Tag: Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy Around The World

The United States is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world and we have been a leader in so many ways across different generations. However, when it comes to climate science and renewable energy we are falling behind other countries who have taken the leadership and initiative to move towards 100% renewable energy.

Achieving 100% renewable energy is possible and plausible for the United States of America.

Many other developed nations have almost completely incorporated renewable energy into their economies and have been able to power their entire countries for substantial amounts of time solely on these methods. Others are moving in that direction and achieving small steps – a day, a month, an industry, solely relying on renewable energy.

Here are some renewable energy leaders leaders around the world:

Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been a world leader in renewable energy for years. In 2015, Costa Rica ran on 100% renewable energy for 285 days, and on 100% renewable energy for 250 days in 2016. According to The Costa Rica News, in 2017, “Costa Rica achieved the admirable 300-day in a row mark in which its electric system operated with exclusively renewable sources, mainly [hydroelectric], besides the production of renewable energy covered 99.62% of the electricity needs of the country. A mark that also exceeds the records of 2015 and 2016.” Costa Rica does this through relying heavily on hydroelectric power, wind energy, geothermal energy, and small amounts of solar energy and biomass. This commitment to renewable energy has, according to the Costa Rica News “turned Costa Rica into the largest producer of clean energy from all of Central America and the Caribbean.”


Almost 100% of all energy consumed on Iceland is renewable energy. The UN describes that in addition, “9 out of every 10 houses are heated directly with geothermal energy.” Iceland meets it energy needs largely through hydroelectric and geothermal sources. The UN acknowledges that the only exception to Iceland’s pervasive use of renewable energy is its reliance on fossil fuels for transport. The UN describes that Iceland’s move from fossil fuels to renewable energy was not inspired by climate change, instead, “The drive behind this transition was simple—Iceland could not sustain oil price fluctuations occurring due to a number of crises affecting world energy markets. …[and] for its isolated location on the edge of the Arctic Circle.” To rectify this issue, Iceland hired local businesses and entrepreneurs to shift energy reliance from foreign providers to internal sources. The Icelandic government also creates policies to encourage this shift: “To further incentivize geothermal energy utilization, the Government of Iceland established a geothermal drilling mitigation fund in the late 1960s. The fund loaned money for geothermal research and test drilling, while providing cost recovery for failed projects. The established legal framework also made it attractive for households to connect to the new geothermal district-heating network rather than to continue using fossil fuels.” The UN describes that these projects also diversified the economy, created jobs, and established a nationwide power grid.


“In Norway, 98 percent of the electricity production come from renewable energy sources,” according to the Norwegian government. The vast majority of Norway’s renewable energy comes from hydropower, an industry that has been growing in Norway since the 1800s. However, wind and thermal energy also contribute. Unlike many other countries, the Norwegian government explains that 90 % Norwegian energy production is owned by the state, counties, and municipalities “to secure a role for the Norwegian state in the ongoing electrification of the country, and ensure that the hydropower resources would benefit the nation as a whole.”


In March of 2018, Portugal produced 103.6% of the energy required to meet the country’s electrical demand. According to NPR, “Fifty-five percent of that energy was produced through hydro power, while 42 percent came from wind.” Based on this success, Portugal expects that by the year 2040 that “the production of renewable electricity will be able to guarantee, in a cost-effective way, the total annual electricity consumption of Mainland Portugal.”


In January of 2018, Germany briefly covered 100% of its energy demand through renewable energy. In addition, according to Clean Energy Wire, last year “In the whole of last year, the world’s fourth largest economy produced a record 36.1 percent of its total power needs with renewable sources.” Due to the growing presence of renewable energy in Germany, there are now days when Germany generates half of its power from the sun.

While powering a country with 90% to 100% renewable energy might seem a daunting task for larger economies, many other foreign governments have invested in making certain aspects of their economy run entirely on renewable energy, or have focused on specific areas of the country, setting reasonable (and achievable) goals that will serve as test cases for later expansion of renewable energy. Some of these countries include:


In July of 2017 the Chinese announced that Qinghai Province—a territory the size of Texas—had gone a week relying on 100% renewable energy including solar, wind, and hydropower. During that week, Business Insider reports that “the Qinghai province generated 1.1 billion kilowatt hours of energy for over 5.6 million residents. That’s equal to burning 535,000 tons of coal.” This week period was a test by the Chinese government to test the viability of relying on renewables long-term. Ultimately, “China hopes to produce 20% of its electricity from clean sources by 2030.”

