2017: The Summer of Love for Renewable Energy

By Vicky Harris, Vice President Marketing on August 08, 2017
Vicky Harris
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The Summer of Love, a social movement that saw the gathering of hundreds of thousands of youth across cities worldwide, happened 50 years ago this summer. Although one of the major drivers of this social phenomenon was the opposition to the Vietnam War, the movement also promoted universal values like peaceful coexistence and conservation. It is this latter part of that now historic summer that we would like to celebrate in today’s post.

The transition to renewables shifted into high gear this summer.

We have a good reason to call the summer of 2017 special when it comes to clean energy. Several encouraging trends are converging in what could be called a tipping point in the world’s transition to renewables. From automakers committing to electric engines, to major states and cities announcing plans to become 100% sustainable, to news on CO2 emissions lagging global growth rates, the outlook this summer looks bright.

The Unexpected Birth of a Movement

We have come far in only two months. Consider that we started the summer with the United States withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. In response, hundreds of cities across the U.S., irrespective of their political affiliation, reaffirmed their commitment to reduce their CO2 footprint. By June 23, thousands of cities around the world, aware of the disproportionately high impact that cities have on carbon emissions, had banded together to “create the largest global coalition committed to battling climate change and pushing the world into a low-carbon economy.” (See our past blog article on Cities as Engines of Sustainability).

One of the most significant actions coming from cities this summer happened at the end of June when London committed to a zero-carbon-emission public transport system by 2050. Also, on the transportation side, just as Tesla was unveiling its much anticipated lower-priced electric vehicle, Volvo announced on July 5 that starting in 2019, all its new vehicles would have an electric engine. The BBC touted that the automaker had “become the first traditional carmaker to signal the end of the internal combustion engine.” Volvo’s move had a negative impact on Tesla’s shares, as investors realized the electric car company now had serious competition from traditional car makers.

The Renewables Wave that’s Changing the Game

On July 18, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) published an article with some encouraging stats and news from the analysis of renewable energy and sustainability data from 2016. The initiatives from cities, countries, and industry over the past few months did not go unnoticed.  The IISD wrote their analysis on the reasons for these bold actions in adopting renewables saying, “There has been an upsurge in cities, states, countries, and major corporations committing to 100% renewable energy targets because it makes economic and business sense, quite apart from climate, environment and public health benefits.”

Encouragingly, it looks like renewables are approaching the center stage, as they have a significant and measurable effect on CO2 emissions. For perspective, in terms of electric power from renewables, such as wind and solar, the IISD wrote, “Installed renewable power capacity set new records in 2016, with 161 gigawatts (GW) added, increasing the global total by almost 9% relative to 2015.” The report further noted that “2016 was the third year in a row where global energy-related CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry remained stable despite a 3% growth in the global economy and an increased demand for energy.”

Good news also came from the developing world. The IISD article indicates that new business models are helping communities in developing countries power their lives with renewables. Specifically, they reported, “Markets for both mini-grids and stand-alone systems are evolving rapidly. Bangladesh, with 4 million units installed, has the largest solar home system market using mainly microcredit schemes. Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) business models, supported by mobile technology are exploding. In 2012, investments in PAYG solar companies amounted to only USD 3 million; by 2016 that figure had risen to USD 223 million (up from USD 158 million just one year before). The mini-grid market now exceeds USD 200 billion annually.”

Technology Underpins Renewable Energy Commitments

With a few more weeks of summer to go, Bloomberg reported on July 31 that Alphabet, Google’s parent company, “is developing a new way to store renewable energy that otherwise might be wasted — by using salt and antifreeze,” to compete with Tesla in renewable energy storage.

This last piece of news underscores the importance that technological advancements continue to have on the adoption of clean and affordable energy. Cities and businesses alike are counting on technological progress in areas that range from wind, solar and hydrogen, to storage and even new tech-enabled business models to commit to a more sustainable future without painful compromises. With all of this encouraging news, we could hardly have envisioned a better summer of love 2017 celebration.

 

Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.
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