The next US president will inherit an arsenal of political tools for shaping our energy landscape — but how much do these tools even matter these days?

When it comes to the future of energy in the United States, it would appear that much hinges on the outcome of November’s presidential election. On the subjects of energy and climate, the two major party candidates have come out on very different ends of the spectrum. One has vowed to set bold renewable energy goals on “day one”. The other has dismissed climate change as a hoax and promised to save the coal industry.

Of the many political tools can can be applied towards either goal, the most apparent the selection of the next Supreme Court Justice. As we recall, the CPP was put in limbo earlier this year with a Supreme Court stay, which was thrown into more chaos with the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia, leaving a split bench of eight justices. As the result of the ensuing political drama, Scalia’s successor, and likely swing vote in the CPP decision, will be appointed our next Commander in Chief.

In this way, the winner of November’s election will have the opportunity to immediately plant a highly visible stake towards their respective energy goals. However, in the two years since the CPP debate started, we have also seen plummeting LCOEs in the renewable sector (especially with solar). With renewables becoming realistic competitors on the free market, it causes one to wonder just how much impact politics will have over the future of renewables.  

In Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s 2016 New Energy Outlook Report, analysts projected renewable growth in the absence of the CPP. They find that, even without targeted intervention, “the US will beat the Plan’s headline goal of a 32% reduction in total power sector emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels.” It would seem that, while much attention has been placed on the outcome of the CPP challenge, the renewable industry is set to prevail even if the CPP does not.

In the absence of government interventions, economics will dictate the direction of the market. This idea is perfectly demonstrated by looming expiration of the solar ITC. When the ITC was extended at the beginning of the year, SEIA estimated that solar deployment would jump from 47 GW to 72 GW between 2016 and 2020. While this is an impressive jump, silently more impressive is the 47 GW that were already market competitive. While the ITC was once needed to justify solar investment, the economics have changed — the credit has become icing on the cake.

The bottom line is that as renewable technologies get more competitive, they grow increasingly immune to the fickleness of politics. While it would be irresponsible to say that the coming election plays no bearing whatsoever on the short-term future of renewables, the long term trends are beginning to outgrow the grasp of politics. Politics will continue to lose relevance as these projects attract the attention of capitalists on both sides of the aisle.   
Of course, each project type and technology is at different point on this scale of politics and economics. For example, solar technology may be more immune to the upcoming election than, say, offshore wind. For those with diverse renewable portfolios, good data management will be key in hedging these investments in the near future while we look forward to continued growth over the long haul.