About the same time the Chinese released aerial photos of their newest giant solar farm—which seen from above depicts a cheerful black-and-white panda. Business Insider reports that, “it will be able to produce 3.2 billion kilowatt-hours of solar energy in 25 years… reducing carbon emissions by 2.74 million tons.”


On April 21st2017, Great Britain managed to meet its power demands without burning a lump of coal for the first time since the launch of the Industrial Revolution. This is one small step towards a transition away from fossil fuels to meet Great Britain’s climate change commitments. The Guardian reports that, Hannah Martin, the head of energy at Greenpeace UK, described this milestone as part of a much larger movement: “The first day without coal in Britain since the Industrial Revolution marks a watershed in the energy transition. A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years’ time our energy system will have radically transformed again.”


In 2015 Holland set a goal to power all Dutch electric trains with wind energy by 2018. By January of 2017, that goal had been met. According to The Guardian, Holland met their goal a year ahead of schedule due to, “an increase in the number of wind farms across the country and off the coast of the Netherlands.”


Solar production has grown six-fold since 2014 in Chile. In fact, the New York Times reported that “Chilean officials have an even more ambitious projection, saying the country is on track to rely on clean sources for 90 percent of its electricity needs by 2050, up from the current 45 percent.” The initial movement to renewable energy sources was largely due to the high cost and uncertainty of energy supply when that energy was provided by outside sources. In addition, due to severe weather events that have made hydropower plants less reliable in Chile, the government has turned to more varied sources including wind, solar, and geothermal energy sources.


The largest coal mining company in the world (which produces 82% of India’s coal), announced the closure of dozens of coal mines and the cancellation of plans for dozens of new coal-fired generation stations because the cost of solar power was significantly undercutting fossil fuel. The Independent describes that “India’s solar sector has received heavy international investment, and the plummeting price of solar electricity has increased pressure on fossil fuel companies in the country.” The Independent also reports that “The government has announced it will not build any more coal plants after 2022 and predicts renewables will generate 57 per cent of its power by 2027.”

The United States

Governmental steps taken to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and to move towards a clean and green future are not solely happening outside of the United States. Fortune reports that “Eighteen percent of all electricity in the United States was produced by renewable sources in 2017, including solar, wind, and hydroelectric dams. That’s up from 15% in 2016.” Since 2008, renewable share of energy consumption has doubled. This is largely due to market forces that are responding to the dropping price of solar and wind energy. Fortune also points out that “the solar and wind industries are creating jobs faster than the rest of the economy.”

Many cities and states are, in fact, far outpacing the rest of the United States and have taken even greater steps towards 100% renewable energy. Below are two examples:

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

In June of 2017, President Trump announced that he would pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement citing that he was elected by the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris. In response, the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto responded in a press release that “Pittsburgh will not only heed the guidelines of the Paris Agreement — we will work to move towards 100 percent clean and renewable energy for our future, our economy, and our people.”

Since June of last year, Mayor Peduto have taken steps to make that goal a reality. On April 5th of 2018, 180 U.S. Mayors including Mayor Peduto signed a letter resolving to make solar power a key element in their renewable energy plans. A press release quoted Mayor Peduto: “Solar power is a key component of advancing Pittsburgh’s clean energy transition. We have numerous assets that can provide as the launching point for solar generation in Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania, from parking lots to rooftops. Increasing the amount of locally generated solar power helps reduce carbon pollution, clean our air and provide a resilient, sustainable and cost-effective electricity.”

The next month, Pittsburg released its Climate Action Plan that establishes a goal for 100% renewable energy, and 100% fossil fuel free by 2030 as well as complete divestment from the fossil fuel industry.


Cities are not the only entities in the United States that are working towards 100% renewable energy. Hawaii is an example of an entire state that is working toward that goal.

