Renewable Energy Progress: Reasons to Hope Even on economics, solar and wind as competitive as any energy source

Renewable Energy Progress. Credit: Kristian Buus, FlickrCCContrary to what the current administration would have us believe, renewables are the most cost-effective, economically beneficial options for energy sourcing and infrastructure going forward. The challenge, now, is convincing our representatives, friends, and neighbors to join the effort. Recent local and state efforts to support renewables provide reasons to be hopeful as well.

Industry Updates

It may seem counterintuitive to be optimistic about renewables at the moment — especially after recent news of tariffs the current administration wants to impose on imported materials for solar panels. The provision Trump wants to use to impose a tariff, however, will likely be blocked by the World Trade Commission as a violation of international law.

According to Timothy Cama, “The last time it was used was in 2001 for steel imports, and the WTO overturned the penalties.” In fact, the attempted imposition of such a tariff could be perceived as a desperate attempt by a beleaguered administration to assert some power in light of the dying coal industry. It seems like a sign that the solar industry is indeed a legitimate threat.

As far as wind energy is concerned, the long-term levelized cost of wind power purchase agreements is now comparable to the price of natural gas. This seems like a notable achievement — one that probably isn’t likely to receive a lot of mainstream news coverage due to the relative lobbying power of fossil fuel companies.

Other impressive achievements in the renewables market include the discovery of gilsonite, a naturally occurring asphalt that can be used to coat lithium-ion batteries’ positive electrodes, preventing dendrites from forming, thus reducing short circuit-based explosions. It was also found that guano — derived from poultry waste — makes excellent biofuel. Lastly, researchers at Binghamton University have developed textile-based microbial fuel cells that feed off of human sweat, helping to power wearable devices like arm bands and watches that detect heart rates and other vital signs.

Home Energy Trends

EarthTalk recently covered some of the latest sustainable technology that is making our carbon footprint lighter at home. First, despite recent hubbub about solar tariffs, the cost of solar panels continues to drop. This trend is helping to make solar panels more affordable for homeowners, and although current the current energy tax credits are set to expire at the end of 2022, the new — likely more progressive — legislative body in place at that time will probably approve an extension.

Another trend that is taking hold is, in addition to the production of more water-conserving shower heads and sprinklers, there is also a trend toward Wi-Fi-connected watering equipment that can sense when your individual lawn fauna is sufficiently hydrated — thus preventing water waste before it starts.

The same can be said for the relatively recent (or revived) awareness of light pollution, defined as “the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light” by the International Dark Sky Association. In fact, their programs have started a movement to minimize the impact that excessive and unnecessary use of light is having on migrating birds, astronomical observatories, and sea turtles as well.

Moreover, while it used to be the case that replacing all our old light fixtures with LED bulbs was enough, the dialogue is evolving to include a more vibrant coexistence with animals, as well as human health. Although LED light is more energy efficient, it also gives off larger amounts of blue light, which can disturb the sleeping patterns of humans and animals alike.

Advancements in smart lighting will soon be providing additional opportunities to conserve energy, since environmental sensors will be able to determine when someone is in a room and when it is not being used. This is great news, since much of the electricity that is wasted is often done so as a result of unused lighting — up to 30 percent, according to the Department of Energy.

State & Local Progress

Lastly, although the current administration is trying to thwart much of the progress that the previous administration made on sustainability and environmental standards, efforts at state and local levels provide signs of hope.

The city of Philadelphia — not unlike its sister city of Pittsburgh — denounced the Trump administration’s regressive agenda and published an update listing 10 notable reasons Philadelphia residents should be proud of their sustainability-related achievements in 2017.

They include the significant commitment of 387 U.S. mayors to adhere to the Paris Accord’s goal of reducing carbon pollution between 26 and 28 percent by 2025; the GreenFutures sustainability plan put forward by the Philadelphia School District, received the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools Award; and the new CleanPHL plan to make Philadelphia a zero waste city by the year 2035.

The states of New York and California continue to emerge as leaders on the sustainable development front, with California having set the bar high by committing to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2045.

Lastly, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently created a framework known as BRACE, or Building Resistance Against Climate Effects, that helps public health officials educate the public in understanding the significance of climate change events and how they can best live in preparation for natural disasters.  So far, sixteen states and two cities have implemented the BRACE framework, indicating that there is greater popular awareness of the reality of climate change — as well as more potential impetus for structural change.

*  *  *

Although federal powers that be may want us to believe resistance is futile, the opposite is actually closer to the truth. Despite the best efforts of politicians and corporate fossil fuel interests to maintain power, there’s no stemming the tide of renewable energy progress that is now being made and establishing the new baseline for future generations.

However, we must stay vigilant and keep pressure on our legislators to do the right thing in the face of wasteful consumption and injustice. At this point, investment in old, dirty energy sources merely illustrates the wishful thinking of a dying generation.

What examples can you give of local efforts that are proving successful in your region of the country? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.