Chris Brown / President / Vestas Americas
While cost-competitiveness continues to dominate as a driver of success in the energy marketplace, another key motivation for switching from carbon-based fuels to clean energy is providing solutions to the threat posed by climate change.
In December 2015, representatives from countries around the world gathered in Paris for the 21st “Conference of the Parties” (“COP 21“) to the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The objective: A global agreement that takes meaningful steps to address climate change, cutting greenhouse gas emissions to limit world temperature increases to well below 2 Celsius degrees above pre-industrial levels, and striving to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.
Clearly, among of the main ways to achieve these goals will be measures that encourage a rapid transition away from a fossil-fuels and greater investment and market share for clean energy sources and solutions – primarily wind and solar power, as well as energy efficiency.
Going into the Paris conference, participant countries – along with states, counties, cities and companies – had already taken individual, bilateral and multilateral actions to increase their use of clean energy and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Particularly noteworthy is the clean energy revolution occurring in the marketplace.
Since the global climate talks began in 1992, renewable energies such as wind and solar power have gone from being barely blips on the radar screen to now accounting for nearly 600 GW, or 5%, of the world’s electricity generating capacity.
Wind power accounts for some 400 GW and solar power nearly 200 GW of that total, and growth of both is accelerating. (see chart below)
In the U.S., rapidly declining costs of wind and solar power have made clean energy a key contributor to the power grid, and a serious competitor to natural gas and coal for utilities and power companies.
More utilities are turning on cost-competitive clean energies like wind and solar, and turning off fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, which are becoming more expensive by comparison. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration , “nearly 16 GW of generating capacity is expected to retire in 2015, 81% of which (12.9 GW) is coal-fired generation.”
Through the first three quarters of 2015, wind was the #1 newly installed U.S. energy source, accounting for 41% of all new capacity, followed by natural gas and solar.
Factor in growing concerns about climate and energy security expressed by U.S. and world leaders like the Pope, along with the boost for renewable energy in the new federal Clean Power Plan (CPP) – and it’s clear we’ve turned the corner in the public debate about energy.
With smart energy policies (see more on the CPP below) and continued rapid improvements in renewable energy technology and cost, it’s quite possible that even the “accelerated case” estimated by the International Energy Agency will be surpassed, with net worldwide additions of clean energy potentially exceeding 160 GW a year by the end of this decade.
In the fall of 2015, the United States finalized its Clean Power Plan (CPP), which aims to slash carbon pollution from existing power plants 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. Not surprisingly, clean energy plays a major role.
Renewable energy is a “key strategy for meeting” CPP goals, with the EPA expecting “clean renewable energy generation to increase under the Clean Power Plan to nearly 20% of all power supplied by 2030…”
At the same time, coal-fired generating capacity is projected to shrink, since it is the most carbon intensive.
This graphic illustrates some of the benefits that will result from the U.S. switch to cleaner energy. Continued below is further discussion of the benefits flowing from a switch to clean energy and away from fossil fuels.
The U.S. isn’t the only country looking to lower its greenhouse gas emissions. In September 2015, China and the U.S. issued a joint statement, in which China pledged to “lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60%” by 2030 while promoting renewable power, including tripling its wind power capacity by 2025 . By the end of 2015, China’s wind power capacity is expected to reach 120 GW , while its solar capacity is projected to hit 150 GW by 2020. Another big developing country, India, is looking to reach 100 GW of wind power capacity by 2022 . And the list goes on, as many countries realize that clean energies like wind are among the quickest, most cost-effective ways of meet both economic and environmental goals.
Filed Under: News, Policy