Has renewable energy reached a tipping point?

The appearance of the Trump Presidency has rolled back consideration of and protection for the environment. Consequently, Trump’s actions appear to weaken the U.S. government’s support for renewable energy. Here are some  of the “presidential” actions:

  • Signed executive orders to expand offshore drilling and deregulate coal.
  • Ordered a review of national monuments with respect to fossil fuels exploration.
  • Introduced a budget with severe cutbacks for the EPA.
  • Appointed an enemy of the EPA as its head.
  • Reassigned climate change staffers.
  • Appointed a leading fossil fuel supporter as head of the Department of Energy.
  • Approved the Keystone XL Pipeline.
  • Questioned fuel efficiency standards.
  • Is considering withdrawal fro the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • And on and on!

Despite these actions, much of the media that supports environmental regulation and renewables have not panicked. In fact, many media supporters of renewables are claiming that some aspects of renewables are reaching their tipping point and will probably not be affected seriously by any of Trump’s actions.

What is a tipping point?

The closest definition to fit these circumstances comes from GLADWELL.COM: Tipping point—“That magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

If renewable energy is reaching a tipping point, where are the signs? Remember that the renewable energy tipping point may not occur everywhere at the same time. The unique state of each country’s energy supply and of each type of renewable energy may determine individual tipping points. If a country with an abundant supply of wind has expensively-generated conventional energy, then the tipping point could occur quickly. However, let’s look at some indicators that renewables are rapidly approaching their tipping point.

Governments commit to renewables

Dozens of worldwide locales—cities, counties, states, and countries have made commitments to end their use of fossil fuels by switching to renewables. From Oxford County in Ontario, Canada to Atlantic City, New Jersey, local governments are making this commitment. Many of these locales are committed to complete dependence on renewables by 2050. Some have chosen 2040 and others  by 2030. For example, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit has announced plans to gradually power all of its trains with renewable energy by 2045. This makes sense both from reducing green house gas emissions and cutting costs.

Renewables more competitive with conventional fuels

Bloomberg reports that the Danish energy minister has stated that Denmark’s renewable energy industry will be able to survive on its own much sooner than originally expected. The minister said that wind power prices are becoming competitive and soon will not require any subsidies.

Green Tech Media reveals that solar power in five states is at or almost at parity with conventionally generated power. And in the American midwest and  plains states, Moody’s, according to Green Tech Media, says that renewables are threatening coal-generated electricity to the extent that they feel clean power, especially wind, could replace up to 56 Gigawatts from coal-fired plants.

Utilities accepting renewables

Utilities are becoming more confident with the growth of renewables. For example MidAmerica Energy, Iowa’s largest utility, is aiming to generate only renewable energy. It plans in the next two years to build another 1,000 wind turbines to join the more than 2,000 it has already. At that point, its renewable share would be at 90 percent. They project that another 550 turbines would achieve its 100 percent goal.

A Utility Dive survey reports that more than 80 percent of North America’s utility employees “expect renewable energy to increase moderately or significantly in their service areas over the next decade.” Advanced wind technologies are contributing to this attitude, and to actual decreases in the cost of wind power.

More indicators

Here are more indications of a tipping point:

  • An increasing number of Fortune 500 companies are pushing renewable energy targets to reduce their carbon emissions.
  • An estimated 500 people supported the transition to clean energy by participating in a climate march, not in NYC, but in Tampa, Florida.
  • In numerous countries, renewable energy industries now account for more jobs than the fossil fuel industries. Bloomberg reports that solar employs more than all of oil, gas, and oil combined in the U.S.
  • Renewables are becoming the best solution to energy poverty in developing countries.
  • A Kentucky coal company is planning to build a solar farm on a reclaimed strip coal mine site.

The ultimate irony or perhaps a victory for renewables is a coal-mining museum in Kentucky that decided to run on solar power to save money.

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