Renewable Energy is climbing up the food chain, and we can't get enough of this New Energy Era.
Clean Energy Steals Coal's Crown
Coal successfully powered an industrial revolution the likes of which the world had never before seen. For that, we give it props.
However, just because something used to work doesn’t mean it works today. If it did, us grownups would still be eating sweet potato purée and chilling in our onesies from dawn to dusk. (Also, the golf industry would make, like, way less money.)
Just like us adult humans, energy has exited its infancy. What once sufficed – coal, oil, gas – no longer produce the best results here in America or around the globe. These approaches are bad for citizen health. They’re socially unjust. And they won’t last forever … to name just a few drawbacks.
In other words, we need new approaches.
Which is where renewables come in, of course. Over the last several decades, we’ve seen incredible advancements in our ability to harness energy from clean, endless sources such as the sun, the wind, running water, and the Earth’s heat. But only recently have we reached the milestone which many scientists and clean energy developers have eagerly anticipated for years.
Yep, as of 2022, for the first time, clean energy has finally stolen coal’s crown in America! The total energy produced by renewable energy sources surpassed the amount of U.S. electricity generation from coal plants, which is huge news for our energy transition. Sources such as hydropower and geothermal are just the start of the Age of Renewable Electricity.
Let’s take a look at why this moment is one to celebrate, what it means for our ongoing shift to clean energy, and how it will impact those in the industry – e.g. more freaking renewables developments, y’all!
Okay, sorry. We got excited. Ahem … ready to explore this topic like an adult who’s totally not wearing a onesie? Read on.
All the News That's Fit to Print
First and foremost, what exactly happened here, according to the numbers? Drum roll, please …
In February 2023, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that hydroelectric, wind power, and other renewable sources accounted for a total of 21.5 percent of energy production. Coal accounted for only 19.5 percent, and nuclear for only 18.2 percent.
Also, even though natural gas is not counted as a clean energy, it has a lower carbon footprint than coal-fired power plants. It weighed in at 39.8 percent of the total, meaning we’re seeing positive strides even among fossil fuel use. Overall, while the amount of fossil fuel-based energy production still totaled 60.2 percent, this is a massive step forward to our climate change goals.
Especially since we’re not just talking about large, utility-scale plants, either. According to the same source, “The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that an additional 58 billion kWh of electricity generation was from small-scale solar photovoltaic systems in 2022.”
That’s awesome, because it means we don’t have to rely on massive land tracts to make our renewable energy dream a reality.
Just the Beginning of Our Clean Energy Transition
It’s important to celebrate milestones like this, which are enormous given our Currently Contentious Political Climate. (And our Currently Warming Climate Climate.) However, at Transect, we believe we’ll one day look back and see that this landmark was just the beginning of something much greater.
Yeah, the economy is tough right now. It leads many people to worry that, due to a lack of infrastructure and funds, we could fall off a clean energy cliff at any moment – with no trampolines at the bottom.
We don’t see it that way. Read the right way, we think it’s fair to predict that the whole industry is about to boom. All signs point to the fact that we’re about to see a new wave of energy gold, and not the coal or oil kind.
An Economic Phenomenon
Far from being anxiety-inducing, economics is broadly responsible for why we were able to make this leap last year.
“This booming growth is driven largely by economics,” Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, told the Associated Press. “Over the past decade, the levelized cost of wind energy declined by 70 percent, while the levelized cost of solar power has declined by an even more impressive 90 percent.”
Moreover, Wetstone added, “Renewable energy is now the most affordable source of new electricity in much of the country.”
A Global Phenomenon
Forward movement isn’t restricted to the U.S.. Around the world, as summarized by Scientific American, “Higher fossil energy prices and concerns about energy supply disruptions are driving the acceleration of wind, solar and other renewables, the International Energy Agency says.”
Factors such as the economy, the pandemic, and the war in Ukraine have all lit a fire under the world’s derrière. As the IEA puts it, “The global energy crisis has triggered unprecedented momentum behind renewables, with the world set to add as much renewable power in the next 5 years as it did in the past 20.”
Hopeful Projections from the EIA
Although predictions fall a little short as measured against what’s called for in the Paris Agreement, the EIA does offer some hopeful predictions about the future of clean energy. Their models predict, for one, “that U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions drop 25% to 38% below the 2005 level by 2030.”
Furthermore, “Across all cases, compared with 2022, solar generating capacity grows by about 325% to 1019% by 2050, and wind generating capacity grows by about 138% to 235%. We see growth in installed battery capacity in all cases to support this growth in renewables.”
As discussed above, natural gas will play a role in this transition: “Across the span of AEO [Annual Energy Outlook 2023] cases, relative to 2022, natural gas generating capacity ranges from an increase of between 20% to 87% through 2050.”
We’re not there yet, but we sure are making progress.
How Do We Keep This Train Going?
The recent flip-flopping of power generation from coal-fired generation vs renewable generation is great news. But we didn’t get to the moon simply because we worked out transit windows. We still had to build the rockets, train the astronauts, and launch at the right time.
The same is true for renewable energy. This isn’t a time to rest on our laurels, but rather to work even harder toward greater milestones. (Which, spoiler alert, are pretty darn big.)
So, how can we keep this train going? A few approaches come to mind.
One of the best things we can do to speed renewables along is to remove bottlenecks for securing land, completing due diligence and meeting permit requirements. That calls for automation. We need to leave behind the tired process of working with consultants and instead move to a modern, machine-learning-powered model of due diligence and permitting.
Wind generation doesn’t pay for itself and we have a lot of turbines to build if we are going to achieve our goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The Inflation Reduction Act is generous with its tax incentives, and it’s important to leverage them to the utmost. If you still need to read up on possible savings, we recommend doing so immediately.
These incentives dropped last year and just received clarification on who is able to use them. In the case of the Energy Communities outlined within the IRA, you could earn up to 40% in tax credits! Finding land to develop is a great start, but finding land with financial incentives attached is the way to ultimate project success. There is money on the table, but land is going fast.
Proper Land Use
Misuse of land leads to all kinds of trouble, from community outcry to damaged waterways to canceled projects. If we want to avoid stalled development and resource waste, it’s so important to ensure that you know exactly how you can use a piece of land up front. And that’s where Transect comes in.
Let Transect Help in Your Fight for Renewables
Curious how Transect can assist in your efforts to push renewable energy toward ever greater heights? We’d love to tell you all about our desktop report generation software, which can put an environmental due diligence report in your hands in mere minutes, not weeks or months. All you have to do is reach out and schedule a demo today.