We live in an age of conflicting choices, with none as dire than the choice between renewable energy and fossil fuels. Despite overwhelming public and private sector support, renewable energy still faces opposition from more established energy sectors in North America.
US media outlet The Hill released reports in August concerning a growing number of major players in the industry who seek to abolish net metering, which is the practice of selling the extra energy your solar panels generate back to the public grid, as well as other renewable energy incentives in many states. Both the Edison Electric Institute and the utility industry’s trade association have lobbied for the introduction of several bills directly aimed at undermining the success of public and private solar and wind power operations in the US, including recent victories against net metering in Indiana and Maine. Harsh criticism is even being felt from the highest levels of government, as the current President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, is a well-known supporter of the fossil fuel industry and has recently proposed a federal budget that would scrap previously committed funding for clean energy research throughout the nation. The Hill also reported US Energy Secretary Rick Perry feels renewable energy is negatively affecting the security and reliability of electrical grids, despite a recent Department of Energy drafted study which suggests the electric grid is actually becoming more stable as wind and solar energy production increases. Contrary to the opinions of US government officials, most industry experts and critics agree that now is the time to invest in renewable energy, as solar-related jobs already outnumber their coal-related counterparts in the US by a factor of more than 2 to 1, according to US Department of Energy data.
In the face of these actions, major global oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, have committed to spending up to $1 billion US on renewable energy in 2018, and have even gone on record to admit they understand the public’s opinion of fossil fuels has fallen dramatically over recent years. In an interview with The Independent earlier this year, Shell’s Chief Executive Baron van Beurden echoed that his company is aware of its inability to stop public support from waning, adding that it is “the biggest challenge we have at the moment as a company… the fact that societal acceptance of the energy system as we have it is just disappearing”. The Independent also reported that Shell had begun to liquidate most of their assets tied to the Canadian oil sands, signaling that the oil giant is moving away from old practices and ready to help usher in the ‘green’ age of global energy.
Several Asian and European countries are also moving away from coal and big oil by selling off assets, leaving them with capital to invest in the wide array of technology emerging within the renewable energy sector. Financial media outlet Bloomberg reported Denmark’s largest industrial and shipping conglomerate, A.P. Moller-Maersk, has recently made agreements to sell the country’s last remaining oil and gas division to French-owned company Total, only three months after Danish firm Dong Energy sold its oil and gas business to a German company, opting instead to invest in offshore wind development. In early September of this year, the Huffington Post reported Denmark as being the world’s current top producer of wind-turbine energy.
A number of recent advancements in global renewable energy technologies have also contributed to it becoming the fastest-growing and most attractive energy sector. This has influenced governments, investors and the general public to consider abandoning ancient energy practices and commit billions to renewable energy research and development.
European news sources including the BBC have reported largely populated countries including China, India, Australia, and Mexico have each made government sanctioned commitments in 2017 which will shift their countries away from the use of fossil fuels, with the goal of becoming 100% dependent on renewable energy. In April of this year, media outlet Econews reported Australia has been boasting to its citizens that even when the cost of storage and new infrastructure is factored in, renewable energy is still the nation’s cheapest energy option. Technology media outlet Absolute Knowledge released a report outlining the success of China to increase their solar energy output by 80% in the first three months of 2017, which can be attributed to large investments into floating solar power plants, or ‘solar farms’. The country now operates the world’s largest solar farm, a 40-megawatt heliocentre located above a flooded mining town in the Huangshan Mountains of the Anhui province. China’s appetite for solar panels was enough to sway global prices away from their steady decline earlier this year, Bloomberg reported, causing some nations including India to scale back larger solar-based projects due to cost. The country even managed to reach its renewable energy targets for the year 2020 earlier this year, making for a sunny start to the year of the Rooster.
Overall advancements and global support for renewable energy have been on the rise for decades. Even smaller countries such as Egypt and Croatia have recently made huge advancements to their renewable energy sectors with the hopes of gaining independence from foreign energy sources. Countries who seek to achieve this independence have a friend in Stanford’s Marc Jacobson. NBC News released an article in September concerning a study Jacobson and his team have released outlining a structured plan that could see 139 countries across the globe move to 100% renewable energy by 2050. The ‘roadmaps’, as Jacobson calls them, are designed to build on existing infrastructure, including hydro electric dams, as well as current renewable energy projects.
Advancements in solar power have not only been made to provide residential homes with more affordable heating but also cooling. Science Magazine recently reported the development of solar-powered water coolers by a team of researchers at Stanford University that has the potential to drastically reduce the cost of residential, as well as industrial-scale refrigeration and air conditioning. The team has since formed a startup company called SkyCool Systems to bring the technology up to commercial scale.
With proper funding and social support, it is clear renewable energy can reach and even exceed its potential to provide cleaner, more efficient heating and cooling to residents and industries throughout the globe. As climate change continues to influence more severe weather patterns, citizens of Earth can breathe a sigh of relief as a growing number of nations seek to reduce their carbon footprint, provide more secure energy for their citizens and free themselves from a dependence on foreign energy suppliers through positive renewable energy investments.