When 25x’25 was founded just more than a decade ago, the idea of our nation’s farms, ranches and forestlands meeting 25 percent of the nation’s energy needs with renewable resources, all within 20 years, might have been seen as goal in name only. While the commitment from the farm, conservation and energy leaders who founded the alliance was never in doubt, even they will concede there may have been considerable skepticism among policy makers who questioned whether such a goal, while admirable, was realistic.
But, as has been detailed in this blog dozens of times, the ingenuity and innovation of the American renewable energy sector has proven year after year that it can deliver incredible advances in technology that make wind, solar, biofuels, biomass, geothermal and hydropower cheaper and widely accessible. The growth in capacity from some 5 percent 10 years ago to more than 13 percent today, with much of that growth coming in the last few years, is proof renewable energy has hit what analysts call a “tipping” point, where clean and sustainable energy is now on its way to a dominant position in the market.
Clean Edge, a clean-tech market research firm, has this week offered the latest in what is a growing line of analyses that underscore the unwavering expansion of renewable energy. “Getting to 100” makes the case that the goal of powering a company, city, state or nation with 50 percent, 75 percent, much less 100 percent, was at best, far-fetched when considered a decade ago. But increasingly, the company points out, a growing number of companies and governments are not only aiming to achieve those targets, some have already reached them.
The Clean Edge study, which was commissioned by Solar City, a national solar development firm, proceeds to list a number of entities that have undertaken ambitious but achievable renewable energy goals, including California, the eighth largest economy in the world if counted as a country, where the legislature set a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of 50 percent by 2030. Also listed is Vermont, which now has a 75-percent RPS by 2032; and Hawaii, which this year raised its RPS to 100 percent by 2045.
The large-scale jurisdictional pursuit of clean energy is hardly constricted to the United States. Already fully powered by renewable electricity is Iceland, a number of island nations, and the states of Carinthia in Austria and Schleswig-Holstein (population 2.8 million) in Germany.
And, of course, dozens of major businesses, recognizing that renewable energy benefits their bottom lines, are already procuring 100 percent of their electricity from renewables for their U.S. operations, including Apple, Intel, Kohl’s and Voya Financial. Dozens more (and the list is rapidly growing) say they will reach the 100-percent threshold within the next 10 to 20 years.
Clean Tech says there are five major developments that are facilitating the broad shift to 100-percent renewables, including:
· An emboldened, resilient grid is taking shape
· A renaissance of net-zero buildings and smart connected devices that drive efficiency
· Major advances in energy storage
· Wider development of utility-scale renewables
· The bottom line: distributed solar becomes cost-effective across geographies
Clean Edge research confirms the trend toward 100-percent renewables is occurring within a larger global picture of a sector going from nascent to mainstream. The global solar and wind industries, for example, have jumped 32-fold over the past 15 years, from a combined $6.3 billion market in 2000, to nearly $200 billion last year. That represents a phenomenal compound annual growth rate of 28 percent. In 2014, solar and wind power represented more than half of all new electricity capacity in the United States (a trend that is growing through this year), while globally renewables (mainly solar, wind, and hydropower) represented approximately 60 percent of net additions to power capacity.
As 25x’25 has long asserted, this country is in need of a strong, comprehensive and long-term energy policy that can accelerate this steady conversion to a clean energy future. Many policy makers in Washington remain tone deaf to the call from American consumers, not to mention their corporate constituents, for a common-sense approach to our nation’s energy needs that transitions us away from the price volatility and environmental degradation that comes with coal, oil and other fossil fuels. It is not too late to invoke a clean energy policy that creates jobs, improves the environment and provides wide energy security.