Renewables Coming Online Way Ahead of Schedule

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Efforts to address the increasingly pressing climate challenge with rational policy continue to languish in Washington, as willfully ignorant conservatives continue to choose donor loyalty over science. But based on the surprisingly robust growth of renewable energy, you almost wouldn’t know it. It seems to be the case that if the government won't make us do it, we're just going to have go ahead and do it anyway. Indeed it seems as if we've done a far better job than anyone expected.

A new study conducted by the SUN DAY campaign, projects that electricity generation from renewable sources will reach 16% of the total by 2018. This is 22 years sooner than that predicted by US Energy Information Administration.

Using The EIA’s own data, the study was able to show that if renewables continue to grow at the present rate, they will outperform the EIA’s projections by a wide margin.

Considering the fact that between the years 2009 and 2013 renewables grew from less than 9% to nearly 13%, it’s hard to imagine that it would take until 2040, as the EIA forecast predicts, to reach 16%. Granted, there are obstacles to face and much low-hanging fruit has been harvested, but given the compelling combination of low prices, growing investment, available innovative financing, built-in cost resiliency, energy security, and the moral imperative to take meaningful action, there seems to be no stopping them now. A more realistic assessment, according to the SUN DAY report, shows us reaching 16%, conservatively, in five years, and possibly in as little as four, certainly not the 27 years that EIA claims.

This is a “disservice to the public,” says Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Inasmuch as policy makers in both the public and private sectors - as well as the media and others - rely heavily upon EIA data when making legislative, regulatory, investment, and other decisions, underestimation can have multiple adverse impacts on the renewable energy industry and, more broadly, on the nation's environmental and energy future.”

Indeed, Bloomberg estimates that investment in renewables should be expected to grow by somewhere between two and a half and four and a half times by 2030. That number is 35% more than their previous forecast that was made just a year ago. This underscores the fact that renewables are growing faster than anyone had predicted.

Wait, there’s more. According to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at the Telegraph, the rapid growth of solar can be expected to squeeze the revenues out of oil-based economies like Russia, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia. Roughly 29% of new electric capacity installed in the US came from solar, and, according to the US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), more solar has been installed in the US in the past 18 months than in the past thirty years. Some of these aforementioned oil economies are in such rough shape, they need $100/barrel oil prices to stay afloat. But that’s not likely to happen with so much alternative capacity at hand. If they should find themselves giving up the ghost, that would drive prices up, but those higher prices would also drive more people into the waiting arms of renewables.

Solar prices have dropped 43% since 2010. They are expected to drop by another 30% by 2020. To get a feel for what this looks like in a historical context, check out the graph here. The latest solar cells coming out of the labs, the 111-V, can capture the sun’s energy at over 31% efficiency. Both of these factors contribute to the always critical metric of $/watt, which is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to competing against other forms of energy. Problems that once seemed daunting, like the need for water to keep panels clean in desert environments are now yielding to the relentless march of innovation. Ecoppia, an Israeli company has developed a robotic system that wipes the panels clean using soft, dry microfiber pads.

Deutsche Bank lists 19 regional markets where the cost of solar has reached grid parity without subsidies. Among these are California, Chile, Australia, Turkey, Israel, Germany, Japan, Italy, Greece, and Spain, as well as Mexico and China for industrial power.

I heard it said once long ago, that in the next revolution, the government will be the last thing to change. I can’t remember who said it, but it’s starting to look like they might have been right.


[Image credit: Barefoot photographers of Tilonia: Flickr Creative Commons]