Nobody said the third industrial revolution would be easy. As is often the case with systemic change, it’s hard to see radical progress when you’re in the thick of a transition — and the energy transition is no different.
Some players recognize the trend towards clean energy and are getting on board. Others are resisting progress at every step.
Just this week, an Inside Climate News report revealed that a northeastern utility organization invited a climate denier to speak at their annual conference. The utility industry no doubt feels threatened by a shift to distributed energy, which could render their monopolies obsolete. But even that was a pretty desperate move.
When a trade association for one of the nation’s largest industries continues to spread misinformation about climate change, and prominent political leaders continue to ignore established climate science, the energy transition begins to feel like a series of fits and starts that may never get us to the emission reductions needed.
But it’s all about the long-term trends. And those trends point to a fundamental shift happening in the way energy is produced. This week, the International Energy Agency announced that renewable energy generation attracted more than 2.5 times more expenditures than fossil fuels in 2015.
An analysis of coal plants in Texas found that cheaper wind and solar on the grid is contributing to a market transformation where coal is no longer cost competitive. Total energy generated by coal plants in most of the state declined from about 40 percent in 2010 to about 25 percent in the first half of 2016.
Meanwhile, costs for wind energy will continue to drop over the next few decades as taller turbines and wider rotors produce more energy per turbine.
The shift to a clean energy economy requires policymakers, utilities and businesses to work through complex decisions about how energy should be generated and sold. While some utilities are behaving badly, others are coming to the table to encourage fair policy on distributed generation. On Tuesday, power utility NV Energy and solar manufacturer SolarCity reached a deal on net metering that will maintain higher reimbursement rates for the power produced by Nevada’s current 32,000 rooftop solar customers.
More than anything, the energy revolution presents no shortage of opportunities for anyone who wants to be involved. The benefits — whether they are cost savings, cleaner air, safer cars or more energy choices — are undeniable. We need the expertise of policymakers, businesses, engineers, artists and yes, even utilities, to navigate our way through this transition.
It couldn’t be a more exciting time to jump on board — we need all hands on deck.