A Sustainable Energy Future is Within Our Grasp

PIC: USDA (PD)

PIC: USDA (PD)

Susanne Wong and Peter Bosshard write about sustainable energy at International Rivers:

The staggering growth in renewable energy has the potential to fundamentally change the way we generate and use power. Previously dismissed as marginal technologies, renewables have become “increasingly mainstream and competitive with conventional energy sources.” This is the conclusion of a new report on the global status of renewable energies by the REN21 Network.

The new report finds that investment in renewable power (not including large hydropower projects) and fuels reached $244 billion last year. If only net investments (in projects which add rather than replace generating capacity) are considered, global investment in renewables surpassed investment in fossil fuels for the third year in a row.

Renewable energy technologies have also overtaken large hydropower projects as a source of new power generating capacity. In 2012, a whopping 45 gigawatts (GW) of new wind power plants came online. Solar power added 30 GW – on par with large hydropower – and has now surpassed the milestone of 100 GW.

The REN21 report finds that renewable energies can make up a much higher share of electricity systems than was previously thought possible. In 2011, over 40% of Denmark’s electricity came from renewables, primarily wind and biomass. The country recently announced plans to source 100% of its energy needs from renewables by 2050.

The report finds that “renewables can reduce electricity prices considerably and thus alleviate energy costs for consumers.” According to financial experts, these technologies are “coming to be seen as among the lowest-risk investments.” Finally, renewable energy is creating a lot of jobs. In 2012, the sector directly or indirectly employed an estimated 5.7 million people around the world.

Renewable energy plants are not only cleaner than large dams and thermal power plants; they are also more effective in improving energy access for the rural poor. While investment in industrialized countries actually dropped in 2012, investment in developing countries expanded rapidly. Already, the REN21 network finds, renewables “have proven to be both reliable and affordable means for achieving access to modern energy services. And they are only growing more so as technological advances and rapidly falling prices (particularly for solar PV and wind power) enable renewables to spread to new markets.”

China, South Africa, Morocco, Mexico, Chile and Kenya brought about particularly sharp increases in renewable energy capacity. In Morocco, over 3,600 villages were electrified using off-grid systems and mini-grids based on renewables. The Economic Community of West African States plans to use mini-grids to provide electricity to 104 million people by 2030, according to its 2012 renewable energy policy. Over 170 million people lack energy access in the region.

Read more here.

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  • Anarchy Pony

    It would be really great if we could stop this growth nonsense. I wouldn’t talk about sustainability before then.

    • Andrew

      Our economy is morbidly obese.

      • Anarchy Pony

        It’ll take a crane and saws to get the body out of the house…

        • Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness

          Plan is to let the future residents deal with the decaying corpse.

    • Rhoid Rager

      You mean stop trying for growth? To do that means ditching all this money nonsense, though. That’s gonna be a tough one.

    • The Well Dressed Man

      In the developed world, this could in theory be implemented, but would require a political shift even greater than implementing 100% green energy.
      However, how can the developing world be persuaded to stop developing? (I recognize that the west currently consumes oodles more energy per capita)

      • Anarchy Pony

        Development and growth are not necessarily the same thing.

        • Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness

          In cancer and economics, they are.

          • Anarchy Pony

            Never met an economist I didn’t want to hit with a brick. It’s less effective on cancer though… Seems to mostly just give the patients concussions…

  • emperorreagan

    None of the countries mentioned even approach the US levels of largess in per capita energy usage…

    Renewable energy becomes much more feasible if you don’t try to power a black hole.

    • alizardx

      In CA, electrical utilities offer rebates on EnergyStar appliances and discounts on CFL. (waiting for LED) Not solution, but step in right direction. It’s frequently more cost-effective to push energy efficiency than to build new conventional fossil fuel generators.

      • emperorreagan

        I agree to some extent, but some of it is unrealized claims that seem to be used to kick the ball down the road on tough or expensive decisions.

        • alizardx

          To transition to green energy, we need new renewable energy generation, better energy efficiency, and good transitional biofuels which are really carbon-neutral instead of greenwashing. We also need better electrical storage, but what’s described above are things we can do now with what we know.

