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Over 10,000 tracking heliostats focus solar energy at the receiver on the 640-foot power tower at the Crescent Dunes Solar Thermal Facility in Nevada. The facility is representative of concentrating solar power modeled in the Annual Technology Baseline. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Clean Power

Clean Renewable Energy Is No Longer A Novelty In Everyday Life

A new report on renewables across the last decade points to real progress toward a clean energy future.

We’re starting to take it for granted when we see wind turbines and solar panels in our towns and cities. It’s all part of a larger clean renewable energy system, right? Renewable energy prices have fallen considerably, in part because technology is constantly innovating. We have greater capacity today to generate more clean renewable energy than ever before.

A new report, titled, “Renewables on the Rise: A Decade of Progress Toward a Clean Energy Future,” assesses the growth of key technologies needed to power the nation with clean renewable energy, including wind, solar, energy efficiency, energy storage, and electric vehicles. In just the past 10 years, complete energy consumption in the US dropped by nearly 4%. What had once seemed futuristic, like all-electric vehicles and decentralized energy storage, now seems within the reach of average people.

Sure, we have a lot of work to do to move to a fully clean renewable energy system in the US by 2050, which is the goal of the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement intends to bring all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. In the US, we’re starting to meet energy needs across a variety of sectors, which can move us to successful limits on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. That’s good news, because it means we can make the incremental but constant shift away from fossil fuels.

The “Renewables on the Rise” report includes an overview of factors that have contributed to the rapid growth of clean, renewable energy since 2007, including policies, improved technologies, and lower costs. Gideon Weissman, the report co-author, notes, “These and other advances open up new opportunities to end our dependence on fossil fuels and embrace a future built on clean, renewable energy.”

What is the State of Clean, Renewable Energy in the US?

Here are some remarkable stats that tell us a lot about the state of clean, renewable energy in the US, courtesy of Environment New York: Research & Policy Center in conjunction with Frontier Group.

  • Today the US produces nearly 8 times as much renewable electricity from the sun and the wind as it had in 2007.
  • Energy use in the US has fallen by 3.6% since 2007, even though the population and economy have continued to grow.
  • 2016 was the biggest solar year in US history, with the country generating 43 times more solar power than in 2007.
  • Among the states with the biggest growth in wind energy, four produced at least 10 times as much wind energy in 2016 as they did in 2007: Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois, and North Dakota.
  • Distributed solar energy, which includes panels installed on residential and commercial rooftops, grew 28 times, while utility-scale generation increased 60 times.
  • In March 2017 the US drew 10% of its overall energy from wind and solar — for the first time!
  • 8 out of 10 US citizens support more wind power.
  • 9 out of 10 US citizens want more solar.
  • Twice as many Americans are pushing for energy policy conservation over production.
  • While sunny states like Arizona and Nevada are in the Top 10 states for solar energy additions since 2007, several northeastern states such as New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York have provided strong policy support for solar energy, too.

Clean Renewable Energy Defined

Sometimes what seems like an appealing alternative energy source may, actually, cause serious environmental problems. What is clean renewable energy?

Clean, renewable energy should not produce pollution and should create little to no global warming or health-threatening effects. It should be constantly renewing, since it is derived from natural sources that are considered to be unlimited. That means we can use as much of these sources as we want, because there will always be more. Think sunshine.

The impacts of clean, renewable energy on the environment and community are minimal and temporary. In a large sense, this is because clean renewable energy is efficient; it represents a wide spectrum of resources.

Why Have Clean Renewable Energy Attitudes Shifted in the US?

With the significant political and cultural divisions now evident across the US, it would seem as if some geographic areas would be more heavily concentrated in clean energy leadership than others. However, due to invigorating clean energy attitudes and public policies, clean renewable energy is distributed fairly evenly across the US.

Rob Sargent, energy program director for Environment America Research and Policy Center, argues that clean renewable energy can and should be the choice for the US.

“Despite anti-science, anti-clean energy rhetoric coming from the Trump Administration and many in Congress, the science is clear — fossil fuels pollute our air, water, and land, threatening our health, and changing our climate even faster than scientists predicted. The good news is the progress we’ve made in the last decade on renewable energy, energy savings, and technologies.”

People from different economic strata and demographics have combined to help clean energy measures gain momentum and acceptance. When public policies promote energy consumption reductions, the amount of energy wasted in inefficient buildings, cars, and equipment diminishes. People feel more positive about their living and working environments.

Here are some instances where policies and attitudes have combined to create clean renewable energy scenarios across the US:

  • As a result of federal fuel economy standards, in 2016 the average fuel economy was 25.6 miles per gallon, which amounted to a 24% gain since 2007.
  • After states increased their investments in efficiency, the electricity saved in the decade over the same usage in 2007 was enough to power 2.5 million homes.
  • The federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and multiple state energy efficiency policies have prompted residential and business adoption of efficient
    appliances and lighting, such as light emitting diode (LED) lighting.
  • Many states have established or revisited building codes over the last few years, so that reductions in building energy use are becoming prevalent. This is really important, as residential and commercial buildings account for 40% of US energy consumption.
  • Since 2011, nearly half of all EVs sold in the U.S. were in California.
  • Michigan, which had zero efficiency savings in 2007, was recognized as a “most-improved” state in ACEEE’s 2016 efficiency rankings.
  • Some states have enacted legislation that create positive clean renewable energy systems.  Rhode Island’s Comprehensive Energy Conservation, Efficiency, and Affordability Act of 2006 requires utilities to acquire all cost-effective energy efficiency. Rhode Island has also invested millions of dollars in revenue from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is the northeast’s cap-and-trade program in energy efficiency. Included in the programs are efficient public-sector buildings, LED streetlights, and financial incentives for consumer efficiency.
  • A growing number of US cities, states, corporations, and institutions are considering commitments to 100 percent renewable energy. Currently, 37 cities have committed to that goal.
  • Nearly 100 major companies, including Apple, Walmart, and LEGO have made commitments to 100% renewable energy.
  • Hawaii is committed to 100% renewable electricity by 2045, and California and Massachusetts are currently considering similar legislation.
  • Not to be outdone by the states, bills to commit the nation to 100% renewable energy have been introduced in both houses of Congress.
clean renewable energy

Most Improved States for Electricity Efficiency


The US has the ability to address all its electricity, transportation, and industry energy needs with clean renewable energy if it continues to implement policies and programs with that goal in mind, according to the “Renewables on the Rise: A Decade of Progress Toward a Clean Energy Future” report.

Heather Leibowitz, Director of Environment New York, acknowledges that clean renewable energy has grown tremendously due to support from key technologies needed to power America with clean renewable energy. “Every day, we see more evidence that an economy powered by renewable energy is within our reach.” She says that the progress that’s been made in the last decade on renewable energy and technologies like battery storage and electric cars should give New Yorkers and others the confidence that we can take clean energy to the next level.

“The reality is inescapable: fossil fuels pollute our air, water and land, threatening our health and changing our climate even faster than scientists predicted,” said Leibowitz. “We need to seize the moment and lean into a future powered by clean, renewable energy.”

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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