Clean Energy Growth: Too Fast, Not Enough, Or Just Right?

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An article was published in the New York Times recently about the growth of clean energy production and usage around the world. It focused on the International Energy Agency’s 2018 World Energy Outlook (WEO) report. The IEA’s reported mission is to ensure reliable, affordable, and clean energy for its member countries and beyond. Its main areas of focus are energy security, economic development, environmental awareness, and engagement worldwide. The agency sees 40% of the world’s electrical energy needs being supplied by renewable sources by 2040, up from 25% today.

This is bolstered by the fact that in the last five years, the cost of onshore wind power has dropped by 15% while the average cost of solar has dropped by 65%. Many of  you may have read Kyle Field’s recent article about how Tesla is dropping the price of its solar products as another positive indicator of these trends.

But is all of this coming a little too late to make a significant difference to the global warming crisis? Will the world be able to stem the global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2020 as planned? Coal usage is down worldwide, including a downturn in China as it makes major investments in renewable energy sources as well. However, the average coal burning power generating station in the Asian world has many more years of useful life before being shut down and decommissioned. The use of oil as a fuel has also yet to peak. Although there are more and more hybrid and electric-powered cars being built and bought, cars only use 25% of fossil fuels overall. Much of the burden created by gasoline- and diesel-powered freight trucks, as well as ocean-going ships and airplanes. Heating fuel, plastic production, and other petrochemical-using industries are still prevalent. Just how many of you are buying “vinyl” again for your listening pleasures? Petrochemicals, my friends.

The world is still far from solving global warming, despite impressive recent gains for renewable energy usage around the globe. Global carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.6 percent in 2017. Projections say they are on target for even greater increases in 2018. The report projects that emissions will keep rising slowly until 2040

One reason: Carbon-free sources like wind, solar, and nuclear power aren’t yet growing fast enough to keep up with rising global energy demand, particularly in places like India and Southeast Asia.

However, every little bit can and will help. How many of you may have read my article recently on the short-term economics of our solar home here in Vermont? My mantra has become YAGOTTAWANNA DOIT! Do what you can, when you can, how you can. Public transport, reduced speed on the interstate, a couple of degrees lower on the thermostat. Any and all of these things may be just a drop in the bucket, so to speak. However, if you care about the future of the planet and the generations to come, you’ll think twice the next time you are just going out for that quart of milk.

The question of whether we will act fast enough to cut emissions is largely a question of whether we will act much faster than the forecasts predict. So far, the forecasts on the cleantech transition have been woefully pessimistic, as the charts in the tweets below show. That said, the climate challenge gets more difficult by the day, because we still aren’t doing nearly enough.

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Bob Borsh

is one of those individuals convinced he was born with petroleum products in his bloodstream. Hooked on anything with an engine from his earliest memories, he’s been working hard in recent years to flush the petrol and replace it with electrons. Raised in New Jersey, he and his family have lived in Woodstock, Vermont, in a home he designed back in the early '90s. With a degree in mechanical engineering, he has worked in construction and project management his entire career. An owner of a 2016 Model S 75D, he has also had Tesla Energy install an 8.125 kW solar array and a Powerwall 2 at his home, which has been operational now since 9 April 2018.

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