Where’s The Ceiling On Clean Energy?

Village Relies Only On Alternative Energy Sources

Peter Bronski takes on skeptics who question the possibility of “high renewable” energy future:

Such skeptics often point to a number of familiar criticisms: that high penetrations of renewables are not possible; that such a future requires major technological innovation; that it requires unreasonable amounts of energy storage to balance variable wind and solar; that it requires massive build-out of transmission infrastructure, biomass generation capacity, large-scale hydro, or all of the above; that it requires major investment that simply isn’t there; that it is uncompetitively costly (at least without large subsidies); that variable renewables will undermine the reliability of grid power. Couple such skepticism with IEA’s recent report noting that renewables have yet to make a serious dent in the carbon intensity of the global energy system—on which fossil fuels seem to have a strangle hold—and it’d be easy to side with the skeptics, but they are wrong.

Renewables’ track record shows that they continue to outpace skeptics’ expectations.

“People thought that maybe renewables would get to two percent. When they did that, people said maybe five percent. Then 10 percent,” says Hutch Hutchinson, managing director at [the Rocky Mountain Institute]. “Renewables have been fighting and scratching the entire way. Now, there’s good analytical evidence that with some creativity and customary levels of reinvestment in our energy system, we can get to a high renewables future.”

Bronski insists that the energy industry needs to change its mindset:

“Renewable energy futures are no longer a matter of technology—we have all the technologies we need—and are no longer a matter of economics either,” says REN21’s [Eric] Martinot. “We’re just not making the cost comparisons in the right way. It’s our way of thinking and our power industry structure that makes renewable energy seem more expensive, not the technology itself.” That power industry structure includes hefty and durable fossil fuel subsidies, which amount to $1.9 trillion per year or more, according to a report from the International Monetary Fund earlier this year. Those fossil fuel subsidies far outweighed the smaller and more transient subsidies offered to renewables, according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2012.

(Photo: A 2 MW wind turbine of German alternative energy producer Energiequelle GmbH spins in a field of wheat on June 20, 2011 near Feldheim, Germany. The country is investing heavily in renewable energy sources as part of its plan to abandown nuclear energy by 2022. By Sean Gallup/Getty Images.)