In 2008 Hawaii and the Department of Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) “to collaborate on the reduction of Hawaii’s heavy dependence on imported fossil fuels.” The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative was begun by that agreement.  In 2014, the initial goals were renewed and upgraded to include:

  • Achieving the nation’s first-ever 100 percent renewable portfolio standards (RPS) by the year 2045.
  • Reducing electricity consumption by 4,300 gigawatt-hours by 2030, enough electricity to power every home on Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Hawaii Island for more than two years.
  • Reducing petroleum use in Hawaii’s transportation sector which accounts for two-thirds of the state’s overall energy usage.

In July of 2017, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission approved an official plan put forward by Hawaiian Electric Companies that laid out exactly how Hawaii would achieve 100% renewable energy by 2040 (five years ahead of the goal.)

Hawaii serves as a reminder that states too can make significant headway towards the goal of 100% renewable energy. Progress is possible and is happening, if slowly.

If you would like to know more about how your state can move towards 100% renewables based on scientific studies that have analyzed the renewable energy potential in each area, visit The Solutions Project website.

A list of cities, counties, and states committed to, or that have achieved 100% renewable energy can also be found here.

The Unimaginable Is Now Possible: 100% Renewable Energy

The knock on environmentalists is that they’ve been better at opposing than proposing. Sure, being against overheating the planet or melting the ice caps should probably speak for itself—but it doesn’t give us a means. So it’s important news that the environmental movement seems to be rallying round a new flag. That standard bears a number: 100 percent.

It’s the call for the rapid conversion of energy systems around the country to 100 percent renewable power—a call for running the United States (and the world) on sun, wind and water. What Medicare for All is to the healthcare debate, or Fight for $15 is to the battle against inequality, 100% Renewable is to the struggle for the planet’s future. It’s how progressives will think about energy going forward—and though it started in northern Europe and Northern California, it’s a call that’s gaining traction outside the obvious green enclaves. In the last few months, cities as diverse as Atlanta and Salt Lake have taken the pledge.

No more half-measures. Barack Obama drove environmentalists crazy with his “all-of-the-above” energy policy, which treated sun and wind as two items on a menu that included coal, gas and oil. That is not good enough. Many scientists tell us that within a decade, at current rates, we’ll likely have put enough carbon in the atmosphere to warm the Earth past the Paris climate targets. Renewables—even the most rapid transition—won’t stop climate change, but getting off fossil fuel now might (there are no longer any guarantees) keep us from the level of damage that would shake civilization.

In any event, we no longer need to go slow: In the last few years, engineers have brought the price of renewables so low that, according to many experts, it would make economic sense to switch over even if fossil fuels weren’t wrecking the Earth. That’s why the appeal of 100% Renewable goes beyond the Left. If you pay a power bill, it’s the common-sense path forward.

To understand why it took a while to get to this point, consider the solar panel. We’ve had this clever device since Bell Labs produced the first model in 1954. Those panels lost 94 percent of the solar energy in conversion and were incredibly expensive to produce, which meant that they didn’t find many uses on planet Earth. In space, however, they were essential. Buzz Aldrin deployed a solar panel on the moon not long after Apollo 11 touched down.

Improvements in efficiency and drops in price came slowly for the next few decades. (Ronald Reagan, you may recall, took down the solar panels Jimmy Carter had installed atop the White House.) But in 1998, with climate fears on the rise, a close election in Germany left the Social Democrats in need of an alliance with the Green Party. The resulting coalition government began moving the country toward renewable energy.

As German demand for solar panels and wind turbines grew, factories across China learned to make the panels ever more cheaply and the price of panels began to plummet, a freefall that continues to this day. Germany now has days where half its power is generated by the sun. In 2017, solar or wind power wins most competitive bids for electric supply: India just announced the closure of dozens of coal mines and the cancellation of plans for new coal-fired generating stations because the low cost of solar power was undercutting fossil fuel. Even in oil-rich Abu Dhabi, free power from the sun is impossible to resist, and massive arrays are going up amidst the oil fields.

One person who noticed the falling prices and improving technology early on was Mark Jacobson, director of Stanford University’s Atmosphere and Energy Program. In 2009, his team published a series of plans showing how the United States could generate all its energy from the sun, the wind and the falling water that produces hydropower. Two years later, Jacobson and a crew of co-conspirators—including actor Mark Ruffalo—launched the Solutions Project to move the idea out of academic journals and into the real world. The group has since published detailed plans for most of the planet’s countries. If you want to know how many acres of south-facing roof you can find in Alabama or how much wind blows across Zimbabwe, these are the folks to ask.

