The momentum is stronger than ever before to transition the U.S. from traditional energy to a more renewable model – requiring a dramatic shift from the way energy is currently generated in America.
In 2015, renewable energy sources represented just 7% of the total energy generated in the country. Dominating the energy production charts were the fossil fuels – coal, natural gas, and petroleum – while nuclear made up a fifth of total energy generation. Looking at the statistics, one could argue that the U.S. energy policy will have to make a complete 360º turn before we can even consider more renewable sources of energy. Luckily, a shift of that magnitude could actually be on the books.
Pledging to Renewable Energy
While transitioning all of America’s energy sources to renewable may be a big task, pledging to use 100% renewable energy isn’t completely unprecedented in North America. Cities and businesses across the U.S. and Canada have made 100% renewable energy pledges, and many have already reached their goal — including Burlington, Vermont; Greensburg, Kansas; and Aspen, Colorado. Even major American metropolises have taken heed, including San Diego — which has pledged to become entirely renewable by 2035 — and San Francisco, which is aiming for 2020.
Full renewable has been achieved on a country-level, too. In 2015, the Costa Rican Electricity Institute reported that the country ran on renewable energy for 285 days of the year. Most of the electricity generated during that time came from hydropower, with geothermal, wind, and solar also playing a key role. Of course Costa Rica is smaller than the entirety of the United States, but it’s an encouraging indicator that renewable energy can be achieved on a larger scale – slowly, but surely.
So, how can a country that relies so heavily on fossil fuels become 100% renewable? The experts have a few ideas.
Renewable Road Maps
Many studies project scenarios where the U.S. is 100% renewable by 2050 or earlier; these renewable models incorporate much more diverse forms of energy generation than the traditional fossil fuels industry.
A paper by researchers at Stanford University shows a road map for the U.S. to become renewable by 2050. At that point, the energy sector would be made up of half onshore and offshore wind projects and 45% solar projects — with the remaining 5% representing geothermal, tidal, and hydroelectric projects. The 2050 projection includes calculations eliminating not only all greenhouse gas emissions, but also creating more jobs and stabilizing energy prices. Following the path set by that map, the U.S. would replace up to 85% of its existing energy sources with wind, water, and solar by just 2030.
One of the paper’s authors is a co-founder of The Solutions Project, an initiative that has created renewable energy plans for each U.S. state. Their website features an interactive map where viewers can toggle between different parts of the country.
For those more convinced by mixed use renewable and nonrenewable energy sources, there’s a new 15-year plan called REmap 2030, published by the International Renewable Energy Agency. This study outlines a 15-year roadmap for the U.S. to double its use of renewable sources to 27% of total energy generation. The report discusses the policy and technology changes needed to make this a reality. While not as ambitious as the plan from The Solutions Project, REmap 2030 is certainly a step in the right direction.
While the White House has yet to make a conclusive pledge to create a 100% renewable country, President Obama did announce new renewable energy measures in 2015, to make more money available for clean energy financing in homes — and the government set aside $24 million for solar projects in seven U.S. states. Among differing plans and routes for achieving full renewable, one thing across all of these studies is clear: if the U.S. wants to run on 100% renewable energy, major changes need to be made now.
The Role of Solar
Solar is an energy source that can be implemented at virtually any level — in the home, at a business, or at large generating plants. It’s for this reason that solar is one of the fastest growing energy industries on the market, and will undoubtedly play a role in whatever renewable future is imagined. Nearly 784,000 homes and businesses in the U.S. rely on solar power; and last year, a new solar project was installed every two minutes.
The most powerful option lies in solar photovoltaics, a system where the sun’s radiation is converted to electricity, often through the use of silicon panels. As the technology is becoming more affordable for residential and business use, the U.S. is likely to continue seeing an increase in this already booming industry.
The number of jobs in solar energy is climbing to meet the pace. An article in Fortune reports that in 2014, more than 31,000 solar jobs were created in the U.S. The solar industry has continued to experience an annual 20% growth in jobs over the past three years. In fact, the solar energy sector already employs more workers than the American coal mining industry.
A 2016 report from Environment America and Frontier Group says the U.S. already has the technical capacity to transition to renewable energy, and that the nation could “meet its current electricity needs more than 100 times over with solar energy and more than 10 times over with wind energy.”
Emphasizing that renewable is the wise economical choice, the report argues that the U.S. could build a renewable energy system at a cost comparable to what the country spends on fossil fuel generated energy. While this cost may be at par, the act of slowing the effects of global warming would save trillions of dollars over time.
No dramatic change can be made to any sector without someone asking about the impact on American jobs. While it’s true that employees in traditional fossil fuel sectors would be out of a job, millions of jobs would open in the wake of divestment. CleanTechnica reports that 5.9 million construction and operational jobs would be created if the U.S. were to take the path of 100% renewable by 2050. This would far outpace the 3.9 million jobs that would be lost in traditional energy sectors.
With massive American companies such as Goldman Sachs and Nike pledging to be 100% renewably run by 2020 and 2025 respectively, it no longer feels taboo to say “no” to fossil fuels. The road maps have been plotted — now, it’s time for the U.S. to follow the path they have set.
Contributed By: Sam Alkass, Freelance Blogger for SolarTechOnline.com. Sam Alkass is a firm believer in solar power and its valuable impact on the future of our planet. Sam helps others generate their own clean, green energy while minimizing environmental pollution.