Harnessing the production of energy has propelled us forward as a species
It has also threatened the health of our planet.
One of the major concerns surrounding the production of energy is the pollution caused by burning fossil fuels. And as our technology advances, and the population grows, our need for energy just gets bigger.
There are two categories of energy resources: non-renewable and renewable
Non-renewable energy resources come in the form of coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power. These resources are non-renewable because of the amount of time it takes for them to be replenished. Fossil fuels are created over millennia as a natural process of anaerobic decomposition. Nuclear power is produced using a rare form of Uranium which is considered a non-renewable resource.
These sources of energy notably produce large amounts of pollution and damage to our environment.
Renewable energy sources come in the form of solar, wind, hydro (water), and geothermal. Renewable sources of energy are replenished in a shorter period of time. While renewables do impact our environment, it is small in comparison to fossil fuels. And advances in technology continue to make that impact even smaller.
So how close are we to getting all of our energy from clean sources?
Reports and estimations for how quickly the world can be at 100% renewable energy use are all over the map, depending on whoâ€™s talking about it and the method of analysis theyâ€™re using.
We get clean energy predictions coming from politicians, futurists, news reporters, and scientist, to name a few.
For example, in 2008 former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said it was â€œachievable, affordable and transformativeâ€ to generate all the electricity in the United States using wind, solar and other renewable sources within 10 years. Listening to that, it would be easy to get our hopes up, and then dashed again, since itâ€™s been 10 years and we arenâ€™t there yet.
Itâ€™s hard to know who to listen to, but one thing is evident: we are moving in the right direction.
AÂ reportÂ by the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that in March 2017, 10% of the energy in the U.S. was produced by wind and solar. Now 10% might not sound like much, but the numbers are on the rise.
According to Bloomberg New Energy Financeâ€™sÂ New Energy Outlook 2017,Â Â â€œSolar is already at least as cheap as coal in Germany, Australia, the U.S., Spain and Italy. The levelized cost of electricity from solar is set to drop another 66% by 2040. By 2021, it will be cheaper than coal in China, India, Mexico, the U.K. and Brazil as well.â€
The report also shows that homeownersâ€™ use of solar is on the rise, saying, â€œBy 2040, rooftop PV will account for as much as 24% of electricity in Australia, 20% in Brazil, 15% in Germany, 12% in Japan, and 5% in the US and India.â€
Do we need to create new technology to make the move to clean energy production?
Sometimes we think it will take new inventions and innovation to be able to move an entire country to using energy made from fossil fuels to energy made from renewable sources.
A new study by the Department of Energyâ€™s National Energy Laboratory (https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/re-futures.html) shows that the U.S. can generate most of its electricity from renewable energy by 2050, using the technology and resources we have available NOW. The technology we currently have available includes hydropower, wind turbines, solar power, biopower, and geothermal.
This isnâ€™t a space-age daydream or story; we have access to these resources now.
You can see proof of this by looking at the example set by Costa Rica. Costa Rica generates 99% of its electricity using renewable sources.
Even though we have access to the resources we need to create energy from renewable sources, it will still take time
Although clean energy sources are less expensive in the long run, they are very costly to build and install. Switching to clean energy also means we need new technology that can use that energy.
An example of this is the gas powered engine. Itâ€™s easy to go and fill up at the gas station. If we want to switch to a greener option, we need to buy a car with an electric engine. And the development cost of those engines was something most companies werenâ€™t willing to invest inâ€¦ until now.
Following the lead of Tesla Motors, auto makers are now jumping into the electric car industry.
And other industries are following suit:
- Solar panel companies that cater to homeowners are on the rise.
- Power companies are adding wind and solar to their power generating operations.
So what can we do to push the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy?
Although it might seem like a big job, we can do our part to help the change come faster.
Keep in touch with policy makers.
Contact your local political leaders and tell them how you feel every time an issue regarding the environment or energy production comes up. The right policies can clear the way for clean energy initiatives.
Consider a career in the clean energy field.
There are more and more jobs in the clean energy field. The more people we have working for clean energy, the better. The Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy has information on the top jobs in clean energy and also career information.
Invest in renewable energy.
Renewable energy is costly to build and install. Investing in this growing field could potentially help you and the environment at the same time. According to Bloomberg New Energy Financeâ€™s New Energy Outlook 2017, â€œRenewable energy sources are set to represent almost three quarters of the $10.2 trillion the world will invest in new power generating technology until 2040, thanks to rapidly falling costs for solar and wind power, and a growing role for batteries, including electric vehicle batteries, in balancing supply and demand.â€
Join the #PaperlessMovement.
To stay informed on the latest innovations in technology and green energy, join the paperless movement community. By coming together as a group of people who deeply care about the environment, we can keep each other aware of important changes in the development of green energy, and stay informed on what we can do to help it along.