We are committed over the long term to a global energy transition. The aim is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and to develop structures based on renewable and more efficient energy sources. This profound change has many positive aspects: job creation, lower air pollution, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, reduced exposure to the risks associated with the extraction, storage and transport of fossil fuels. It also gives individuals, households and communities greater control over their energy systems. The next President of the United States will, of course, have a critical role to play in how the country approaches this transition.
Aew renewables are growing rapidly and are causing social and institutional changes energy use in power grids, buildings and transport. Two types of measures influence the speed at which the United States will shift from fossil fuels to renewables: those that support energy efficiency and renewables; and those that weaken support for and use of fossil fuels.
On these issues, there are very clear differences between the programs of the current White House candidates.
On the Republican side
Most of the main Republican candidates reject the existence of a causal link between the use of fossil fuels and climate change; they strongly support fossil fuels and oppose the development of renewable energies.
Donald Trump has repeatedly said he didn't believe to climate change, calling it hoax. Trump did not really provide a substantive analysis of the issue, stating only that wind turbines were fatal to birds. In fact, he attempted to block - without winning its case - the construction of offshore wind turbines near one of its golf hotels in Scotland, arguing that they would spoil the view and risk damaging tourism.
Senator Ted Cruz has called climate change "the greatest threat to our planet". "pseudo-scientific theory". Fierce defender of a energy strategy firing all kinds of wood, he called for the end of all grants and criticized the Obama administration for stating a "war" to coal, oil and natural gas. Although it represents Texas, the state with the greatest wind energy potential, Cruz has never recognized the opportunities for a renewable energy transition.
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If Senator Marco Rubio has stated that he believes in the existence of climate changeHowever, he denies that the latter is anthropogenic. Rubio has made public a detailed plan focused on making the United States energy independent from Middle Eastern oil through energy efficiency and domestic fossil fuel production.
Cruz and Rubio voted against Extending tax credits for wind energy production, supporting the development of rooftop solar installations and introducing a target of 25 % of electricity consumed in the United States from renewable sources by 2025.
Unlike the other Republican candidates, John Kasich... has shown concern by climate change. But this grandson of a coal miner has no plans to reduce the use of fossil fuels, even though he has promoted carbon capture and storage to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.
His plan s Energy Policy presents reliable and cheap energy resources as the "backbone" of the US economy, supporting the diversification of production sources, including a very large share of fossil fuels, nuclear and renewable energies. Kasich said he supports increased oil and gas production on federal lands, the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and the cancellation of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan to limit carbon emissions from power plants.
On the Democratic side
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders say it is urgent for the United States to accelerate its transition to clean and sustainable energy. They say this transition will create jobs and help mitigate the effects of climate change.
Clinton set two key objectives for the development of sustainable energies. First of all, it has declared its wish to see 50 million solar panels installed by the end of its mandate, i.e. 7 times more than the current number. But solar energy is already growing rapidly in the United States - more 17 % in 2015 - that promise may well come true on its own. Clinton also said that within 10 years of taking office, the United States will produce enough renewable energy to power every home in the country.
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Clinton emphasized the importance of benefiting communities low-income of efficient and renewable energy; it also called for a plan for modernising infrastructure The Group's activities in the United States include investments in hydroelectricity and the modernization of the power grid. In its campaign launch speech, it declared itself in favour of a rise fees and royalties on fossil fuel production, the money raised would be invested in a clean energy transition. Clinton supports tax credits for wind and solar energy production.
Of all the leading candidates, Bernie Sanders was the one who made the proposals the most advanced to reach 100 % of renewable energy production, tax carbon and leave fossil fuels on the ground. Sanders relied on statements from the Pope Francis which considers that the abandonment of fossil fuels is a moral imperative for the planet.
In the Senate, Sanders proposed several bills to develop access to renewable energies (Low-Income Solar Act, Residential Energy Savings Act, Green Jobs Act). He also proposed a bill to prohibit all new leases of fossil fuel production on state-owned land. Like Clinton, he supports tax credits for wind and solar power generation.
But the fossil fuel industry is very powerful in the United States: they provide more than 80 % of the country's total energy consumption. It is therefore not surprising that few candidates dare to oppose it head-on.
If Clinton and Sanders both claim stricter regulation of hydraulic fracturing, Sanders has also proposed a series of specific actions to limit this practice. Clinton and Sanders regret that some of their colleagues do not recognise the link between fossil fuel combustion and climate change.
Thinking about energy differently
Moving towards more efficient and renewable energy systems is undoubtedly a venture that involves risks and uncertainties. From works studies on energy transitions suggest that actors currently benefiting from the fossil fuel regime feel increasingly threatened and that their resistance is likely to intensify.
The transition to renewable energy is fundamentally changing the way we produce, use and distribute energy. It will reassess and rethink the cultural and institutional foundations of energy planning. Advances in the fields of solar energy (especially rooftop), storage and electric vehicles have opened up new possibilities for the management of a decentralized energy system.
As utilities, renewables entrepreneurs, communities and customers gain more experience, it is becoming easier to turn our backs on old beliefs that alternative energy is more limited than fossil fuels. As we have seen, in the presidential race, Democratic candidates are clearly emphasizing the positive potential of the inevitable U.S. transition to renewable energy systems, while Republican candidates are resisting change and clinging to the structures and reflexes of the fossil fuel era.
Jennie C. StephensAssociate Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy, University of Vermont
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