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In 2017, the U.S. was number two in the top ten solar producers of the world. China was number one. In 2016, statistics from the International Energy Agency (IEA) show that China installed over 34 gigawatts of solar capacity. That amount is more than double the solar capacity installed in the United States that year. There are several reasons for that.
One reason is China’s huge agricultural industry, which is in rural areas not easily connected to the grid. The country’s energy consumption level also increased by 5% in 2016. Meeting increased demand is another factor driving the rapid growth of solar energy there.
Competition and Comparison
There are some benefits to competition. It can help individuals, businesses, and nations discover their strengths and weaknesses. It can inspire creativity. Losing a competition can teach valuable lessons about needed improvements as well as how to behave gracefully even while suffering disappointment. Perhaps most importantly, it can teach us about what we need to prioritize in our lives. Competition relies on comparison, and competitors are ranked by number according to set criteria.
While the U.S. is currently ranked at number two in the global competition towards becoming the solar energy leader, it is much further behind in other important comparisons. For example, the set criteria used to determine the best countries to live in include entrepreneurship and quality of life, among other things. For 2018, American ranked number one only in economic and military power. In quality of life, it was ranked much lower–at number 17.
The criteria used to determine quality of life scores included economic and political stability, cost of living, the quality and accessibility of public health and education, and income equality. Transitioning to solar energy would raise U.S. scores in all of these area. Solar energy reduces the disproportionate political power wielded by oil companies, increases air and water quality, and reduces energy costs.
Competition Versus Cooperation
Many experts believe that cooperation, rather than competition, with China is the best way to achieve our solar energy goals. This viewis supported by Elizabeth Sahtouris, an evolutionary biologist, who argues that “Darwin was right about species competing for resources but he never saw beyond it as just one stage in the maturation cycle. Evolution proceeded when crises created by species forced them to go beyond “survival of the fittest” and find cooperative strategies for survival.”
The recent court ruling to impose tariffs of up to 30% on solar panels manufactured in China is anything but cooperative. It has yet to be seen if the ruling will result in an increase of solar panel manufacturing plants, (and green energy jobs) in the U.S. Unfortunately,industry experts predict a loss of up to 23,000 jobs in 2018 as a result of the tariffs. Further, the current number of solar cell manufacturers in the U.S. is not sufficient to meet the demand caused by the drop in the cost of solar panels. Analysts at GTM Research also predict that the tariffs will cause a decline in the amount of installed solar capacity of 11% over the next five years.
Increasingly, political power is shifting from individual nations to multinational corporations. In 2016, the World Economic Forumcompared the economies of global corporations to those of individual nations. The comparison revealed the disturbing fact that international corporations now have income revenue greater than the tax revenue of nations. Even more disturbing is that many of those corporations are oil companies. For example, Royal Dutch Shell revenues exceed the tax revenues of both Mexico and Sweden. Exxon Mobil revenues exceed the tax revenues of India. BP’s revenues exceed the government revenues of Norway, Switzerland, and Russia. These revenues afford the oil industry a disproportionate amount of political power worldwide.
One of the primary purposes of government is to ensure the well-being of its citizens by distributing wealth of a nation in a way that benefits the society as a whole. Historically, the primary purpose of a corporation has been to simply make a profit. Fortunately, many corporations are now recognizing the concept of social responsibility. Just as citizens vote for leaders who best represent their values, consumers “vote” for companies who represent their values by buying their products. They also vote against companies that they feel violate those values by boycotting their products.
The best leaders lead by example. This is as true within individual families as it is within nations and corporations. Any leadership that relies on the maxim “Do as I say, and not as I do”, is ineffective at best and destructive at worst. The U.S. can, by becoming the global solar energy leader, improve its rankings as one of the best places in the world to live. It can more effectively address the issues that negatively affect our quality of life, such as economic inequality and racial tensions.
Transitioning to solar energy doesn’t just result in cleaner air and water. It also results in lower energy costs, and those cost savings can then be invested in projects that improve the quality of life equally for all of its citizens. Greater energy independence means greater political independence. Being the world’s solar energy leader would be an example we could take pride in setting for the rest of the world to follow. Perhaps most importantly, it would help re-define what “winning” really means.