world on clean energy. In 2014, Germany had more than double our nation’s solar PV capacity, and China had more than double our installed wind capacity. It is important that we step up our efforts. The greatest savings to consumers can come from investing in energy efficiency and demand response that allow customers to use less energy and that will incentive energy users to reduce consumption when demand for power is the highest.
As important as efficiency and conservation are, they alone will not meet the challenge. The House recently voted on a highly-anticipated energy bill, and the Senate will debate their version on Thursday. As the bill works it way through the halls of the State House, now is the time for our leaders to do what Massachusetts does best: innovate and think big. Think big about how much clean energy providers are required to purchase as we pursue the combination of hydro power, renewables and offshore wind as future power sources. Today, just 11% of our electricity comes from renewable sources, increasing only 1% per year. For comparison, California’s requirement will hit 50 percent by 2030, double what Massachusetts would be without action. Think big about energy storage, and innovate around how our grid works. Storage reduces peak demand, drives down costs, and helps leverage other investments in renewables and efficiency.
The time to act is now. We must innovate and think big. Massachusetts can reaffirm its place as a leader on promoting clean energy and tackling our climate change goals, while showing that a strong economy and environmental responsibility go hand in hand. Meeting our climate change requirements will require spurring innovation and will produce economic growth, and high quality jobs in diverse fields. It’s clear that clean energy is the way of the future and it’s clear the future is within Massachusetts grasp.
Jeff Bussgang is a venture capital investor, entrepreneur and author. He is also co-founder and chair of The Alliance for Business Leadership, a coalition of progressive business leaders. Sen. Ben Downing serves as the Massachusetts Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy.