TAEBC Op-Ed: Advanced energy means jobs for Tennesseans

(Originally appeared on The Knoxville News Sentinel

By Cortney Piper, Executive Director, Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council

By almost any metric, Tennessee had a strong 2020 in advanced energy, a robust sector with 18,000 businesses contributing nearly $40 billion to the state’s gross domestic product. And the year’s growth in the state’s electric vehicle landscape received national and international headlines. As that happened, more elected officials realized that advanced energy means job creation, which stretches beyond political lines and helps Tennesseans directly in a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has tightened other areas of employment.

Among the 2020 victories are General Motors’ $2 billion plan for its electric vehicle plant in Spring Hill that will build Cadillac’s SUV. Volkswagen announced its own EV SUV at its Chattanooga plant. Last January, VW, the University of Tennessee, the UT Research Foundation and Oak Ridge National Laboratory partnered on VW’s first innovation hub in North America at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm. And in the fall, VW broke ground on a $22 million Chattanooga lab to test EV batteries.

With leadership from Gov. Bill Lee, Tennesseans can anticipate more growth in advanced energy and job creation. Electric vehicles are a primary focus for state resources, which included incentives for the GM plant. Nissan and VW have also worked closely with state and local government over the years.

Bob Rolfe, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, said that Lee’s goal is to make Tennessee the country’s most business-friendly state and praised the EV progress in a December Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) webinar. Electric vehicle jobs are advanced energy jobs. And transportation electrification can pull us through this pandemic-induced economic downturn just like energy has done countless times before, starting in 1933 with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

To continue reading this article, follow this link. For more information about how the advanced energy sector creates high-quality jobs and fuels growth for existing businesses, read Piper’s earlier guest column, “Transportation electrification can recharge Tennessee’s economy.”

Three Distinctive Features of Tennessee’s Energy Economy: Part Three

The potential for Tennessee to expand its advanced energy technologies is shaped by its economic factors and unique assets. TAEBC identified three distinctive features of Tennessee’s energy economy that together reflect the challenges and opportunities for the expansion of advanced energy technologies:

  1. High Per-Capita Energy Consumption
  2. A Gap in Personal Income
  3. The Potential of Three Major Players (and Who are They?)

In some recent posts, we have elaborated on Tennessee’s high per-capita energy consumption and a gap in personal income. The final part to this series is discussing the potential of three major players – and explaining who they are.

Initiatives from three distinct components of Tennessee’s economy – the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and the automotive sector, including the massive assembly plants of General Motors, Nissan and Volkswagen – will have a disproportionate influence on the direction and success of the state’s efforts to promote an advanced energy economy. The ability to understand the assets that these three major economic players bring to the discussion, as well as their willingness to combine these assets in support of advanced energy technologies, will to a large extent shape the opportunities for sustained expansion of the advanced energy economy in Tennessee.

While the automotive sector represents what may be the single largest opportunity to expand the use of advanced energy technologies, significant opportunities also exist within other key clusters in which Tennessee, because of geography and a mature industrial base, has a competitive advantage. Examples include logistics, transportation and distribution services, chemical products and plastics, and advanced manufacturing.

Since its creation in the 1930s, TVA has played a major role in the growth of Tennessee’s manufacturing base and, more recently, in efforts to reduce the volume of sulphur and carbon emissions in the state’s air. TVA’s mission includes use of the agency’s resources to improve environmental quality and foster economic development. The scope of TVA’s energy portfolio makes it possible to pilot, incentivize and evaluate a variety of innovative clean technologies.

Increasingly, Tennessee’s inventory of advanced energy technologies is the beneficiary of breakthrough discoveries and initiatives at ORNL, the nation’s largest energy research institution, and the University of Tennessee. The Laboratory is at the forefront of innovation for biofuels, energy storage, solar technology and nuclear power. A close relationship with the University of Tennessee has resulted in the Laboratory becoming a vital part of the state of Tennessee’s economic strategy with successive governors.

In many respects, the initiatives of both TVA and ORNL are responsive to efforts by Tennessee’s automotive manufacturers to promote advanced energy technologies, both in their products and in the operation of their manufacturing facilities. In Smyrna, Nissan has made a historic investment in the design and manufacture of batteries and electric cars in Tennessee. In Chattanooga, Volkswagen operates Tennessee’s largest solar park, where 13 million kilowatt hours are produced annually to power 12 percent of the enormous manufacturing facility.[i] Each of Tennessee’s automotive manufacturers is looking over the horizon to innovative technologies and materials such as carbon fiber that will reduce weight and increase fuel efficiency.

The last decade has witnessed a growing willingness among the three major entities in Tennessee’s energy economy to partner in the deployment of innovative technologies. TAEBC views the ability to replicate this kind of cooperation as a key factor in expanding Tennessee’s advanced energy economy.

[i] 2012, August 29. Work begins on $30 million solar park at Volkswagen. Chattanooga Times-Free Press. Retrieved from http://www.timesfreepress.com.

America’s largest companies save $1.1 billion annually through advanced energy initiatives

Now we’re talking. A new report released last week found that 53 Fortune 100 companies reporting on climate and energy targets are collectively saving $1.1 billion annually through their emission reduction and renewable energy initiatives – which certainly qualify as advanced energy.

Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies are increasing the demand for cleaner, more efficient sources of energy. The states that provide not only the energy source, but also the technologies and the workforce will win. Why not Tennessee?

215 companies in the Fortune 500 have set targets in one of three categories and will be looking for ways to meet them: 1) greenhouse gas reduction commitments, 2) improving energy efficiency and 3) procuring more renewable energy. Many of these companies have Tennessee ties (including FedEx and General Motors) or would be welcome additions to our state.

The latest report adds to our evidence that Tennessee’s advanced energy sector is poised for a period of sustained growth. The Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) was created to help facilitate this growth by championing the use and manufacture of advanced energy technologies as an economic development strategy.

The Advanced Energy Now 2014 Market Report, published by Advanced Energy Economy, indicated strong growth globally and nationwide in the advanced energy market. Globally, advanced energy represents a $1.1 trillion-dollar market. With estimated revenues in 2013 of $169 billion, the U.S. now represents 15 percent of the world market, up from 11 percent in 2011.

TAEBC sees in these national trends an enormous opportunity for Tennessee. The opportunity includes, through the adoption of affordable technologies, a chance to grow Tennessee’s economy.

The University of Tennessee, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the state’s expanding automobile sector (as well as other key clusters) provide Tennessee with unique assets that together offer an unparalleled platform for collaboration, innovation, testing and implementation of advanced energy technologies.

Our goal is to help business and government view Tennessee’s advanced energy assets and challenges as an emerging sector that will play an increasing role in the state’s economic development.