While today only some 20 percent of global electrical energy is provided by renewable sources – in the U.S., it’s about 15 percent – that number is changing and growing rapidly. In the last decade, industries have made breakthrough innovations in renewable technology that have driven prices down, and governments have provided mandates, incentives, and subsidies to accelerate the move to renewables. Here’s some notable news about the state of renewables – i.e., hydropower, wind, solar, biofuels and geothermal — in key spots around the world today:
- California. California has made the greatest strides in renewables adoption among U.S. states, currently generating about 29 percent of its electricity via renewable sources, almost twice the national average. Thanks to ample sunshine, full water reservoirs and a greater number of industrial solar facilities than anywhere else in the nation, the state actually soaked up enough rays in May 2017 to generate a bit more than 67 percent of its required electrical energy for that month purely via renewables. Not content to rest on its laurels, California is pursuing its goals even more aggressively. This past July a state senator put forth a proposal to generate a full 100 percent of electrical energy by 2045. California has the largest gross domestic product of any state in the U.S. at 2.6 trillion, roughly 14 percent of the entire nation’s GDP.
- New York. In the United States, the greatest strides in renewables adoption are happening on the coasts. New York is a case in point in the East. Today, New York state already produces 24 percent of its electrical energy via renewables — a number more than 60 percent higher than the national average. Less than two years ago, the state announced its “50 by 30” initiative, pledging to generate 50 percent of its electrical energy via renewables by 2030. Just this past June, New York’s governor announced a $1.5 billion spending initiative on wind, solar arrays, hydro and fuel cells to advance that goal, and estimated the investment would create 40,000 jobs.
- China. Although China is the world’s biggest polluter—its population is more than four times the size of the U.S. population—China is also the world's leading country in electricity production from renewable energy sources. China has over double the generation of the second-ranking country, the United States. More than 2.5 million people work in the solar power sector alone in China, almost 10x as many as the 260,000 employed in the industry within the U.S. China currently boasts 3.5 million jobs in clean energy, by far the most in the world, and supplies some two-thirds of the world's solar panels, and nearly half of the world's wind turbines.
- India. India was the first country in the world to set up a ministry of non-conventional energy resources in the early 1980s, and since then the country has become even more determined about its renewables goals. From 2016 to 2022, renewable electricity sources are set to grow massively, more than doubling India's large wind power capacity and setting off an almost fifteenfold increase in solar power. Even more aggressively, the government claims that by 2027, non-fossil fuels will form over half of India’s installed energy capacity. If this happens, India will exceed the renewable energy targets set in Paris last year by nearly half, and they will have done it three years ahead of schedule.
The next decade promises to bring even more innovation and dramatic change than anything we’ve seen to date. The players are in place – whether they be technology innovators, corporate funders, government planning organizations or actual legislation – and are gathering momentum, approaching critical mass and a tipping point.
And the benefits are promising. Inasmuch as possible, it makes sense to substitute renewables energy for fossil fuels given the payoffs—and there are quite a few! One is less pollution—not only fewer greenhouse gases but less smog of many kinds. Another is more affordable energy (think: renewable generation from “free” fuel such as solar on hot sunny days) that can help reduce the need for expensive peak power, which in turn can mean lower electric bills.
A third benefit that’s recently become more compelling is the benefit of energy “insurance,” i.e., a source of backup energy during times of natural disasters or grid interruptions. It wasn’t long ago that one of the biggest problems with renewables was that there weren’t adequate ways to store the energy created for future use; but today, better batteries, distributed generation and microgrids can help keep the lights on when unexpected surprises hit. A fourth benefit is that renewables are a source of economic vitality, creating stable, well-paid jobs in both manufacturing and services in technology, commerce, and finance.
Finally, the rise of new clean energy sources and a distributed grid offers consumers the ability to actively participate and shape the new energy business model by owning and sharing their renewable energy.