Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Transition Away from Fossil Fuels Towards Renewables is Already Underway

Several indicators suggest that renewable energy is gradually replacing fossil fuels. Coal use is down, renewable energy is growing and we are seeing increased fossil fuel divestment.

Even some oil companies see the writing on the wall. In 2017, Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s second largest publicly-traded oil company, announced plans to increase its investment in renewable energy to $1 billion a year by the end of the decade. Ben van Beurden, the company's CEO supports a carbon tax and he indicated that he is concerned about the loss of public support if progress is not made in the transition to cleaner energy.

"I do think trust has been eroded to the point that it is becoming a serious issue for our long term future," van Beurden is quoted as saying by Reuters. "If we are not careful, broader public support for the sector will wane." He went so far as to call this "the biggest challenge" the company faces. "The fact that societal acceptance of the energy system as we have it is just disappearing," Van Beurden said. 

As Niall McCarthy noted in a Forbes article, employment in renewable energy has eclipsed the fossil fuel industry. According to the US Department of Energy statistics almost twice as many Americans are employed by solar than coal oil and gas combined. While solar employs 374,000 people the fossil fuel industry employs 187,000 (43% vs 22% of the energy generation workforce). Solar has grown by 5,000 percent in the last ten years.

Fossil fuels are dying and many laid off oil and gas workers are training to work in the renewable energy sector. Germany, Ireland, New Zealand and Costa Rica all prove that it is possible for governments to replace fossil fuels with renewables.  Six cities across the United States already generate 100 percent of their electricity with renewables. The city council in Washington, D.C., recently passed a bill that requires the city to offset 100 percent of its electricity purchases with renewable energy credits by 2032.

New York city is seeking to replace all of its 20 gas fired power plants with renewable energy by the end of 2019. The Democratic majorities in both houses of the New York state legislature have advanced a bill that would mandate 100 percent renewable energy across the state by 2050 (previously the Republican held Senate had refused to hold a vote).  Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has indicated that he wants to shift the state to 100 percent clean electricity by 2040.

"The question of speed makes all the difference in the world for climate change," said David Pomerantz, executive director of the nonprofit Energy and Policy Institute is quoted as saying in the HuffPost. "If New York City is serious about its climate goals, that’s exactly what it needs to do, is look at the question and say, 'How quickly can we get out of gas and into renewables?'

Although the transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy is underway Pomerantz is correct to suggest that the all important issue is the speed at which this transition occurs.
Several reports indicate the while we are making progress we are not moving fast enough to keep the planet from warming beyond the prescribed upper threshold limit of 2C. 

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