Coronavirus will be with us for a while, complete with social distancing and masks on our faces – somber reminders of the difficult times we now face. To buck up our spirits, let’s focus on building a future that’s brighter than our past, starting with climate change… and solar power. Here are four reasons for hope – and one call to action – to end the climate crisis before this decade is out.
Four reasons for hope
1. The green economy is underway. Solar and wind power are now the technologies best able to compete in most electricity markets – including our own –even without the need for taxpayer subsidies or other government aid. With each doubling of renewable energy capacity, production costs have fallen by 15%-20%. Now renewable electricity is cheaper than fossil fuels in two-thirds of the world’s energy markets. Electricity-based light transportation is not far behind. Meanwhile, efficiency gains have cut global energy demand growth from 3% to 1% annually, and there’s room to shrink it further still.
2. Carbon emissions are peaking and renewables are surging. Forty-nine countries accounting for 36% of the world’s carbon emissions saw their emissions peak in 2017 or before. In Europe, fossil energy demand peaked in 2006 and has fallen 17% since then. In the U.S., coal’s share of electricity production has fallen by two-thirds in just 12 years, while renewables share has doubled since 2010. Solar installations are leading the way, increasing by 23% in 2019 alone, adding 13.3 gigawatts, more than new wind or natural-gas installations. And last month, renewables surpassed coal in U.S. monthly power generation for the first time.
3. Addressing the climate crisis helps our economy. Estimated costs to GDP for completing the renewable energy transition are just 1%, compared to at least 30% if no transition takes place. Human health costs alone equal $100 or more for each ton of carbon emitted.
4. Job numbers are in our favor, too. The green economy already employs 9.5 million Americans – that’s 10 times more jobs than in the U.S. fossil fuels industry. Globally, 80% of people live in countries with no domestic fossil fuels production. It’s estimated that 17 million more jobs will be created in finishing the transition to renewables than will be lost in fossil fuels, with the added income and capital flows staying mainly in home markets.
The stakes have never been higher. As fossil fuel interests lose their grip over the world’s energy markets, they are flexing what political muscle they have left. They already get government subsidies almost as large as the taxes and royalties they pay. Now they are looking for ways keep $20 trillion in carbon assets from becoming stranded in the years ahead.
One call to action
In the end, fossil fuel companies will lose this fight to decarbonize our global economy. A virtuous circle is forming around a renewable energy system that’s more decentralized, sustainable, resilient and secure. Consumers are taking charge with lifestyle changes and smart, carbon-cutting purchasing decisions. But this alone won’t stop fossil fuel interests from trying to block needed policy reforms is the outcome we can least afford!
Therefore, this call to action comes in the political arena, where carbon emissions caps and renewable energy targets are now being set. The goal is to retire centralized, heavily subsidized, command-and-control approaches that shaped our energy policy in the past. An energy future is within our reach where backyard solar arrays, commercial windfarms and grid-connected battery storage systems shape how electricity flows through our communities. But only if we also seek out elected officials and utility commissioners who share this vision of the future!
This election year could mark the turning point, so it’s time to get involved. Meanwhile, we can always vote with our pocketbooks – one solar array, one home storage battery, one electric vehicle, one electric heat pump at a time. In all these ways, the power is in our hands to make a difference!