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The Path to A Sustainable Energy Future


Our society stands at a crucial juncture, deciding how to power our homes, businesses, and transportation. We have relied heavily on non-renewable sources such as oil, coal, and natural gas for over a century to meet our energy needs; however, we now understand that continuing to depend on these sources is unsustainable. Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, causing the planet to warm up, disrupting weather patterns, melting glaciers, and raising sea levels. To preserve a livable world for future generations, we must make a significant shift towards renewable sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower.


The good news is that transitioning to clean energy not only makes environmental sense, but it also makes economic sense. The costs of renewables have plummeted over the last decade, with the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) for utility-scale solar decreasing by 90% from 2009 to 2020, according to Lazard. Wind and battery storage costs have similarly plunged. Renewables are now the cheapest form of new electricity generation across the globe. This cost competitiveness will only improve with further technological advances and economies of scale.


There are those who argue that renewable energy sources cannot provide reliable baseload power like fossil fuels, but this is a myth that has been debunked. By utilizing sophisticated grid management and storage solutions, we can integrate high levels of renewables into our energy pot while still ensuring grid reliability. California and Germany are already successfully operating grids with over 30% renewable penetration. With suitable investments and policies in place, experts believe we can achieve 80% or even 100% renewables in the near future.


Of course, transitioning an entire energy system takes time, effort, and political intent; thankfully, the growth of renewables is already well underway. Since 2000, wind capacity has increased over 18-fold, and solar power has skyrocketed from 1 GW to over 580 GW globally. Renewables generated 29% of U.S. electricity in 2020. Over 300 major corporations, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Nike, Walmart, and IKEA, have committed to 100% renewable energy targets through the RE100 initiative. The RE100 initiative is a global corporate leadership initiative that unites influential businesses committed to using 100% renewable electricity. This momentum will only increase as the cost of clean energy drops.


To speed up the shift towards clean energy, governments need to enact policies like carbon pricing, mandates for clean energy, updated grid regulations, and financial incentives for renewable energy. These policies will encourage utilities, businesses, and homeowners to adopt clean energy and gradually phase out fossil fuels. Governments should also invest significantly in modernizing the power grid, developing energy storage technology, electric vehicle infrastructure, and retraining programs for workers transitioning from jobs in the fossil fuel industry.


At the individual level, we can all help advance sustainability. Simple acts like weatherproofing your home, installing solar panels, sharing rides, avoiding unnecessary flights, and eating less meat have ripple effects when multiplied by millions. Supporting companies committed to renewable energy and voting for climate-conscious leaders makes a significant difference.


Sustainability often starts as a grassroots movement before being embraced by the mainstream. We’re seeing that play out right now in real-time with energy. This transition is within our grasp - we just need the willpower to finish the job. With innovative policies, new technologies, and people working together, we can transform our energy system and leave a healthier, cleaner, and more prosperous world for future generations. The time for action is now.


 

Recommended Readings


Climate Group. (2022). RE100 members. Retrieved from https://www.there100.org/re100-members


Lazard. (2021). Levelized cost of energy and levelized cost of storage - 2021. Lazard. https://www.lazard.com/research-insights/levelized-cost-of-energy-levelized-cost-of-storage-and-levelized-cost-of-hydrogen-2021/


Lazard. (2020). Lazard's levelized cost of energy analysis—Version 14.0. Lazard. https://www.lazard.com/media/kwrjairh/lazards-levelized-cost-of-energy-version-140.pdf


International Energy Agency (IEA). (2021). Renewables Information: Overview. IEA. https://www.iea.org/reports/renewables-information-overview


Steinberger, K., & Farmer, M. (2017, July 10). Debunking Three Myths About “Baseload”. Energy Central. https://energycentral.com/c/gr/three-myths-about-%E2%80%9Cbaseload%E2%80%9D-renewable-energy-and-grid-reliability


U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2021). Renewable energy explained. EIA. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/renewable-sources/

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