Tens of millions of American voters woke up last Wednesday morning in a state of shock. They weren’t the only ones.
Around the world, many more millions -- perhaps ignorant of the blue-collar angst that Donald Trump so ably tapped into during his campaign -- watched with growing concern as the outspoken property tycoon won his bid for the White House.
With the Republicans in charge, many fear for America’s role in encouraging renewable energy and fighting carbon emissions as a key member of the Conference of the Parties (COP) climate change conferences.
“The USA is a world leader in innovation, and with its energy plans now in flux, a ripple effect will be felt across the world, particularly regarding the Paris Agreement and next week’s COP22 agreements,” predicted Paddy Young, conference director for European Utility Week.
“Trump has been very vocal in his opposition to the agreement, so it will be interesting to see how it progresses after Marrakech.”
Beyond a likely change in the tone of U.S. climate talks, some believe that a Trump presidency will have only minimal effects abroad.
In some places, there could be positive impacts. For instance, said Michael Anthony, chief executive of Solar360, an Australian PV installer: “With a Trump victory we expect the U.S. dollar to devalue against the Australian dollar, which could deliver cheaper prices for our solar and storage solutions here in Australia.”
Even in India, where the solar industry has benefited historically from low-cost U.S. panels subsidized by Export-Import Bank financing, experts were not too fazed by the election outcome.
“The U.S. elections will not have a major direct impact on India’s renewable energy sector,” said Madhavan Nampoothiri, founder and director of RESolve Energy Consultants, an analyst firm in Chennai.
Jasmeet Khurana, of New Delhi-based analysts Bridge to India, echoed this sentiment. “We don’t anticipate any short-term impact of the U.S. elections on our business or the Indian solar market,” he commented.
At most, he said, “If the U.S. solar market is impacted by Donald Trump’s policies, it may indirectly impact global investment sentiment in the sector. We will have to wait and watch.”
But if the growth of U.S. renewable energy is indeed curtailed (and that remains a total unknown), other markets could outpace America in terms of industrial development and output. An obvious winner would be a country that Trump has little sympathy for: China.
“The spotlight will now fall on China as the largest renewable energy producer,” speculated Young. “They have ambitious targets to reduce CO2 emissions and increase renewable energy usage. Their culture of innovation will spur this on and is likely to encourage other places.”
At the same time, a predicted loss of support for U.S. cleantech innovation could hasten efforts to get renewable energy generation and storage systems to pay their way in unsubsidized markets, according to Hugh Sharman, of Denmark-based consultancy Incoteco.
“We are at a moment of truth about whether renewable energy and storage can survive as profit generators for investors, without relying on subsidy and flimflam,” he said.
While Trump may find it harder than expected to reverse the decline in America’s coal industry, the booming U.S. solar and wind sectors are set to lose out if the new president follows through with his threat to scrap trade agreements.
"A great concern is not the immediate build-out rate, but the impact on long-term trade agreements [from] protectionist policies Trump is likely to put in place,” said Aris Karcanias, managing director and global clean energy practice co-lead at FTI Consulting.
“That could trigger a trade war with strong Asian manufacturing hubs serving the U.S. renewable industry. It’s unclear what the long-term impact on U.S. companies will be, but protectionist policies in the home market will likely place them at a disadvantage abroad."