With almost 80% of America’s energy coming from fossil fuels, more attention is turning towards the future of energy.
Already 12 cities across the USA have made pledges to move towards 100% renewable energy in the next 15 years. There have already been several cases across the USA of towns and cities turning completely to renewable sources such as wind power.
So what would a completely renewable energy future look like? More importantly, how do we get there?
What Does the Future of Energy Look Like?
With the importance of renewable energy coming to light in recent years we are starting to see more cities changing their approach. This is important to help us move towards renewable as a nation but there are still barriers to entry.
Solar being dependent on the sun unless you have costly storage capabilities means we will start to see different sources emerging.
Places that can capitalize on geothermal energy or hydropower will be focusing on those sources which are more reliable and easier to control. The future of energy is going to be a blend of all sorts of sources to help us reach that 100% goal.
The key to renewable energy transformation is switching big industries that typically run on fossil fuels to rely entirely on electricity. Simply put, we need to electrify everything.
Switching to electricity alone would significantly lower the demand for energy since there would be heating required for the process. It would also pretty much eliminate air pollution. This drastic reduction in air pollution would then, in turn, eliminate huge spending on related health problems.
It’s very difficult to accurately project health and climate savings but it’s clear that we can assume that the cost of transforming to renewable energy would pay for itself in the long run.
The key is to be ambitious and strategic with big industries such as transportation. We need to power buses, trains, trucks, ships, and aircraft. We need to electrify the ports, stations also. It is not an easy job but there needs to be specific dates and goals outlined to get us there.
In order to meet the demand for renewable energy, we need to drastically overbuild new power plants. This is because renewable energy sources do not work around the clock as nuclear power plants can.
In a 2015 study, it was concluded that just to meet the average energy demand we would need to build the following:
- 328,000 new onshore 5 MW wind turbines (providing 30.9% of U.S. energy for all purposes)
- 156,200 off-shore 5 MW wind turbines (19.1%)
- 46,480 50 MW new utility-scale solar-PV power plants (30.7%)
- 2,273 100 MW utility-scale CSP power plants (7.3%)
- 75.2 million 5 kW residential rooftop PV systems (3.98%)
- 2.75 million 100 kW commercial/government rooftop systems (3.2%)
- 208 100 MW geothermal plants (1.23%)
- 36,050 0.75 MW wave devices (0.37%)
- 8,800 1 MW tidal turbines (0.14%)
- 3 new hydroelectric power plants (all in Alaska)
We would need even more to account for the extra energy needed for peaking power.
Obviously the above is just one combination but it’s clear that we need to be over-construction the power plants to achieve the supply we need.
Realistic and Reliable?
With the dropping cost of renewable energy, it is becoming more attainable for personal and government level buying. We will need to overcome challenges in storage, technology, and politics to reach this goal but it is realistic with the correct strategy in place. Small cities have seen the switch to 100% take just 3 years.
With current figures suggesting we can reach 80% by 2050, the fully renewable energy future is within our grasp is we can advance technology.
The goal is to create an even more reliable system than we have today using a variety of sources and storage. By combining solar and wind with hydro and geothermal we can create a consistent supply. We can then use ‘demand response’ to shift demand in accordance with production.
The Politics of Energy
A recent study suggests that 65% of US adults support the development of alternative energy sources. That figure is promising as we see the public’s focus shift away from fossil fuels. However, without the right policies in place, we’re not going to reach these ambitious goals.
Ultimately, the United States needs a long-term clean energy policy. The policy needs to create a long-term market for renewable energy and encourage the integration of renewable energy. We need to put a price on carbon emissions and increase funding for research and development.
How to Get There From Here
We need to implement a strong clean energy policy and incentivize public behavior on a vast scale to reach these ambitious goals in the coming years.
This will require coordinated action from Congress, federal agencies, state legislatures, and local officials. We are looking at an unprecedented level of government activism, a multitude of incentives, mandates, standards, and laws unmatched in American history.
Much of that activism is necessary for the next 5 to 10 years. The same period in which Republicans, who vehemently oppose nearly every one of these goals, are expected to control the House of Representative and well over half of the 50 state legislatures. The biggest roadblock in the fight against fossil fuels might just be our current government.
The Fight For The Future
The future of energy is not outside of our grasp but it requires a strategic and devoted clean energy plan from our government at a federal and local level. We need to see policies and incentives reflecting a cleaner future implemented now to move towards these goals.
The major challenge standing in the way of a clean and renewable grid is the political landscape in the US. We need to see government and agencies working together on an unprecedented scale. It’s no longer an option to wait – we need to start building a renewable future now.
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