With each passing quarter, the 100 percent target is becoming less an aspirational goal and more the obvious solution. Hell, I spent the spring in some of the poorest parts of Africa where people—for the daily price of enough kerosene to fill a single lamp—were installing solar panels and powering up TVs, radios and LED bulbs. If you can do it in Germany and Ghana, you can do it in Grand Rapids and Gainesville.

Even 72 percent of Republicans want to “accelerate the development of clean energy.” That explains why, for example, the Sierra Club is finding dramatic success with its #ReadyFor100 campaign, which lobbies cities to commit to 100 percent renewable. Sure, the usual suspects, such as Berkeley, Calif., were quick to sign on. But by early summer the U.S. Conference of Mayors had endorsed the drive, and leaders were popping up in unexpected places. Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin put it this way: “It’s not merely an option now; it’s imperative.”

Environmental groups from the Climate Mobilization to Greenpeace to Food and Water Watch are backing the 100 percent target, differing mainly on how quickly we must achieve the transition, with answers ranging from one decade to around three. The right answer, given the state of the planet, is 25 years ago. The second best: as fast as is humanly possible. That means, at least in part, as fast as government can help make it happen. The market will make the transition naturally over time (free sunlight and wind is a hard proposition to beat), but time is the one thing we haven’t got, so subsidies, hard targets and money to help spread the revolution to the poorest parts of the world are all crucial.

That’s why it’s so significant that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in April to propose the first federal 100 percent bill. It won’t pass Congress this year—but as a standard to shape the Democratic Party agenda in 2018 and 2020, it’s critically important.

Congress, however, is not the only legislative body that matters in America. Earlier this year, for instance, the California State Senate passed—by a 2-1 margin—a bill that would take the world’s sixth-largest economy to 100 percent renewable by 2045. Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown, in a bid to recreate the spirit of the Paris climate talks, invited the world’s “sub-national” leaders—governors, mayors, regional administrators—to a San Francisco conference in September 2018.

“Look, it’s up to you and it’s up to me and tens of millions of other people to get it together,” Brown said, as he invited the world to his gathering.

That’s not to say that this fight is going to be easy.Fossil fuel corporations know they’re not the future, yet they’re determined to keep us stuck in the past. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, for example, recently ordered a “study” that, as Democratic senators have pointed out, is “a thinly disguised attempt to promote less economic electric generation technologies, such as coal” by trying to show that intermittent sources of power such as sun and wind make the grid unreliable.

That’s always been the trouble with renewables: The sun sets and the wind dies down. Indeed, one group of academics challenged Mark Jacobson’s calculations this spring partly on these grounds, arguing that unproven techniques of capturing and storing carbon from fossil fuel plants will likely be necessary, as well as continued reliance on nuclear power. Yet technology marches on. Elon Musk’s batteries work in Tesla cars, but scaled up they make it economically feasible for utilities to store the afternoon’s sun for the evening’s electric demand. In May, at an industry confab, one California utility executive put it this way: “The technology has been resolved. How fast do you want to get to 100 percent? That can be done today.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is threatening to impose massive tariffs on solar panels coming into the United States. This could dramatically drive up the price of new U.S. solar installations, and two-thirds of the new arrays expected to come online over the next five years might never be built.

Before that happens, however, the growth in new rooftop installations has already come to what the New York Times has called “a shuddering stop,” because of “a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities, which have been working in state capitols across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners.” Instead of cutting residents a break for helping solve the climate crisis, in state after state utility corporations—led by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Edison Electric Institute (whose political advocacy efforts ratepayers actually underwrite)—are passing legislation that pre-empts “net-metering” laws, which let customers sell their excess power back to the grid. Energy consultant Nancy LaPlaca puts it this way: “Utilities have a great monopoly going and they want to keep it.”

It’s not just right-wing Republicans who oppose renewables. Democrats often support new fossil fuel schemes, in part because they are in thrall to the building trades unions for campaign support. Last fall, days after the mercenaries hired by the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline sicced German shepherds on indigenous protesters, the AFL-CIO (which includes the powerful North America Building Trades Unions) issued a statement supporting the pipeline “as part of a comprehensive energy policy. … Pipeline construction and maintenance provides quality jobs.” Sure enough, Hillary Clinton refused to join Obama in trying to block the pipeline. And, of course, Donald Trump approved the project early in his presidency, shortly after a cheerful meeting with the heads of the building trades unions. The first oil flowed through the pipeline the same afternoon that Trump pulled America out of the Paris climate accord.

