*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*
Over the past few months, there has been a dearth of good news, and if there did happen to be anything good to report it was overshadowed by the national clown show that is a typical American election. Where there has not been one iota of good news is on climate change. Even dismissing the horrible flooding, wildfires, droughts, sea level rise, melting ice caps, hurricanes and worldwide food shortages, there have only been dire reports on the level of CO2 permeating the atmosphere and the subsequent yearly record-setting rise in global temperatures.
This week, while most Americans were living, breathing and bleeding over Donald Trump and the tortuously-long presidential campaign, the International Energy Agency offered up some good news; for the climate, the Earth’s population, and even for America.
The good news for the planet came in the form of an announcement on Tuesday by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that stated according to new data, for the first time “Renewable energy sources have passed coal as the largest new source of electricity in the world.”
It may not seem like such fantastic news, but climate scientists the world over have warned that if human beings are going to avoid that climate-ending 2-degree C rise in global temperatures, it is critical for the world to transition off of carbon-producing fossil fuels and embrace renewable, clean energy generating sources. This is particularly true for getting off dirty coal-fired electrical generation plants that are responsible for a quarter of America’s C02 emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions are one of the main culprits contributing to climate change driven by global warming.
The IEA report revealed that solar and wind account for nearly two-thirds of current renewable energy growth and interestingly those increases are occurring in, and coming from, developing and industrialized nations alike. For a developing nation, it makes perfect sense to embrace cheaper renewable energy as opposed to any fossil fuel-generated power sources whether they are dirty coal-fired plants or not-quite-as-dirty natural gas-burning generating plants.
The IEA also revised its earlier projections for renewable energy’s continued expansion and growth and “significantly increased” the amount of “green energy” it expects to “come on line” over the next five years. Renewable energy includes so-called “green” sources such as biomass, biogas, eligible biomass and small hydroelectric sources, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Both terms, “renewable and green energy,” include solar and wind generating sources and depending on the context they can be interchangeable.
In addition to pro-renewable policies (such as the Paris climate agreement and to a lesser extent the America-China deal to roll back coal-generated emissions, there has been a significant price decline that is helping drive the growth in renewables; particularly in solar. And, the IEA projected that the worldwide costs for solar-generated power will continue declining by an additional 25 percent over the next five years. Onshore wind generated electricity costs will drop by at least another 15 percent during that same five-year period.
Although the IEA report was incredibly good news for the entire planet, there was some extra good news in the report about America’s transition to renewable energy. According to the IEA’s Medium-Term Renewable Market Report, the United States is adding renewables at a faster rate than demand is growing. What that means for the climate is that renewables are not only covering the ever-increasing demand for electricity but are now supplanting some fossil fuel electricity. Still, America has a long way to go because wind and solar generating sources make up a small portion of America’s electricity.
In time and if the Koch brothers allow it, America may catch up to still-developing nations where renewable energy accounts for about half of new electric power sources. Industrialization is fueling a rapid increase in demand for electricity that is best generated with cheaper renewable energy.
Although there appears to be no down-side in this bit of good news, the growth of renewable energy does have economic implications. The dirty coal industry is facing some struggles in part due to the glut of oil and lower national gas prices, financial mismanagement, and new clean-air regulations, but the amount of CO2 driving climate change is a testament that they have had a good long reign in providing dirty fuel to generate electricity. It is noteworthy that as coal jobs may be declining the solar industry is growing and thriving to more than take up the slack in any lost coal jobs.
The IEA couldn’t pass up the chance to note one “sticking point” in their otherwise encouraging report; “persistent challenges of heating and transportation energy” that renewables are not affecting. However, since the IEA only monitored and tracked the world’s transistor from oil and gas to biofuels, they note that as electric and hybrid vehicles continue to increase around the world, they will be connected to the same electrical grid that is steadily getting a little greener, significantly cheaper, and one Hell of a lot more friendly for the climate and the people.
It is a mystery how Republicans beholden to the Koch brothers and dirty fossil fuel industry, particularly the dirty coal industry, will absorb this good news. In the past eight years, Republicans, the Kochs, their lobbyists at the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have made killing renewable energy one of their primary goals. It is likely that the IEA’s report will signal they are not winning the war on renewable energy and in the past that may have been worrisome. But now that more Americans are benefitting from renewable energy, particularly solar, Republicans will have a difficult time convincing them to stop getting free electricity from the Sun and saving the climate for their children’s future; something the IEA’s report never mentions.
image: J Pat Carter