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How the Dream of Solar and Wind Energy are Becoming Reality

Posted by Dan Chiras, Guest Columnist

Jan 24, 2017 4:56:23 PM

Like many other people throughout the world, I have been dreaming of a future powered by renewable energy for many years. Fortunately, that dream is becoming a reality.

Like many other people throughout the world, I have been dreaming of a future powered by renewable energy for many years. Fortunately, that dream is becoming a reality. Today, solar and wind energy have become major contributors to global energy production. In the United States alone, solar, wind (mostly large-scale wind), biomass, and geothermal now produce about 7% of the nation’s electricity. When you add hydroelectricity to the mix, renewable energy now supplies over 13% of America’s electricity. That’s a recent change, occurring within the last few years.

Although we have a ways to go, that’s pretty amazing. What is even more amazing is that some states now generate about 25% of their electricity from renewables. Kansas and Iowa, for example, both do, mostly with wind power. Colorado generates 18% of its electricity from renewables, but its goal is 30% by 2020. California is aiming for 33% by 2020. While impressive, get this: Germany now produces over 60% of its electricity from renewables.

Power from the Sun

Although there are many reasons why renewables have gone wild in recent years, one of them has been cost. For years, renewable energy advocates have dreamed of a day when we could say that renewables cost the same or less than conventional energy resources. At least for solar electricity, those days are here. Solar electric systems, even without subsidies, often produce electricity at or below the cost of power from utilities. They have reached price parity, and the future is looking quite bright.

Although solar electricity, like any fuel, has some downsides, they’re clearly not insurmountable and are outweighed by many advantages. One of the most important advantages is that solar energy is an abundant, renewable resource — one that will be with us for hundreds of thousands of years. While natural gas, oil, coal, and nuclear fuels are limited and on the decline, solar energy will be available to us for about 1 billion years.

Solar energy is a clean resource, too. By reducing the world’s reliance on coal-fired power plants, solar electricity could help us reduce our contribution to a host of environmental problems, among them acid rain, global climate disruption, habitat destruction, species extinction, and cropland loss caused by desertification. Solar electricity could even replace costly, risky nuclear power plants. Solar energy could help us decrease our reliance on declining and costly supplies of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil.

An increasing reliance on solar and wind energy could also ease political tensions worldwide. Solar and other renewable energy resources could alleviate the perceived need for costly military operations aimed at stabilizing (controlling the politics of) the Mideast, a region where the largest oil reserves reside. Because the Sun is not owned or controlled by any nation in the Middle East, we’ll never fight a war over solar or other renewable energy resources. Not a drop of human blood will be shed to ensure the steady supply of solar energy to fuel our economy — or at least, I hope not.

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