There has been a lot of debate in the United States about whether or not renewable energy is worth investing time and money into. And with so many different stories coming out in the news nowadays, it is understandable that many Americans may not exactly know what is going on with the conversation.
Many people believe that renewable energy could save the planet and guarantee humans a brighter, greener, and safer future in our world. But there are also critics of this idea, who believe that there isn’t enough sunlight, wind, or room for renewable energy sources.
There is also a concern about how expensive renewable energy would be.
But what exactly is the truth? Is the United States truly winning with renewable energy, or is it a gamble that we’re going to eventually come to regret?
Let’s take a closer look at the facts and science behind renewable energy in the United States.
A Brief History of Fossil Fuels
Many people today don’t realize that humans used to rely almost completely on renewable energy for warmth, light, and cooking.
The definition for ‘renewable energy’ is actually pretty simple. Renewable energies are simply energies generated from sources that do not have a finite end, or those that can be recycled, typically from natural sources.
For example… solar power, wind power, and water power are just three of the most popular examples of renewable energy that people hear a lot about today. But even back before the industrial revolution, and throughout most of human history, humans burned what is known as ‘bio mass’ material for fire and power. They burned materials like grass, moss, and wood to heat and cook with.
It was not until the discovery of coal, and the subsequent ‘spark’ of the industrial revolution, that the western world began to really hit its stride with new types of fuel and motive power.
In addition to coal, the industrial revolution also brought about an increase in the use of steam engine technology, electricity, the internal combustion engine, and petroleum.
But even back in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, people believed that coal and fossil fuels were going to be a limited resource. It was theorized that, one day, these fuel sources would ‘run out,’ leaving humans with no choice but to return to more renewable options.
But as we can all see, this never happened. In fact, coal and fossil fuels seem to be as popular now as ever. We continue to drive cars powered by gasoline, and continue to burn coal to keep the power grid alive. We continue to build homes that are heated with natural gas, and we continue to drill into the earth, searching for coal and fossil fuels to perpetuate our way of life.
By all accounts, coal and fossil fuels are incredibly convenient. But… they come at a price.
The Price of Coal and Fossil Fuels
According to researchers, the atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased by more than a third since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This is said to be the most important and long-lived “forcing” of climate change to-date.
It is important to understand that, according to many scientists, one price that we are paying for our use of fossil fuels and the Industrial Revolution is the changing of our ‘natural greenhouse.’ Obviously, this period in our history is punctuated with a lot of amazing technological advancements… not only in manufacturing, but also in agriculture, technology, and other areas.
But the question remains: which is the winning strategy? Should we continue to focus on fossil fuels, or will we be more likely to win in the long term with renewable energy?
This is a very important debate right now. But science is on the path to giving us some solid answers.
Renewable Energy Is Getting Cheaper
New reports are showing us that approximately 42% of global coal capacity is currently unprofitable. These same reports show us that the United States could actually save $78 billion by closing coal-fueled power plants and exploring renewable energy sources, following a similar strategy as outlined by the Paris Climate Accord.
This is a relatively new phenomenon, and comes to us mostly through the discoveries of new technologies that are making renewable energy sources more affordable. As of this current moment, the price to build new wind and solar energy sources has actually fallen below the cost of running existing coal-fueled power plants.
If this comes as a surprise, don’t be too ‘surprised!’ Not long ago, wind and solar were notably more expensive than they are now. According to Lazard’s annual Levelized Cost of Energy analysis reports, solar photovoltaic technology and equipment has fallen in price by 88% since 2009. And the cost of wind energy has also come down… by a whopping 69%!
At the same time, the cost of coal has increased by 9%, and the cost of nuclear power has increased by 23%.
Renewable Energy Creates Jobs
Lower costs and the fact that renewable energy is ‘greener’ are not the only upsides to the idea of switching over to more renewable sources of power. It is also true that these sectors could create a lot of job opportunities.
There is a surprisingly significant number of people already employed in the renewable energy sector. Worldwide, there are almost 10 million people earning their living through this industry.
On the flipside, according to a Washington Post article on the topic, the coal industry in the United States actually employs fewer people than Arby’s! Coal jobs have been steadily declining, and not just because of the changing energy markets. They are also declining because there is simply a higher demand for natural gas nowadays than there used to be.
In 2014, it was estimated that the coal industry employed about 76,572 people in the United States. That included not just miners, but also office workers, sales staff, and all other positions filled at coal-mining companies.
But we have also seen a trend where coal jobs continue to disappear. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the numbers estimate that there were about 50,300 people employed in the coal industry as of February of 2017.
But many people also don’t realize that the solar power industry employs about 260,000 American workers, and that the wind power industry employs well over 100,000. And that is not even taking into account the kinds of jobs that would be created if we decided to switch completely over to renewable energy in the coming future.
What Does This Mean For The United States?
Dogging on the numbers surrounding coal and fossil fuel does no good to anyone. We all know that coal and the fossil fuel industry has been an amazing chapter in American history. The Industrial Revolution played a huge role in catapulting the United States to a state of global-leadership in many different ways in the 20th century.
And back then, people didn’t even understand that greenhouse gases were going to be this problematic.
But there is also a lot of reasonability to be found in the idea that the United States could actually find another huge win in renewable energy. This is the energy of the future. We know that it will take some time to set up, and we know that, given our current infrastructure, the transition cannot take place overnight.
In fact, according to recent figures, it is suggested that the United States could generate most of its electricity from renewable energy by the year 2050. That’s 30 years from now, and includes everything from solar and wind, to biopower, hydropower, and geothermal technology.
But… these figures also say that renewables could provide us with a cleaner solution to fossil fuels that is absolutely capable of meeting the high electricity demands across our country, every hour of every day, all year around.
Solar and wind would play the biggest part in this, with the remaining percentage being made up of other renewable energy sources.
But we also know that the United States is capable of creating one of the largest renewable energy booms the world has ever seen.
We did it once, with coal and fossil fuels during the Industrial Revolution. And today, we can do it again.
Is the United States winning with renewable energy?
By all accounts, the numbers, facts, and science seem to be providing a very clear answer.
Yes. We are.
We are absolutely winning with renewable energy. Prices are going down, jobs are being created, and we are slowly learning and adjusting to do what is best for our planet.
Renewable energy also helps to improve public health, and would provide a huge boom to our economy (if the right policies were put in place, and the right initiatives taken).
Our world is more complex than it was at the beginning of the 20th century. There are a lot of better-known facts and variables to consider. Back then, we didn’t understand the complexities of our ecosystem as well as we do now.
We marched forward into the Industrial Revolution with one goal… to make the United States, and the lives of its people, better.
And renewable energy is the new frontier for that same optimistic mindset today.