By Gregory Wetstone
February 23, 2022
As we arrive at ACORE’s 20th anniversary, it seems timely to reflect on how much things have changed since the nation’s first pan-renewable nonprofit organization was founded. ACORE’s initial mission when the organization launched in 2001 was “to bring all forms of renewable energy into the mainstream of America’s economy and lifestyle.”
Just three years later, the organization and its members were ready to move to a bigger scale. And so ACORE kicked off its Power-Gen Renewable Energy conference and trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, by boldly declaring 2004, “the start of the Commercial Age of Renewable Energy in America.” This declaration prompted spontaneous applause from the hundreds of attendees, who represented pioneering renewable energy companies around the world at an exciting turning point for the sector. At that time, fewer than 400 megawatts of solar power and 7 gigawatts of wind power had been installed in the United States.
Since the early 1970s, the United States had invested over $14 billion in renewable energy research, development and demonstration (RD&D) programs, culminating in the creation of “an initial inventory of new technology options” led by solar PV and large-scale wind turbines.
ACORE members believed it was time to shift the sector’s focus toward refinement and widespread utilization of these emerging technologies:
“While there is a tremendous amount of continuing RD&D to be done to advance the performance, extend the lives, raise the reliability, and lower the costs of these and other new technologies that can address America’s energy challenges, ACORE believes that it is time to declare success on the development of these technology options, and calls for ‘Phase II’ with a new and exciting focus on putting the technologies to use across our society.”
– Renewable Energy in America: the Call for Phase II (American Council on Renewable Energy, 2004)
In the years that followed, renewable energy investment and deployment skyrocketed. And that booming growth has continued to the point that today we can celebrate some remarkable milestones:
- Private-sector investment in U.S. renewable energy has reached roughly $600 billion.
- The U.S. has deployed 260 gigawatts of renewable energy onto the grid.
- Corporate buyers have purchased 63 gigawatts of clean energy from U.S. renewable energy projects.
- Renewable energy now accounts for over 21% of U.S. electricity generation, up from 9% in 2002.
- The levelized cost of wind and solar power decreased by 72% and 90%, respectively, during the 2010s.
- The renewable energy sector has become a significant source of good-paying jobs, with over 516,000 Americans working today in the renewables industry.
On the heels of such extraordinary growth, there is no longer any question whether renewable energy is part of the mainstream. Instead, our focus at ACORE is on how quickly we can complete a just transition to the clean energy economy Americans are clamoring for.
We recognize that our mission has taken on a new urgency. In the years since ACORE’s founding, scientists have reached clear consensus that human-produced greenhouse gas emissions are imperiling our planet’s climate, and that America’s power sector is both a major source of such harmful emissions and a uniquely pragmatic avenue for the achievement of dramatic emission reductions. Unfortunately, scientists also tell us that we have just a few precious years to accelerate the transition to carbon-free sources of electricity to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
ACORE and our members understand the importance of this moment and what must be done to meet it. Our top three priorities, to borrow a phrase from clean energy champion and U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, are “deploy, deploy, and deploy.”
ACORE is committed to promoting and defending the essential policies and financial structures necessary for accelerated renewable energy growth. Our agenda reflects the reality that our rapidly evolving energy mix requires a 21st-century Macro Grid to connect our largest population centers with our lowest-cost renewable resources, and that we must dramatically increase the use of enabling grid technologies like energy storage. Along the way, we champion enhanced wholesale power market designs that better value the economic, reliability and climate contributions of renewable energy, energy storage, and distributed generation. And we are making it a priority to ensure that the booming trend in sustainability investment, and related ESG , will deliver the increased investment we need to decarbonize our economy.
This is an important and sweeping agenda, but it is made easier because we have the economics, the science and the technology on our side as we work to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. We are also very fortunate to approach these challenges with an engaged and influential membership, which has been critical to ACORE’s effectiveness as we look back on 20 years of progress.
And how exactly do we most effectively move forward from here? For perspectives on that critical question, we hope you’ll join senior leaders from across government and the renewable energy industry at the ACORE Policy Forum on March 24 in Washington, D.C. We’ll be focusing on climate policy, regulatory priorities, grid advocacy, and equity in the transition to a renewable energy economy. To register for the ACORE Policy Forum, and help us plan for the next 20 years, please click here.
We also invite you to join us the evening prior to the Policy Forum for ACORE’s 20th Anniversary Gala. The Gala will bring together leaders from across the renewable energy sector to celebrate ACORE’s 20 years of progress and success. More information on the Gala and how to attend can be found here.