Negative media coverage has a lot of people thinking solar and other renewable energy sources are not yet ready for prime time. But nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, we have the technology to get 100% of our energy from renewable sources.
So what’s stopping us, and how do we get to 100% renewables?
That question is being answered everywhere I look these days. A recent study claims that by 2030, we could power a large electrical grid with renewable energy 99% of the time — without spending more than we do on electricity today. The key, given the intermittency of wind and solar, is to generate power in a distributed manner. But why stop at 99%? We have many tools at our disposal, including demand response programs, to get to 100%.
Local energy advocate Greg Pahl provides detailed ideas and case studies in his book Power from the People. He suggests generating a mixture of renewables in addition to wind and solar, including hydropower, biogas, biomass, liquid biofuels, and geothermal energy. Which sources are used should depend on what’s most readily available and easy to implement in each community.
All these plans deal with the issue of intermittency and reduce the need for expensive storage. Even where storage is needed, we can expect technological advances to make it more affordable and effective.
These are all great ideas, but what’s really exciting is that we’re no longer in the idea phase. A number of cities, countries, and businesses have started on the path to 100% renewables. Corporations, schools, and even the Department of Defense are jumping on the solar bandwagon, with some businesses committing to using 100% renewable technologies. The French think tank negaWatt claims that France, known for its dependence on heavily subsidized nuclear power, can get close to 100% renewables by 2050. And other cities and countries are more ambitious. Now an impressive list of regions are either well on their way to generating 100% renewable energy, or are already there.
On April 16 in San Francisco, we’ll have an exciting opportunity to learn more at the Pathways to 100% Renewable Energy Conference, organized by Renewables 100 Policy Institute and its Partners. This will be the first time that international experts meet in the US to discuss a complete switch to renewables. People from finance, academia, government, policy, labor, and technology will join in an intensive discussion about what’s working and the best ways to overcome the challenges to achieving 100% renewable energy targets in all sectors and regions.
There couldn’t be a better time for this conference. We’re at the point where renewables are popular in the US and abroad — and the Economist is predicting that renewables, especially solar, will become the new normal. There’s no time like the present to make this a reality.