That means, of course, that renewables advocates need to emphasize the jobs that will be created as we move toward sun and wind. Already, more Americans are employed in the solar industry than in coal fields, and the conversion is only just beginning. Sanders and Merkley’s federal 100 percent bill, beyond its generous climate benefits, is expected to produce 4 million new jobs over the coming decades.

And since those jobs aren’t always going to be in the same places as the fossil fuel ones they replace, renewable advocates must also demand a just transition for displaced workers. Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) is a pro-climate and pro-labor group advocating that such workers get a deal like the 1944 G.I. Bill: three years of full wages and benefits, four years of education and retraining, and job placement in community economic development programs. This, by the way, is also a strong reason for a robust social safety net—revolutions come with losers as well as winners.

Environmental justice advocates are also quick to point out that renters and low-income homeowners need to share the economic benefits of the renewables revolution. In Brooklyn, N.Y., and Fresno, Calif., groups like UPROSE and Green for All are working on local solar projects to provide residents with clean energy andgood jobs.

Jacqueline Patterson, who heads the NAACP’s environmental justice work, notes that low-income communities need to be cushioned from any cost increases as the market shifts over. “For those communities ‘just transition’ means their bills don’t fluctuate upwards.” In the best of worlds, she adds, “They’re not just a consumer writing a check every month, but they see now a chance to own part of that infrastructure.”

In June, the philanthropic Wallace Global Fund awarded the Standing Rock Sioux a $250,000 prize plus up to a $1 million investment to build renewable energy infrastructure on the reservation, a fitting commemoration to the bravery of water protectors who tried to hold the Dakota pipeline at bay. And a reminder that private foundations will need to play a role in this transition as well.

The political battle for renewables will be hard-fought. In January, the New York Times reported that the Koch brothers have begun to aggressively (and cynically) court minority communities, arguing that they “benefit the most from cheap and abundant fossil fuels.” Their goal is not only to win black voters to the GOP’s energy program, but to stall renewables in majority-black-and-brown cities like Richmond, Calif.

America’s twisted politics may slow the transition to renewables, but other countries are now pushing the pace. In June, for instance, China’s Qinghai Province—a territory the size of Texas—went a week relying on 100 percent renewable energy, a test of grid reliability designed to show that the country could continue its record-breaking pace of wind and solar installation.

China’s not alone. One Friday in April, Great Britain, for the first time since the launch of the Industrial Revolution, managed to meet its power demands without burning one lump of coal. Since 2014, solar production has grown six-fold in Chile, where Santiago’s Metro system recently became the first to run mostly on sun. Holland said this winter that its train system was now entirely powered by the wind, and, in a memorable publicity stunt, strapped its CEO to the blade of a spinning windmill to drive the point home.

These are all good signs—but, set against the rapid disintegration of polar ice caps and the record global temperatures each of the last three years, they still amount to too little. It’s going to take a deeper level of commitment—including turning the U.S. government from an obstacle to an advocate over the next election cycles. That’s doable precisely because the idea of renewable energy is so popular.

“There are a few reasons why 100% Renewable is working—why it’s such a powerful idea,” says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “People have agency, for one. People who are outraged, alarmed, depressed, filled with despair about climate change—they want to make a difference in ways they can see, so they’re turning to their backyards. Turning to their city, their state, their university. And, it’s exciting—it’s a way to address this not just through dread, but with something that sparks your imagination.”

Sometimes, Brune says, all environmentalists have to rally together to work on the same thing, such as Keystone XL or the Paris accord. “But in this case the politics is as distributed as the solution. It’s people working on thousands of examples of the one idea.” An idea whose time has come.

The Solutions Project

The Solutions Project has mapped out a course by which the United States and the world could be powered by 80% renewable energy in the year 2030 and 100% renewable by the year 2050. Their graphic displaying this movement is included below.




Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal And Gas Across Much Of The United States

For the second year in a row, wind and solar accounted for roughly two-thirds of new U.S. generating capacity, while natural gas and nuclear made up most of the rest.