    • BuzzCoastin

      Homeland consumers are not yet hip to the renewable energy thing
      and Homeland energy prices are subsidized
      to discourage independence through the personal use of renewables
      butt
      Uncle Homeland & cooperate aMerka is all over it
      all new WalMart stores are LED, solar & fuel cells
      Campbell soup is operating several biomethane plants to power it’s factories
      Uncle Homeland just installed the largest solar array in the whirled

      • Rhoid Rager

        Where we get our energy from is entirely the problem (i.e. the food issue we frequently talk about). As far as equality of distribution goes, that will set itself straight soon enough. But I’d like to source my energy as locally as possible before that happens! Yikes!

        • BuzzCoastin

          it’s smart & healthy to get as local as possible
          for food, animals & energy
          I keep running into “new”
          old renewable energy technologies
          like biomethane & the trompe
          both of which could easily replace oil

          • Rhoid Rager

            Energy transfer is another technology that is neglected and will be necessary for communities to become self-sufficient in the future. The step-up transformer relays that dot the landscape and are neglected by most (except those who live in semi-remote to remote areas that pay for the delivery costs) make the grid that much weaker. A few months ago I was reading about the old rope drive systems they used to use (in the early 20th century?) to deliver mechnical power of distances of 1-5 km. Amazing set up really. Powered by your favourite mechanical energy source (wind, water, animal etc.) the ropes could be intercepted to power your own fly wheel/gear mechanism to power a lot of things. Make the ropes of hemp and gears and wheels out of wood and it sounds a lot more reasonable and nat res light than miles and miles of copper wiring and coils.

          • BuzzCoastin

            yeah, I’m aware of the rope tricks
            there are a lot of other old & new tricks too
            there’s a lot of untapped energy in water

            but energy generation has not yet
            gone through the decentralization process
            that mainframe computing went through

          • Rhoid Rager

            that nails it. it’s a paradox how, despite the unprecedented amount of energy flowing at the moment, it’s generally centralized in high density nodes. it probably boils down to the complexity of the process of energy conversion…more steps allows for more leverage for controlling the flow, and that controls the behaviour of the recipients. all questions of safety aside, i’ve always considered fission a needlessly complex rube-goldberg kettle… as Einstein said: “Nuclear generation is a hell of a way to boil water.”

          • The Well Dressed Man

            I think scalability is the crucial factor here. Moving away from energy-dense petrofuels, we will have to balance different diffuse sources in micro and macro grids. I like the mechanical transfer idea above. I don’t think Hydrogen is in itself the answer, but storing excess solar/wind/whatever energy in gaseous form is part of the solution. Continental grids in a push/pull array (in the US: northern hydro/ southwestern sun/ midwestern wind/ coastal tide) could be managed with the flexibility to preserve our current (extreme) energy use. With better conservation, it becomes even an easier equation.

          • BuzzCoastin

            nucs & fossil fuels were industry designed solutions
            to maximize industrial profits
            efficiency, safety and sustainability
            never entered the picture by design

  • Haystack

    It’s good that the technology is catching up, but it’s the implementation that worries me. All those solar panels, wind turbines and such require energy to produce; energy that won’t be there if we wait until our fossil fuel reserves reach a critical level before taking any widespread action.

  • The Well Dressed Man

    Now is the time to get serious about this. My understanding is we have just a couple decades to completely transition away from dirty energy if there’s going to be any hope of avoiding catastrophe. We have the technology.

  • Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness

    Everyone always assumes there’s a technological solution that will mitigate the hurtling disaster that is industrial civilization. It reminds me of a sermon I once heard on the radio, when the pastor assured listeners that, yes, there are cars in heaven.

    The current historical paradigm is so pervasive that it stunts the creativity of our delusions. (edited for accuracy)

    • Anarchy Pony

      Cars in heaven? You must be kidding, please, tell me you were kidding.

      • Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness

        Cars and pets. Common questions, simple answers.

    • The Well Dressed Man

      I seem to recall some minister talking about this idea, but it was more of a “heaven on earth” scenario.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXCh9OhDiCI

  • ParanoidCoast

    It will all work out in the end. Either change or fade into oblivion.

  • Ted Heistman

    You could have environmentally friendly growth, if you were to monetize nature somehow and base an economy on its restoration. Its like unsustainable exploitation of nature has gone about as far as it will go, so then the only thing left to do is switch directions. Take from civilization and give back to nature. Gassify garbage, recycle metal, build topsoil, plant gardens, reforest deserts to create a sustainable civilization based on permaculture and renewbale energy sources. I can see it.

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