Renewable Energy Is on the Rise — and There’s Nothing You Can Do About It

Good news for the world: scientists who’ve discovered an enzyme that eats plastic have accidentally mutated it, making it stronger. This is great news, considering that our oceans are littered with plastics throughout. While there may not actually be a “giant Pacific garbage patch,” but without these enzymes, the chance that our race will someday face such a disaster is high, because plastics aren’t traditionally biodegradable.

solar panels

Representational image: Pixabay

This comes at a time where renewable resource and energy advocates can celebrate multiple instances of good news. Just recently, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $105.5 million in new funding to support innovative solar research, according to Green Tech Media.
“American ingenuity is the engine of our energy economy,” said Energy Secretary Rick Perry, in a statement. “Investing in all of our abundant energy sources, including solar technologies, will help to drive down costs and ensure that the nation leads the world in energy production and innovation.”

The DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) will use the funding for around 70 projects, spanning the four following subject areas:

  • Advanced Solar Systems Integration Technologies (up to $46 million, approximately 14 projects)
  • Concentrating Solar Power Research and Development (up to $24 million, approximately 21 projects)
  • Photovoltaics Research and Development (up to $27 million, approximately 28 projects)
  • Improving and Expanding the Solar Industry through Workforce Initiatives (up to $8.5 million, approximately 4 projects)

It appears that renewable is doing quite well, both in the U.S. and abroad — so what’s stopping its widespread adoption?

Solar Hurdles

One of the biggest problems facing solar right now is storage — and we can see it if we just take a look at just exactly how solar energy works:

  1. Photovoltaic cells in a solar panel convert sunlight into an electric current.
  2. The current passes through an inverter to make it compatible with your home’s wiring and appliances (this is called an alternating current or AC).
  3. Alternating current is channeled into your home’s wiring and is available for you to use as electricity!
  4. Any extra electricity is wired to the electrical grid or, if you have an energy storage system, some may be stored in a battery for later use.
  5. An energy meter measures how much electricity you use from or contribute to the grid.

The problem exists as part of step four. Akshat Rathi, writing for Quartz, explains that when dealing with green energy grids, there are such things as “negative energy” prices.

Solar farms and wind turbines produce varying amounts of power based on the vagaries of the weather. So we build electrical grids to handle only the power levels we expect in a given location,” writes Rathi. “But in some cases, there’s more sun or wind than expected, and these renewable energy sources pump in more power than the grid can handle. The producers of that power then have to pay customers to use up the excess electricity; otherwise, the grid would be overloaded and fail.”

So if we can’t store energy in the grid, what about batteries? And wouldn’t batteries help on windless, cloudy days when turbines and panels aren’t producing energy? The answer is that batteries do exist to store this power — but they’re basically just large versions of lithium-ion batteries that are found in your phone.

“They can only store energy for a certain amount of time—weeks, at most. As soon as the charging source is removed, they start to lose the charge,” continues Rathi. “That’s not a problem if the batteries are for ironing out the peaks and troughs of daily use. The trouble is that humanity’s energy demand is skewed based on local seasons, which requires sometimes drawing on every available source, and sometimes not using much energy at all. Mumbai’s peak energy demand is during the hottest days of summer, when people run air conditioners to survive. London’s peak energy demand comes during the coldest days of winters, when people burn natural gas to heat their homes and offices.”

Storage is not the only hurdle for solar energy, of course. The Union of Concerned Scientists list capital costs, siting and transmission, market entry, an unequal playing field, and reliability misconceptions as other major barriers to renewable energy technologies.

Nevertheless, Generational Interest Prevails

Despite these very real hurdles, countries around the world are posting news like the U.S.’s DOE. Australia just announce, for example, that renewable energy’s capacity is set to exceed a target that their Federal Government said was “impossible.”The private industry in America is booming as well, regardless of the U.S. Federal Government, with the clean energy jobs marketing employing over 2.5 millionpeople in the USA.

Why is it that this industry is developing regardless of (and in some people’s view, despite opposition from) big industry and world governments? It’s because people understand the benefits of using green energy. Statistics show that if the United States is able to achieve a 25 percent renewable electricity standard by 2025, it will lower power plant CO2 emissions by 277 million metric tons each year— and these types of statistics are particularly important to millennials, the biggest generation with market and political potential.

Millennials and younger consumers have been driving a shift in our global economy for years now, and this shift is spurring ethical change. They understand that resources in this world aren’t finite, and that nothing is going to get better unless we act on change. The beautiful truth here is that the younger generations really doseem to be effecting change in our world.

There’s Nothing You Can Do About It …

Renewable is on the way and “there’s nothing you can do about it” — this is a bit tongue in cheek. There absolutely is something you can do about it — a cornucopia of things actually, for better and for worse.

Renewable hasn’t yet won. To become complacent and think that we can all kick back and rest assured that the planet is saved is a sure path to disaster. Plenty of public and private business interests both are working hard to make sure the world chokes to death on coal and petrol for years to come, and the only way that will happen is if we rest on the laurels of current success.

The good news is that just a couple of years ago, nobody thought renewable interests would be as successful as they are today. If we continue to push for ethical and environmental economic decisions, we’ll see a brighter world ahead, and leave a better world for our children.


Author: Andrew Heikkila