That’s because right now, in much of the United States, wind and solar are the cheapest form of power available, according to a new report from investment bank Lazard.

Analysts found that new solar and wind installations are cheaper than a new coal-fired power installation just about everywhere even without subsidies. The cost of renewables continues to fall rapidly.

Solar and wind are getting really, really cheap.

Since just last year, the cost of utility-scale solar has dropped 10 percent, and the cost of residential solar dropped a whopping 26 percent and that is coming after years of price declines. The cost of offshore wind declined by 22 percent since last year, though it still remains more expensive than onshore wind.

The Lazard report is just the latest chapter in the success story of renewable energy. Since 2009, the cost of solar has been cut nearly in half. The cost of wind has fallen by two-thirds. The precipitous drop in price is reminiscent of shrinking costs for personal computers. Wind and, particularly solar, have yet to level off. New technologies and cheaper materials will continue to drive down costs in the years ahead.



The chart below shows the total cost per megawatt-hour of different forms of power. Lazard added up the lifetime cost of parts, fuel, labor, and other expenses and divided by the number of megawatt-hours generated. From this, they produced a range for the levelized cost of energy (LCOE).

This figure does not include energy subsidies nor the cost of environmental impacts. For instance, if a solar panel costs $100 without subsidies and $70 with subsidies, the LCOE would still be $100. On the other hand, if a gas turbine costs $100 without accounting for the social cost of carbon, and $130 after accounting for the social cost of carbon, then the LCOE stays at $100.

(Researchers use different methods to calculate levelized cost. Trump’s transition team, for example, has hinted that it wants to change the way the federal Energy Information Administration calculates the levelized cost of renewables to make wind and solar appear more expensive.)



By and large, wind and solar are going up in locales with an abundance of wind and sunshine. Wind is most cost-effective in the windswept states in the middle of the country — such as Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas. Solar is most cost-effective in the sun-drenched Southwest — states like Nevada, Arizona, and California. Natural gas is still the cheapest option in much of the rest of the country — but keep in mind that the levelized cost does not account for the environmental cost of burning fossil fuels.

A new tool from the Energy Institute of the University of Texas shows the cheapest kind of new power plant by county, accounting for land available to deploy a particular technology. (For instance, the site notes, “it is not likely that one could build a power plant in a national park.”) The map below shows which technologies are most cost-effective without subsidies.



It’s clear why solar, wind, and natural gas are taking over the country. In light of these trends, some may be asking why we need subsidies at all.

Subsidies account for the costs of air pollution and climate change.

Given the pace of technological progress, it would be fair to ponder whether, left to its own devices, the market would take care of climate change. Low-emissions natural gas is rapidly displacing coal. Solar, wind and battery storage are getting cheaper every day. The power grid is decarbonizing itself, right?

hange demands the rapid transformation of our energy system. That means we can’t just build new, low-carbon power plants at the rate of replacement. We also have to shutter existing carbon-intensive power plants. Thus, while natural gas may offer an attractive way to curb emissions in the short-term, a gas-fired plant built today may need to be closed before the end of its operating life if we are to meet our emissions goals.

One remedy is to account for the cost of climate change — make polluters pay for polluting, or offer tax breaks for renewables. These policies can help expedite the transition to clean energy by making zero-carbon power more cost-competitive.

The chart below shows how federal tax credits impact the cost of renewables. The effect is modest, but it is important in helping wind and solar compete with coal and gas in much of the United States. Fossil fuels, it should be said, have benefitted from decades of federal support.



If you applied a modest fee to carbon pollution — rather than a tax credit for clean energy — that would discourage the construction of new coal- and gas-fired power plants. Wind, solar and nuclear would become the cheapest kind of new power plant across a broader swath of the country, as shown in the map below.


The cost of power, of course, is only half the battle. There is also the matter of intermittency — the fact that wind and solar only generate power when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

Solving the intermittency problem
One key finding from the Lazard report is that renewables can’t meet the “baseload generation needs of a developed economy for the foreseeable future.” For that, grids must continue to turn to other power structures. There are a couple of tools to deal with this, and we’ll likely need to use each. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Energy storage. Solar panels frequently churn out surplus power during the middle of the day. That surplus power can be stored, for example, in a lithium-ion battery and used later. As the Lazard reports notes, storage costs are dropping fast.
  • A national power grid that can carry surplus electricity generated in one part of the country to power-hungry cities in other parts of the country.
  • Nuclear power. Nuclear power can provide a baseline level of electricity, but as the Lazard report shows, nuclear remains too costly to be practical in much of the country. However, scientists are developing new kinds of reactors that could prove cheaper and more efficient than today’s nuclear plants.

