The use of renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower is on the rise throughout much of the world, accounting for more than one-quarter of the world’s electricity generation in 2018. That figure is expected to approach 50% by the middle of this century.
Several factors account for the rapid transition to renewable energy sources that’s currently underway in many countries. Chief among them is the growing political will to lessen our reliance on fossil fuels. The result has been policies and rebates to promote the industry, increasing investment in the sector and driving down costs.
The shift to renewables can’t come soon enough. Renewables provide incentives that go far beyond just their positive impact on our carbon footprint. The following are just a few of the most important reasons why renewables are a necessary and exciting step for humanity.
Economically, it makes sense
Every historical energy transition has been a difficult and complicated one. When burning firewood was no longer enough to fulfil humankind’s energy needs, we had to introduce disruptive technologies: coal-fired boilers, hydropower, oil and then natural gas fuels. These were costly changes to the existing systems but the benefits greatly outweighed the costs in the long run. We are still living with these basic technologies that are now, in some cases, well over a century old. We have made monumental improvements but it is clear this is no longer enough. Humankind is now facing the new mandatory update to ensure its survival and economic growth.
Inertial, status-quo, forces will be the hardest to overcome but, as history has shown, they will not prevail. The reason is clear: renewables are economically viable and essential to growth. With the electrification of the transportation systems, energy demands are migrating to mostly electrical needs. The average global cost of most renewable sources (except for concentrated solar power) is well within the range of fossil electricity generation of 0.05-0.16 USD/kWh1. The renewable energy sector now employs over 11 million people worldwide. The proliferation of technologies will only improve the economics and displace the current methods. Any and all companies not adapting to this new reality will be left behind.
The advance of global warming needs to be slowed immediately
A further increase in annual global temperatures of as little as 1.5-2 degrees Celsius could cause irreversible harm to the global ecosystem according to environment scientists.
While carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are not the leading cause of global warming, they are a major contributor, with power generation accounting for 33% of CO2 emissions in the U.S.
Other major contributors like livestock production aren’t going anywhere, as the world’s appetite for meat only continues to grow, making it all the more vital to slash emissions from other viable areas like power generation.
Renewable energy sources can withstand extreme weather
As global warming worsens, so too do instances of extreme weather like storms, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires, which can disrupt traditional power generation. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are far more reliable due to their distributed and modular natures.
As these power sources are spread out across wide geographical areas, they are less prone to being affected by extreme weather in one area. Likewise, these modular systems, which are comprised of multiple solar panels or wind turbines, can withstand damage to some of their components without the entire system failing.
Fossil fuels have a devastating impact on our health
Burning fossil fuels is bad not only for the health of the planet, but for our own health as well. Respiratory problems, heart disease, cancer, and premature death are just a few of the public health menaces that have been linked to pollution created by coal and natural gas.
Coal combustion alone accounts for 50% of mercury emissions found in the atmosphere. This highly toxic metal can cause a range of serious health concerns, including loss of motor function, loss of hearing, and permanent liver damage.
Pollution even negatively affects our intelligence, as a recent study out of China showed that higher levels of toxic air resulted in significantly worse performance on math and language tests. Further demonstrating the immediate need for renewable energy sources.
“Raising climate ambitions through renewables”, IRENA, www.irena.org