What if America could immediately triple its renewable energy game by 2030, saving carbon, cash and lives in the process? It can and should, with all due speed, argued the International Renewable Energy Agency.
According to the newest report from IRENA’s ongoing REmap 2030 study, solar, wind and other renewable alternatives will comprise a measly 10 percent of the U.S. energy mix in time for that epochal year. That business-as-usual underachievement includes the more ambitious emissions reductions recently brokered by an historic agreement between U.S. and China, Earth’s largest renewable energy user.
And that just isn’t a good look for a superpower positioning itself as a green global role model.
“As the second largest energy consumer in the world, the U.S. must continue to play a leading role in the global transition to a sustainable energy future,” director Adnan Z. Amin explained in IRENA’s press release for Renewable Energy Prospects: United States of America (PDF). “REmap 2030 shows that the U.S. could install significantly higher amounts of renewables — and that it can do so affordably. Even in a country with cheap shale gas like the U.S., renewable energy is still cost-competitive and reduces air pollution, enhances energy security, benefits the economy, and plays a leading role in fighting climate change.”
In 2010, IRENA explained, renewables made up a mere 7.5 percent of American power, but that can exponentially leap to 27 percent by 2030, if the nation annually invests $86 billion between now and then. That’s chump change compared to the $30-$140 billion in annual savings returned from doing so, IRENA argued, or the true social costs of CO2 emissions, which Stanford University recently revised exponentially upward from $37 per ton to $220 per ton.
And while IRENA’s overall REmap 2030 study aims to make a case for doubling the entire world’s renewable energy share, even that achievement turns out to be a quite modest goal. Last year, Thomson Reuters predicted that by 2025, the entire world will be solar powered. Evidently, the more we look at solar and wind, the more solutions and savings we find.
“The potential of renewables isn’t just limited to the power sector, but also has tremendous potential in the buildings, industry and transport sectors,” IRENA innovation director Dolf Gielen added.
But to get there, the renewables market needs policy certainty and support, IRENA’s new report explained. The cratering costs of solar, brought about by such political and economic incentivization, have suitably got the ball rolling, which is why IRENA’s report predicts that photovoltaic “will see an almost 60 times growth in generation over 2010 levels.” Compared to annually declining crude oil and natural gas imports, which are decoupling fossil fuels from underachieving global business as usual, the sunshine industry has nowhere to go but up, and fast. If we push it harder, we’ll get the solar future we want that much quicker.
And while IRENA’s report takes pains to note the simultaneous rise of wind, hydropower, geothermal and biofuels, it is solar that is the cleantech within easy reach. Its report concludes with questions about the sustainability and accounting of biofuels, while surging hydropower is nevertheless dependent on vanishing water resources, as global warming dries up U.S. snowpacks, especially on the West coast. Once the U.S. strengthens its wind efforts on the East coast, and shores up its solar investment and regulatory environment nationwide, America’s renewable energy use will accelerate to a greater state the whole country can be proud of.