The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reported that by 2050, the United States could generate at least 80% of its electricity from renewable sources. Not only is that future possible but it’s possible using what we already have available to us, including biopower, concentrating solar power, solar photovoltaics, wind turbines, geothermal and hydropower technology.
The Renewable Electricity Future’s Study is just one piece to understanding and exploring America’s future utilizing alternative fuel sources for generating its power. With global climate steadily worsening and the divide between science and climate change deniers grows, renewable energy has to become more than a reality--it has to become a beneficial and cost-effective means of displacing fuels like oil, gas, and coal.
To make it even more clear that we have the capability and technology to make the switch, Fortune.com reported that in 2017, 18% of America’s electricity came from a mix of renewables including wind, solar, and hydroelectric dams. That was up from 15% in 2016. Not only that, but the “renewable’s share of U.S. energy consumption has doubled since 2008.”
Due to the plummeting cost of solar and wind harvesting technology, 62% of new power construction was down with renewables in 2017 alone.
The above shows the breakdown as of 2017 in terms of how renewables powered our country versus the forms of energy we currently rely on.
Breaking Down the Advantages of Solar and Wind Energy
The Sunshot Initiative spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Energy is looking to reduce the overhead of utilizing solar energy by 75% up until 2020. That reduction could lead to 27% of the country’s electricity demand using solar alone, which would decrease electricity sector greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Lowering the cost of alternative energy technologies makes them easier to implement for plants and businesses, ensuring they became a more cost-effective alternative in general to traditional fossil fuels. Paired with the emission-reducing qualities of renewables, even if people “aren’t on board with the whole climate change thing,” they can at least get behind the benefits of saving money--hopefully.
Available onshore wind resources could potentially generate up to 11,000 GW of electricity. That’s 123 times more than the current infrastructure, which is at an 82.1GW capacity. Not only do wind turbines not produce emissions but with the technology available in America, we could exponentially increase available electricity at a lower cost to the environment.
Getting Public Policy On Our Side
One of the simplest ways consumers can contribute to the growth of renewables is by helping to make it cost competitive. A way to do that is through Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). These are sold by renewable energy producers, and can be purchased for a few cents per kilowatt hour to offset their electricity usage. Consumers still meet their energy needs but cut back on some of the electricity generated by fossil fuels in favor of alternative sources.
A more rigorous yet effective way to contribute is by writing your local senators and congressmen. At the very least it makes policy makers aware of what their constituents actually care about and want. It’s a simpler kind of protest and activism but the more voices that put their favor of renewables out there for the politicians to hear, the likelier those voices will be heard.
2018: The Turning Point for Renewable Energy
Utility companies started getting with the times in 2018 by basing decisions on the market of the future, rather than sticking with tradition. Many of these companies are moving towards reduced or 100% zero emissions energy. Xcel Energy, a Minnesota-based utility, is one of the first companies to set that as a corporate goal, to be reached by 2050.
It’s becoming common for utilities to move away from business decisions focused on the rising energy demand, because of the last several years, electricity demand has remained the same. Fossil fuels are either becoming increasingly less cost competitive or there are such huge fluctuations in their cost that it can sometimes hurt business. With renewable energy like solar and wind power, utilities can continue providing energy without having to worry about technology costs spiking, or you know, the cost of solar or wind going up.
Although the Commander in Chief has a lot to say against the reality of climate change, it’s real. Perhaps he wouldn’t be so dismissive of the economic benefits, though; and as more utilities make a switch to renewables and set corporate goals to reduce emissions, the advantages will become much clearer for those arguing for the continued use of fossil fuels that are only going to run out and/or continue harming the planet we all live in.