When discussions revolve around climate change, renewable energy resources are usually in the number one list of priorities the world needs to focus on to curb the impacts of the crisis, explained Christina Nunez of National Geographic, an American television news network. Renewables have much more to offer other than just being “green.” In fact, the renewable energy sector creates jobs, enhances the resiliency of electric grids, expands in energy access in developing states, and lowers electricity bills.
Humans have relied heavily on coal, oil, and other fossil fuels for the past 150 years or so to power light bulbs, cars, factories, and more. Since fossil fuels are used in everyday life, the greenhouse gases emitted from these sources, which represent roughly 90% of all emissions from human activities, have reached an estimated record of more than 37 billion tons in 2018, according to the Global Carbon Project, an organization that seeks to quantify global greenhouse gas emissions and their causes.
This showed a 2.7% increase in emissions output in 2017. The latter represented a 1.6% growth a year prior. However, renewable energy sources have their own trade-offs and risks such as impacts on the environment.
Adoption of Renewable Energy Sources Across the Globe
UK-based organization CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) found that more than 100 out of 570 cities worldwide get 70% or more of their power from renewables, up from 42% in 2015 when countries vowed to slash greenhouse emissions in the Paris climate agreement, cited Georgina Gustin of Inside Climate News, a non-partisan news organization.
More than 40 cities in the US are currently powered by renewables, including Burlington, Vermont and Seattle. Additionally, Eugene, Oregon and Aspen, Colorado also managed to get at least 70% of their electricity from renewables.
Latin American cities (57%) lead the way in utilizing renewables, followed by Europe (20%), Africa (9%), and North America (9%). The cities surveyed by the CDP used a variety of energy sources. A total of 275 countries utilize hydropower, 189 depend on wind, and 184 get power from solar photovoltaics. Meanwhile, biomass is used by 164 cities while 65 rely on geothermal power.
The Rapid Growth of Renewables in the US, But Fossil Fuels Still Reign Supreme
Records showed that 77% of Americans (out of 3,627 US adults surveyed) said it’s important for the US to develop alternative energy sources like solar and wind power than to produce more coal, oil, and other fossil fuels, per a 2019 survey conducted by Pew Research Center, a non-partisan American think tank.
The survey also found that about 67% of US adults said the federal government is doing too little to curb the impacts of climate change. The respondents shared the same sentiment regarding efforts to protect air (67%) and water quality (68%), stated Cary Funk and Meg Hefferon of Pew Research Center.
But, has anything changed about how the US wants to meet its energy needs? There have been slight changes thus far. Solar and wind power have grown rapidly over the past decade, but those sources only represented 4% of all the energy consumed in the US as of 2018. However, most of the energy used in the US originated from coal, oil, and natural gas.
In 2018, those fossil fuels accounted for about 80% of the nation’s energy demand, down from 84% a decade prior. Coal use has declined from 22.9% in 2000 to 13.1% in 2018 while natural gas use soared from 24.1% to 30.7%. But oil has fluctuated between 38.7% and 36.4% from 2000 to 2018. The total amount of energy expended in the US—ranging from lighting and heating homes to fueling factories and driving cars—hit 101.2 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2018. The figure is the highest level since data was gathered back in 1949, as found by the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).
On the other hand, solar power experienced the largest percentage growth of any energy source in the US, generating more than two billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2008. In 2018, solar generated more than 93 million kilowatt-hours of energy. Electric utilities produced about two-thirds of solar energy, with solar setups on homes and commercial buildings accounting for the rest. However, it only comprised 1% of the US’ total energy production in 2018. The biggest renewable energy source was hydropower (2.8%), with wind, wood, and biofuels following next.
What’s the Green New Deal About?
Lisa Friedman wrote on New York City-based newspaper The New York Times explained that the Green New Deal is a congressional resolution that provides the groundwork for combating climate change. It is introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) and calls on the federal government to steer the US away from fossil fuels and slash greenhouse gas emissions.
The Green New Deal also seeks to guarantee new, lucrative jobs in clean energy industries. It is non-binding. Hence, nothing would become law even if Congress approves the Green New Deal. The goal of the resolution is to minimize greenhouse gas emissions to avert the dire consequences of the climate crisis along with addressing societal issues like racial injustice and economic inequality.
The Green New Deal uses two major reports published last year by the UN and by federal scientists as its roadmap. The scientists warned that if global temperatures soar, the world will experience more heatwaves, wildfires, and droughts. Supporters of the resolution argued that changes don’t only involve technology, but it also requires ending racial discrimination and other social issues.
How Can the Federal Government Address Those Goals?
The Green New Deal calls for the launch of a “10-year mobilization” to slash carbon emissions in the US. It aims to source 100% of the country’s electricity from renewable and zero-emissions power, digitize its power grid, make every building more energy-efficient, and invest in electric vehicles and high-speed rail. The plan also mandates the government to provide job training and new economic development to communities that currently depend on jobs in the fossil fuel sector.
The Costs Are Unclear As of Now
President Donald Trump claimed the Green New Deal will cost $100 trillion. Supporters said climate change can be equally costly to the US economy. But it is impossible to pinpoint the exact costs of the plan. For now, there are only estimates.
Using 100% clean power? It will cost $33 billion in Vermont alone, which seeks to achieve 90% renewable energy by mid-century. The state is seeing growth in jobs in clean energy sectors and expecting the transition to help consumers save money.
Modernizing the country’s electrical grid could cost as much as $476 billion, reaping $2 trillion in benefits, per a 2011 study done by the Electric Power Research Institute. Ocasio-Cortez acknowledged that the New Green Deal will be costly, but it will pay off through economic growth.
The use of renewable energy sources is growing in the US, but it heavily relies on fossil fuels to supply power to its citizens. Due to the climate crisis, the US created the Green New Deal to address its effects and other key social issues. The plan may help the country move forward, but it will be a costly endeavor. Hence, Americans can expect a debate as well as criticisms about the Green New Deal ahead of the 2020 presidential campaign.