Renewables on the Rise
Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, increased social equity, and an environment that allows the world to thrive. At a time when 1.2 billion people worldwide lack access to electricity, when 2.8 billion people do not have clean and safe cooking facilities, and when a shift to sustainable energy use is imperative to protect the Earth’s climate, no less than a worldwide effort is required to achieve sustainable energy for all.
- UN SE4All Initiative
The United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared the decade 2014 ‑ 2024 as the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All, stressing the importance of energy issues for sustainable development and for the expansion of the post-2015 development agenda.
This past June in New York City, Urban Green Energy participated in the UN SE4All Conference to be a part of this global initiative. Here UGE was able to gain vital insights into the current state of energy around the world, challenges/issues associated with current trends in energy consumption, and the future steps to be taken to tackle this problem that we all are apart of.
Business as usual?
In 2012 in the USA, 37 states paid over $19.4 billion to import 433 million tons of coal from other states. That’s a lot of money leaving each state, not being reinvested in programs such as renewable energy programs, which could greatly benefit each state and ultimately the nation as a whole.
Coal pollutes when it is mined, transported to the power plant, processed, stored, and burned. Coal plants are the nation’s top source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the primary cause of global warming, smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution. But the burning of coal not only releases CO2, but it also releases Sulfur dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (soot), lead, cadmium, carbon monoxide, arsenic, and mercury. A few not-so-fun facts on mercury; Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that causes brain damage and heart problems. Coal plants are responsible for more than half of the U.S. human-caused emissions of mercury. Just 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury deposited on a 25-acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat! Energy generation with these effects is by definition not sustainable.
Investment in electricity from the wind, sun, waves and biomass grew to $187 billion last year, compared with $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal. Solar photovoltaic and wind systems are becoming increasingly cost competitive. The average installed price of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems fell by about 40% from 2008 to 2012, and by another 15% in 2013. During this period, U.S. solar capacity grew more than 25-fold. As the technology becomes more efficient, more standardized, and more prevalent, these trends will continue. On top of this all, net imports of coal in this same time (2008-2012) has fallen nearly 25%.
Legislation and government investment is also fueling this shift. A comprehensive study by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that the U.S. can generate most of its electricity from renewable energy by 2050. The Renewable Electricity Futures Study found that an 80% renewables future is feasible with currently available technologies, including wind turbines, solar photovoltaic, concentrating solar power, bio power, geothermal, and hydropower.
Why renewable energy?
Along with other renewable energies, wind and solar energy have the highest potential to fuel our future. These technologies offer the potential for endless, reliable, cheap, and most importantly clean energy that doesn’t pollute our air, land, and water during generation. With careful siting and implementation that is specific to each location, each system’s potential output can be maximized, reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
Off grid technology allows telecom towers, streetlights, and homes that are far from the electric grid, where traditional methods of energy generation and supply aren’t feasible, to be locally powered by combined wind and solar technology. This gives people- especially in developing countries- not only access to energy, but clean energy that’s efficient, reliable, and isn’t subject to grid blackouts. Renewable energy solutions are the most plausible and promising answer to the global challenge of sustainable energy provision.
- Kevin DeVincentis, Sustainability