Improved infrastructure (a possibility) and cheaper energy storage (an inevitability) will make wind and solar more attractive. As costs continue to fall, expect another banner year for renewables in 2017.

Recalculating The Climate Math

The future of humanity depends on math. And the numbers in a new study released Thursday are the most ominous yet.

Those numbers spell out, in simple arithmetic, how much of the fossil fuel in the world’s existing coal mines and oil wells we can burn if we want to prevent global warming from cooking the planet. In other words, if our goal is to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius—the upper limit identified by the nations of the world—how much more new digging and drilling can we do?

Here’s the answer: zero.

That’s right: If we’re serious about preventing catastrophic warming, the new study shows, we can’t dig any new coal mines, drill any new fields, build any more pipelines. Not a single one. We’re done expanding the fossil fuel frontier. Our only hope is a swift, managed decline in the production of all carbon-based energy from the fields we’ve already put in production.

The new numbers are startling. Only four years ago, I wrote an essay called “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” In the piece, I drew on research from a London-based think tank, the Carbon Tracker Initiative. The research showed that the untapped reserves of coal, oil, and gas identified by the world’s fossil fuel industry contained five times more carbon than we can burn if we want to keep from raising the planet’s temperature by more than two degrees Celsius. That is, if energy companies eventually dug up and burned everything they’d laid claim to, the planet would cook five times over. That math kicked off a widespread campaign of divestment from fossil fuel stocks by universities, churches, and foundations. And it’s since become the conventional wisdom: Many central bankers and world leaders now agree that we need to keep the bulk of fossil fuel reserves underground.

But the new new math is even more explosive. It draws on a report by Oil Change International, a Washington-based think tank, using data from the Norwegian energy consultants Rystad. For a fee—$54,000 in this case—Rystad will sell anyone its numbers on the world’s existing fossil fuel sources. Most of the customers are oil companies, investment banks, and government agencies. But OCI wanted the numbers for a different reason: to figure out how close to the edge of catastrophe we’ve already come.

Scientists say that to have even a two-thirds chance of staying below a global increase of two degrees Celsius, we can release 800 gigatons more CO2 into the atmosphere. But the Rystad data shows coal mines and oil and gas wells currently in operation worldwide contain 942 gigatons worth of CO2. So the math problem is simple, and it goes like this:

942 > 800

“What we found is that if you burn up all the carbon that’s in the currently operating fields and mines, you’re already above two degrees,” says Stephen Kretzmann, OCI’s executive director. It’s not that if we keep eating like this for a few more decades we’ll be morbidly obese. It’s that if we eat what’s already in the refrigerator we’ll be morbidly obese.

What’s worse, the definition of “morbid” has changed in the past four years. Two degrees Celsius used to be the red line. But scientists now believe the upper limit is much lower. We’ve already raised the world’s temperature by one degree—enough to melt almost half the ice in the Arctic, kill off huge swaths of the world’s coral, and unleash lethal floods and drought. July and August tied for the hottest months ever recorded on our planet, and scientists think they were almost certainly the hottest in the history of human civilization. Places like Basra, Iraq—on the edge of what scholars think was the Biblical Garden of Eden—hit 129 degrees Fahrenheit this year, approaching the point where humans can’t survive outdoors. So last year, when the world’s leaders met in Paris, they set a new number: Every effort, they said, would be made to keep the global temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees. And to have even a 50–50 chance of meeting that goal, we can only release about 353 gigatons more CO2. So let’s do the math again:

942 > 353

A lot greater. To have just a break-even chance of meeting that 1.5 degree goal we solemnly set in Paris, we’ll need to close all of the coal mines and some of the oil and gas fields we’re currently operating long before they’re exhausted.

