When the storm passes, the sunlight reappears

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The recent election results leave advocates little to cheer about as the Trump administration appears set to go all out for fossil fuels and abandon the push to reduce carbon emissions and increase the role of renewable energy and efficiency in our energy mix. The expected energy policies will put the United States out of step with much of the rest of the world.

The recent World Energy Outlook report from the International Energy Agency stands in marked contrast to the direction the future Trump administration appears headed. The organization created in 1974 in response to the oil crisis has been seen as underestimating the role of renewable energy. According to Giles Parkinson their latest report concludes that wind and solar will become the dominant energy sources for most major economies within the next 20 years.

Wind and solar will become the biggest sources of energy in the EU by 2030, and by 2035 in China, India and the US. Given the expected new U.S. federal energy policies it is highly unlikely that wind and solar will play that prominent a role by 2035.

The WEO envisions renewable energy as a major source of heat as well as fuel for an electrified transportation system. China and India are seen as the world’s new clean energy superpowers. In order to meet the goal of limiting rising global temperatures to a 1.5 degrees Celsius target increased reliance will have to be placed on wind and solar energy.

In an article on the Energy Post, John Mathews reminds us why renewable energy sources are still likely to emerge as the primary energy source for the globe by midcentury. They are low to zero in carbon emissions, nonpolluting, inexhaustible, diffuse, decentralized, practical energy sources with very low operating costs that do not need fuel.

They are scalable in that manufacturing capacity can be readily expanded to meet increasing demand.  They benefit from continuous improvements in panel efficiency as well as decreasing costs. Mathews cites ongoing cost reductions as the real drivers of the renewable energy revolution.

While the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources remains a challenge, ongoing technological advances and cost reductions in energy storage are eliminating the arguments against renewable energy sources.  The development of microgrids improves the prospects of local energy production.

In a recent presentation, Howard Learner, Executive Director the Environmental Law and Policy Center, calls for a focus on a good offense to continue the clean energy transition. He reminds us that new solar energy and wind power along with improved battery and lighting technologies can help transform the electrical sector. The installation of electric car charging stations along the expressway system and major highways will provide support for electrified transportation. The Center’s staff is advocating new pro-innovation and pro-competition policies eliminating barriers to solar, wind and energy storage technologies before state public utility commissions in the Midwest.

Some of their energy efforts are directed at regional transmission organizations to address the need for demand response and battery storage policies for grid support, enhanced electrical reliability and reducing the need for aging coal plants.

Support for renewable energy and efficiency will have to occur on the state and local level in the absence of federal support.  While barriers to the energy transition need to be overcome, continued cost reductions and efficiency improvements are attractive incentives to homeowners, businesses and communities. The case for a solar transition is well illustrated by the chart illustrating the huge solar resource available to us.

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