Bill McKibben has written an article describing not just the advisability of, but the financial feasibility of supplanting fossil fuels with solar and wind electricity. He points out that our industrial society is on a trajectory toward 100% renewable energy for multiple reasons. Technological advances in the design and scale of both wind turbines and photovoltaic collectors have brought the per-killowatt price down to out-compete coal and nuclear electricity. Heavy investment in electric and hybrid-electric autos has stimulated a rapid growth rate leading to the serendipitous side benefit of a huge rolling storage battery, which in turn offsets the earlier problem of renewables intermittency. Transmission network power pools are upgrading the electric grid to better convey electricity from remote wind farms to urban centers. Rooftop leasing programs for solar collectors has made financing solar within the reach of many more homeowners. Society is passing the tipping point where each of these advances is synergistically combining to make it all cheaper and within reach. As one California utility executive put it: “The technology has been resolved. How fast do you want to get to 100 percent? That can be done today” – The Climate Movement’s New Battle Cry – 100% Renewables.
However, the political (read self-interested, plutocratic, monopolist) battle still goes on, trying to prevent or delay the inevitable. The Koch brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Americans for Prosperity, the Edison Electric Institute, and others have their surrogates installed in many state legislatures and the three branches of the Federal government, to subsidize and give unfair advantage to centralized big coal and nukes. The Guardian UK recently published a report that Global fossil fuel subsidies are a staggering $5 trillion per year. And Sustainable Business reported that 50 of the World’s 500 Biggest Companies Undermine Progress on Climate Change. But grass roots groups are countering much of that market manipulation by working with progressive Congress people, governors, state legislators, and mayors. The Sierra Club is finding dramatic success with its #ReadyFor100 campaign, which lobbies cities to commit to 100 percent renewable. Various states such as California and New York have set target dates to achieve 100 percent renewable energy. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Jeff Merkley proposed in April the first federal 100 percent bill – setting the gauntlet for 2018 and 2020.
Ultimately, the economics of renewables will bypass artificially propped-up fossil fuels. The economic strength of renewable electricity can be gaged by employment statistics. Already, more U.S. workers are employed in the solar industry than in coal fields. Bruce Graham, who runs the Cloud County, Kansas wind technician program, said “wind energy program graduates can make $20 to $25 per hour, and supervisors well above $25 per hour”. The wind industry is growing so fast that training schools can’t keep up with the demand – Wind farm growth saps technicians supply. An article in Eco Watch pointed out that six months of regulatory rollback by Trump has done almost nothing to create jobs on oil fields. Technology and economics, not environmental protections, are driving the loss of oil industry jobs. There is very little that this president—or any president—can do about it. The UK, France and Norway have all passed laws banning the sale of gas-powered cars by 2040, which will reduce demand for gasoline, leading to more oversupply of oil and a further downturn in prices. Conversely, Karl Cates, from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said “Low prices for solar and wind are good for employment in the clean-energy sector because they drive development. It’s growing because it’s cheaper. Growth, of course, means more jobs” – Only Renewables Can Provide the Jobs and Revenue Trump Promised From Oil. On a final note – Wind Power Costs Could See Another 50% Reduction by 2030.