Clean Energy is Trendy but Struggling
More cities and companies are working towards and committing to clean energy than ever. However, the ‘trendy’ transition is not an easy one for both companies and residents and not happening fast enough.
Clean energy vs. renewable energy
It’s necessary to clarify the difference between clean energy and renewable energy. The two terms are often tossed around interchangeably.
Clean energy is a broader term and its definition is variable depending on what one views as ‘clean’. It could mean everything from creating less pollution to using clean coal.
Renewable energy on the other hand refers to energy from sources that are naturally replenishing but flow-limited. (U.S. Energy Information Administration) Limited because a lot of these energy generators depend on specific weather conditions like a clear, sunny day or a windy day.
As listed on the U.S. Department of Energy’s website, renewable energy includes solar, wind, water, geothermal, bioenergy & nuclear energy. Yes, renewable energy can be considered a type of clean energy then.
A positive trend
Since 2000, we have doubled the amount of renewable energy consumption (as seen in the graph below). In the last 10 years, the price of renewables has dropped dramatically due to improved technology, government support, and an increased urgency from public sentiment.
Energy Information Administration (EIA) (2018) Monthly Energy Review April 2018
Going renewable for business and residents is becoming more affordable as more money is being poured into research than ever before. The United States saw its 39-year low in coal consumption as the renewable energy industry continues to accelerate.
Especially with growing attention on the Green New Deal and its bold plan to properly tackle and fully transition the United States’ away from traditional energy sources, the renewable energy industry will continue to be on the front line.
Nowadays, it is becoming extremely common to see businesses ride the ‘green wave’. In fact, here are 170+ large companies committed to go ‘100% renewable’.
It’s important to note that on the global scale, renewable energy represented only 26% of electricity production in 2018 China being responsible for over 30% in renewable investments. Despite the current progress we’re moving too slow-- there’s still a long way to go and very little time. Vox’s energy and climate change writer David Roberts writes “Mining or drilling fossil fuels, transporting them, refining them, burning them, converting them to useful energy, using the energy, disposing of the waste and pollution — at every single stage of that process, there is loss.”
Roberts also emphasizes the immense energy use and waste in the electrified heating and transportation sectors. Leigh Collins at Recharge points out that in REN21’s Renewables 2019 Global Status Report published June 19 2019 “less than 50 nations have set targets for the decarbonisation of the heating, cooling and transport sectors”. In order to make up for all energy use, renewables will need to grow rapidly and across all countries. Fossil fuel subsidies is one major player making this difficult.
Unfortunately, the switch isn’t easy for many.
Miranda Ballentine, the CEO of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance-- a trade association formed by various companies to break the barrier in shifting away from carbon-- tells NPR, “It's harder than you might think for a company to choose renewables”. While renewables are matching or beating conventional energy prices, it is often difficult for businesses or residents to choose renewable energy plans as many regions do not give buyers the option to choose their energy source.
Another recent NPR podcast shows the length to which an Alabama energy provider is taking to account for times of high demand when solar panels may not be able to generate enough energy on its own. T.K. Thorne, a resident, is facing the consequences-- a $20 monthly solar fee-- which she says which double the period it will take to pay off the solar system. Gautam Gowrisankaran, a public service professor of economics at the University of Arizona, argues that Alabama Power is overcharging its solar customers as they are double counting for the cost of the backup energy generation. There are similar backup fees in Arizona, Kansas, and Texas. Alabama, however, has the highest fees in the nation.
Luckily, several states give residents and businesses the complete power to choose including buying into renewable energy. For example, in Texas, most residents can buy a plan that contains renewable energy as part of the generation plan. WattBuy allows residents to choose electricity plans that have renewables - helping move us in the right direction of 100% renewable generation.