November 9, 2016 Read More →

On the Blogs: A Faster-Than-Expected 21st-Century Transition to Renewables

Leah Y. Parks for

A 21st-century energy transformation is already underway. Our digital revolution is facilitating massive progress in technologies that are leading to disruption and will result in the replacement of the fossil fuel industry faster than most could imagine.

We can jump over political resistance and climate denial despite outdated and misinformed all-of-the above federal policies.  Our modern-day Edisons have done their job.  We are at a tipping point where technological innovations that have been in development for many years can now provide us with all the energy we need at ever decreasing costs.

We need only look at the last turn of the century to see how quickly transformation can happen.

In 1903 we took our first flight, and New York city streets were filled with buggies.  By 1914 we were fighting a war in the air, and the same streets teamed with cars.  The engineering which first made spaceflight possible was developed in 1919.  Within 38 years Sputnik was launched, and 12 years later we walked on the moon.

A renewable energy infrastructure will replace fossil fuel infrastructure because it is a better way of supplying energy.

Renewables are a superior product in part because they are technology and not a fuel.  The technology will continue to improve, and costs will continue to plummet.  Unlike renewables, the prices of fossil fuels fluctuate and are subject to market manipulation and availability.

Once solar and wind is built and paid for, the fuel is free. Renewables, like our hydroelectric dams, will provide dependable and cheap energy for years.

Even without subsidies, as shown in Lazard’s 2015 Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis, utility-scale solar and wind prices are dropping below new natural gas costs of around 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Solar projects are bidding as low as 3.8 cents per kWh in places like California and Nevada and as low as 3 cents per kWh, completely unsubsidized, in Chile and Dubai.  Rooftop solar PV plus energy storage systems are also price competitive in some markets, and wind is bidding as low as 2 cents per kWh.

These price drops are resulting in increased deployment. In the year 2014 around 47% percent of utility-scale electricity capacity installed in the United States was solar and wind energy, with the remainder being natural gas. In 2015, around 62 percent of new utility-scale electricity capacity was solar and wind energy, and 34 percent was natural gas.  Worldwide we are seeing greater deployment in tandem with falling costs.

The most noticeable first example of a fossil fuel disruption is the coal Industry. Bankruptcy filings by coal producers are becoming ever more common. A recent study by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) found that price drops and increased capacity of solar and wind are major factors putting coal plants under financial stress In Texas.

Many project that oil is next. Electric vehicles are poised to disrupt internal combustion engine cars.  Lithium-ion batteries have come down as far as $145/kWh.  Bank UBS considers this price point to be a paradigm shift and lower than needed for cost parity. Affordable 200-plus mile range cars are now a reality.  General Motors and Tesla are now taking orders for the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3.

Full item: A transformation to a renewable energy future is certain.

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