By Kate Reid
Just last month Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that requires half of California’s electricity to come from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2030. This is a monumental move towards reducing pollution and fossil fuel use, so it seems apropos to discuss renewable energy in today’s blog, especially in lieu of my last post on transportation. Just as America’s auto-focused transportation system is outdated, we are in desperate need of a more modern energy system. We’re trying to succeed using a system from the previous century when greater availability of fossil fuels, cheaper prices, a smaller population, and less impact on the environment all made this system a feasible option – but this is no longer the case. Let’s hope that California’s recent commitment to obtaining 50% of its energy from renewable sources will be a game changer in encouraging other states to follow suit – and for helping the population grasp that renewable energy is a necessity, not a nicety.
Why We Need Renewable Energy Solutions
As of last year renewable sources of energy accounted for only 10% of total U.S. energy consumption and 13% of electricity generation (eia.gov). When we reconcile this with the fact that the vast majority of our energy comes from expensive, dwindling resources, which are extremely damaging to our planet, the picture becomes grim. Here are a few other statistics to consider:
- Three major fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—have dominated the U.S. energy mix for more than 100 years. (gov)
- Power plants can require large amounts of water for cooling. On average, a kilowatt-hour of electricity (enough power to run 400 typical compact-fluorescent light bulbs for an hour) requires 25 gallons of water to be withdrawn from rivers or lakes. (gov)
- Electricity production generates the largest share of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (which trap heat and make the planet warmer). Approximately 67% of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas. In 2013 this accounted for 31% of greenhouse gas emissions. (gov)
- In a warmer climate, Americans will use more electricity for air conditioning and less natural gas, oil, and wood for heating. If the nation’s climate warms by 1.8°F, the demand for energy used for cooling would increase by about 5-20%, while the demand for energy used for heating would decrease by about 3-15%. (gov)
- Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.5°F over the past century, and is projected to rise another 0.5 to 8.6°F over the next hundred years. (gov)
- Total U.S. crude oil production generally decreased each year from a peak in 1970, but the trend reversed in 2010. In 2014, crude oil production was the highest since 1986. (gov)
Concerns Against Renewable Energy and California’s New 50/50 Goal
As with any major change to a system, there is criticism, and CA’s new mandate to get 50% of its power from renewable sources by 2030 is not exempt. While there has been little question that this goal is achievable, critics are concerned that the new and complex regulations required for the transition from non-renewable sources will add unknown costs to businesses and individuals. However, supporters argue that individuals can save through rebates and subsidies as they transition to more energy efficient options (examples include the purchase of electric vehicles, installation of solar panels and better insulation, and replacement of inefficient light bulbs/appliances).
Other critics have raised concerns that this 50/50 shift will cause significant job losses if petroleum limits are imposed. Supporters argue though that initial fears of economic impact have not come true even though CA already has some of the toughest air quality standards/mandates in the world. Our economy is healthy (comparatively) with an unemployment rate that is slightly above the national average but the lowest it’s been since January of 2008.
Other concerns about renewable energy include: that it’s nice to have but can’t account for all of global energy needs, that it can’t supply electricity 24/7, that the electricity grid can’t handle renewable energy, or that it’s bad for the environment is some way (like wind farms killing birds). However, all of these concerns are either unfounded or have easy solutions, and should ultimately be thrown out as evidence for why we should stay away from renewable energy (check out the myth busting section on greenpeace.org). So on the subject of renewable energy, let’s agree with Governor Brown. At the signing ceremony for the aforementioned CA legislation earlier last month, Brown spoke on the need to get away from fossil fuels and imparted this eerie, but accurate, statement:
“What has been the source of our prosperity now becomes the source of our ultimate destruction, if we don’t get off it.” – Governor Jerry Brown (latimes.com)