The Rise of Renewables

The Rise of Renewables

17 Sep 2020

Over the last decade renewable energy has really started to take off, quite literally in some cases. Whilst some would argue it’s too slow, and they’d have a point, we still think it’s a cause for celebration.

During COVID-10 lockdown, we started the ‘good news’ section of our newsletter to give people a boost through challenging times. We’ve continued with it even after lockdown has been lifted in many places, because we feel it’s important to share wins and get inspired in the long fight against climate change and environmental destruction.

Recently, we’ve been seeing a lot of great news coming out about countries that are moving away from burning fossil fuels in favour of renewables to provide electricity. Examples are Austria closing its last coal power station and likewise with Sweden (two years ahead of schedule!). The UK also ran a grid without coal for a record 67 days.

This has been made possible by a rise in renewable energy technologies such a hydro, solar and wind. Everyone can see that this is the future of energy, and British Petroleum recently announced that renewables are growing faster than any other fuel in history!

Amazing news we can feel positive about. So how has it happened, and what’s left to do?

*For sale, solar energy, $2.50 per watt*

$2.50 a watt you say, is that a good price? Well say you want 8 kilowatts (easily enough to power a home and then some) it will cost $20,000, so not an unsubstantial investment. However, ten years ago the same installation would have cost $58,720, meaning that prices have dropped 66%!

This sharp decline is due to a significant decrease in the cost of solar panels themselves, largely due to economies of scale (when something is produced en masse it generally gets cheaper).

Of course, the decrease in costs makes solar energy a lot more affordable and therefore likely to be adopted, and it’s not only an attractive proposition for the most eco-conscious consumers.

Parc del Forum, Barcelona

Parc del Forum solar panel, Barcelona

It’s a similar story with wind energy as well. According to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the price of onshore wind energy has decreased by 40% and offshore by 29% in the last decade.

Hydro is already a mature technology and, in many instances, can be significantly cheaper to generate electricity than fossil fuels.

Detroit Dam, Oregon

Detroit Dam, Detroit, Oregon, USA

The bottom line is that, worldwide, renewables are edging out their fossil fuels on price, with the aforementioned IRENA report finding that for new energy projects renewables are more cost-effective.

Leading Lights

“Renewable investments are stable, cost-effective and attractive offering consistent and predictable returns while delivering benefits to the wider economy.” - Francesco La Camera, director-general of IRENA

Whilst the above is extremely encouraging the fact remains that, for the most part, countries still run on fossil fuels for the majority of their electricity, with a few exceptions.

Norway, for example, produces 99% of its energy through hydropower. Iceland is a 70/30 mix of hydro and geothermal. But, not to take anything away from either of these two countries, their geology makes it easy and cheap to generate energy using these methods, and they’re both relatively wealthy nations.

Blue lake, Iceland

Blue Lake, Iceland

The country investing most in clean energy currently is China, with an estimated $83.4 billion in 2019. It’s now home to a quarter of all the world’s solar panels including the famed 1km solar highway.

But this writer’s favourite examples are probably Uruguay and Kenya. Although rich for their regions, they’re still poorer than many Western countries, yet have managed to make huge transitions to renewable energy.

Uruguay now runs on 97% renewable, 36% of which is solar and wind, and Kenya over 90%, most of it coming from geothermal.

They’ve achieved this in a short timeframe through a mixture of government investment and smart policies that encourages private investment. Both have more stable grids as a result, and can provide electricity to consumers cheaper than using fossil fuels.

The Future’s Bright

As aforementioned, the majority of power generated is still what you would consider ‘dirty’. According to Our World In Data, in 2019 around 25% of our electricity was generated by renewables and for the entire energy mix (transport and heating included) this falls to 11%.

However, all things considered, when it comes to renewable energy it feels we’ve hit a real tipping point and that things will rapidly speed up from here. Costs will keep decreasing and the technology will keep improving.

There’s currently a new type of gigantic wind turbine running off the coast of Aberdeen that can power an entire home with one rotation. Researchers have just developed a new kind of solar ‘skin’ that can be added to charge small devices such as mobile phones.

When we said renewable energy is taking off, we meant with solar-powered flight!

Also, depending on where you live (Spain here), it’s never been easier to switch over to a green energy supplier, and this is one of the most effective ways we as individuals can reduce our carbon footprints.

The future’s looking bright/windy/hot/watery(?!) for renewables!

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