“Absent some incredible breakthrough in mythical carbon-sucking unicorns, the numbers say we’re done with the expansion of the fossil fuel industry,” says Kretzmann. “Living up to the Paris Agreement means we must start a managed decline in the fossil fuel industry immediately—and manage that decline as quickly as possible.”

“Managed decline” means we don’t have to grind everything to a halt tomorrow; we can keep extracting fuel from existing oil wells and gas fields and coal mines. But we can’t go explore for new ones. We can’t even develop the ones we already know about, the ones right next to our current projects.

In the United States alone, the existing mines and oil wells and gas fields contain 86 billion tons of carbon emissions—enough to take us 25 percent of the way to a 1.5 degree rise in global temperature. But if the U.S. energy industry gets its way and develops all the oil wells and fracking sites that are currently planned, that would add another 51 billion tons in carbon emissions. And if we let that happen, America would single-handedly blow almost 40 percent of the world’s carbon budget.

This new math is bad news for lots of powerful players. The fossil fuel industry has based its entire business model on the idea that it can endlessly “replenish” the oil and gas it pumps each year; its teams of geologists are constantly searching for new fields to drill. In September, Apache Corporation announced that it has identified fields in West Texas that hold three billion barrels of oil. Leaving that oil underground—which the new math shows we must do if we want to meet the climate targets set in Paris—would cost the industry tens of billions of dollars.

For understandable reasons, the unions whose workers build pipelines and drill wells also resist attempts to change. Consider the current drama over the Dakota Access oil pipeline. In September, even after pipeline security guards armed with pepper spray and guard dogs attacked Native Americans who were nonviolently defending grave sites from bulldozers, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called on the Obama administration to allow construction to proceed. “Pipeline construction and maintenance,” Trumka said, “provides quality jobs to tens of thousands of skilled workers.” The head of the Building Trades Unions agreed: “Members have been relying on these excellent, family-supporting, middle-class jobs with family health care, pensions, and good wages.” Another union official put it most eloquently: “Let’s not turn away and overregulate or just say, ‘No, keep it in the ground.’ It shouldn’t be that simple.”

She’s right—it would be easier for everyone if it weren’t that simple. Union workers have truly relied on those jobs to build middle-class lives, and all of us burn the damned stuff, all day, every day. But the problem is, it is that simple. We have to “turn away.” We have to “keep it in the ground.” The numbers are the numbers. We literally cannot keep doing what we’re doing if we want to have a planet.

“Keeping it in the ground” does not mean stopping all production of fossil fuels instantly. “If you let current fields begin their natural decline,” says Kretzmann, “you’ll be using 50 percent less oil by 2033.” That gives us 17 years, as the wells we’ve already drilled slowly run dry, to replace all that oil with renewable energy. That’s enough time—maybe—to replace gas guzzlers with electric cars. To retrain pipeline workers and coal miners to build solar panels and wind turbines. To follow the lead of cities like Portland that have barred any new fossil fuel infrastructure, and countries like China that have banned new coal mines. Those are small steps, but they’re important ones.

Even some big unions are starting to realize that switching to renewable energy would add a million new good-paying jobs by 2030. Everyone from nurses to transport workers is opposing the Dakota pipeline; other unions have come out against coal exports and fracking. “This is virtually unprecedented,” says Sean Sweeney, a veteran labor and climate organizer. “The rise of ‘climate unionism’ offers a new direction for the labor movement.” And if it spreads, it will give Democratic politicians more room to maneuver against global warming.

But to convince the world’s leaders to obey the math—to stop any new mines or wells or pipelines from being built—we will need a movement… As the new math makes clear, keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the only realistic approach. What’s unrealistic is to imagine that we can somehow escape the inexorable calculus of climate change. As the OCI report puts it, “One of the most powerful climate policy levers is also the simplest: stop digging.” That is, after all, the first rule of holes, and we’re in the biggest one ever.

This is literally a math test, and it’s not being graded on a curve. It only has one correct answer. And if we don’t get it right, then all of us—along with our 10,000-year-old experiment in human civilization—will fail.

Mapping The World’s Energy Sources

The world produces electricity from three major sources: fossil fuels, nuclear energy, and renewables. Of the three, fossil fuels is still the most dominant. So how many countries would be left in the dark if we were to ban them tomorrow? The innovators at goCompare can answer that question with their interactive map that reveals the different sources of energy that power the world.