I could sure use some good news. And lucky for us, there is some!
The news today is completely dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter, and the upcoming election. But there are other important stories, and in one of them — global warming and climate change — we have very good news. You might have missed it because it isn’t some big event that is newsworthy, it is a gradual thing, but nonetheless significant.
An article in Forbes magazine surveys the current impressive rise in renewable energy. While we are completely distracted by other things, the cost of technologies like solar and wind have become not just practical, but the least expensive ways to generate energy. It is cheaper to build renewable capacity, and cheaper to operate them. It is no longer cost effective to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity.
How much cheaper is solar? Enough that Singapore is building a huge solar array in Western Australia, and sending the power home over a 3,800-kilometer submarine cable. That project alone, which will be the largest solar farm in the world, will generate one-fifth of their energy needs. And an even bigger project in Australia is in the works, which combines solar and wind power. “The idea is to change Australia’s place within the global energy map and to transition from exporting mainly coal and natural gas to being a leader in clean energy.”
And literally, the sky’s the limit. If we could fill the Sahara Desert with windmills and solar panels, we could meet the energy needs of the entire world. This clean, non-polluting electricity would put the brakes on global warming as it replaces coal, natural gas, and even nuclear power.
Note the “ignorant president” — pretty strong for a business journal like Forbes. And the same article was also published in Medium, where the author changed “ignorant” to “idiot”.
Enough about the future, what’s happening with renewable energy right now?
Renewable energy is already the cheapest and most logical way to produce energy without the need for subsidies. By introducing hydroelectric and geothermal energy into the equation, in addition to solar and wind energy, Costa Rica has already managed to go for 300 days in a row without burning fossil fuels to generate electricity. Portugal has managed four days with only renewable energy, the UK, a thousand hours without burning coal.
All the studies agree that not only that we must stop building and operating fossil fuel power plants, but that we have already built too many and that the fuel needed to supply them will now remain under the ground. The need to make this transition is becoming more urgent every day. Germany has already announced the closure of all its 84 coal-powered plants and India has canceled plans to build any more due to the plummeting cost of solar energy: with every day that passes, action in this regard is more important and more strategic. Only countries that act in time and update their generation policies can hope to win a place on the new global energy map.
New ways to store electrical power, such as lithium-air batteries, will mean that electricity will be available when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. In addition, it can make electric cars with a 1000 mile range practical.
Solar power is easily decentralized; for example, solar panels are already a popular addition to homes and small businesses. Large businesses can install solar panels over their parking lots, which also provides shade. The side benefit is that this reduces the need for a huge power grid.