Solar Power and Other Clean Energy is Growing: But is the Pace Fast Enough?


Renewable energy and sustainability have been recently gaining a lot of support from the government, companies, and the general public. However, how much is hype, and how much is making an actual difference?

Fortunately, there is much to suggest we're making progress on the latter: renewable energy accounted for almost 50% of new energy installations in 2012. A combination of wind, solar, and biomass provided 12,956 MW of new electrical generating capacity, which accounted for 49.1% of total new energy capacity. The remainder was a combination of mostly natural gas, with a moderate amount of coal and small amounts of nuclear and oil-fueled power.

This is very exciting for anyone who prioritizes the prevention of climate change and the promotion of energy independence, which, to be honest, should be everyone. An overwhelming majority of atmospheric scientists agree that climate change is occurring, and the only disagreements are with its severity and when more noticeably catastrophic climate events will occur. Nevertheless, it is imperative that we keep global temperature rise to at most 2 °C; the world is currently on pace to surpass that mark. With a rapidly growing population that has tripled in 50 years, in addition to growing energy demand from developing nations like China, India, and Brazil, the world is in desperate need for new energy generation sources. Considering the volatility of fossil fuel prices, compounded with the fact that fossil fuel sources are not unlimited, alternative energy seems to be the only option for the world short of not using energy at all which is simply impossible.

This is why we should be excited about the numbers for new energy generation in the U.S. for 2012. It shows an increasing prioritization of green activity: it does not even include energy efficiency activities like passive solar heating, solar thermal, and geothermal energy. Another amazing statistic for the pro-green crowd is that all that’s right, ALL new electrical generating capacity in the U.S. in 2013 came from renewable sources. We are certainly heading in the right direction.

Unfortunately, even these trends are still not enough to completely slow down climate change, which will require reducing our emissions from automobiles and phasing out fossil fuels as much as possible. However, we should feel really good about the emphasis we are placing on renewables: not only the U.S., but also China, India, Germany, France, and other countries who are transitioning or have already transitioned to a carbon-neutral society. With the recent extension of the Wind Production Tax Credit, I hope to see much more wind energy installations in the upcoming year. If only we could also transfer some of the fossil fuel subsidies to wind and solar, their permeation could be even faster. But that’s probably just wishful thinking.