Will Paris Exit Harm U.S. ‘Clean Tech’ Firms?

We’ve heard it for months. If President Trump pulls out of the Paris Agreement, America will be “hobbled in the global race for clean energy businesses and jobs,” as one eco-group leader recently put it. An article yesterday in E&E News by four reporters suggests that such claims are alarmist.

Energy storage. “Energy storage is a hot new industry, and America has become its innovation engine—creating some of the best new products, software and business models that are starting to make energy storage a moneymaker,” writes David Ferris. Some worry exiting Paris will bias foreign governments against U.S. firms. But why would they if U.S. firms make quality products at competitive prices?

Other countries are “probably savvy enough to know that American business and the American government are not necessarily the same thing,” Ferris observes.

Nuclear. “Pulling out of the Paris Agreement will have little impact on the U.S. nuclear industry, which is struggling to restart after remaining dormant for roughly 30 years,” writes Kristi E. Swartz. To be competitive in the global nuclear marketplace, the United States “will have to develop new technology and streamline a heavily regulated U.S. industry with the strictest safety standards.”

Pulling out of Paris would not change those fundamentals (if I catch her drift).

Offshore wind. “It’s never been a secret who’s in charge of the global offshore wind industry, and Paris can’t change that. European-domiciled companies—chiefly in Denmark, Germany, and the United Kingdom—have been at it for decades. Even General Electric Co. makes parts in France,” writes Saqib Rahim.

Hydraulic fracturing. “In or out of the Paris Agreement, Trump’s move is unlikely to have any impact on U.S. dominance in natural gas extraction,” writes Nathanial Gronewold.

Solar. “Trump’s nixing of the Paris Agreement won’t do much by itself to tip the scales of U.S. solar power. It’s Trump’s other decisions, involving trade and research funding, that are likely to have a much larger impact,” writes Ferris. How so? Tariffs, as urged by domestic manufacturers, would make domestic solar more costly, reducing domestic demand. Federal R&D cutbacks could slow innovation, making U.S. solar exports less competitive.

Ferris does not speculate on how withdrawing from the Paris Agreement might affect the political prospects for those policies.

Natural gas turbines. “U.S. companies dominate natural-gas-fired turbine manufacturing and exports,” writes Gronewold. However, foreign manufacturers “will gain a large share of the U.S. market for new electric generating capacity over the next 25 years” unless U.S. firms “develop new advanced natural gas-fired combined cycles.” But why would pulling out of Paris diminish either the capacity or desire of U.S. firms to keep improving their products?

CCS. “Paris or no Paris, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology faces the same problem it always has: The technology hasn’t advanced far enough to become a real option for fighting climate change,” writes Saqib Rahim. “Why? Because no one yet knows how to burn coal, capture all of the CO2, then store or reuse the gas, all in a way that makes commercial sense. It’s still extremely expensive.”

Although the claim is endlessly repeated, I have yet to see a coherent explanation of how exiting the Paris Agreement will hamper U.S. firms’ ability to compete in global “clean tech” markets.