Monday, July 17, 2017

Why Renewable Energy Will Replace Fossil Fuels - by Steven Cohen, Executive Director, Columbia University’s Earth Institute

Pew Poll: Two-thirds of Americans give priority to developing alternative energy over fossil fuels (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
The expectation that climate change, toxics and pollution are simply the price of modern life and can’t be changed makes no sense to people whose life experience has been constant change.  Global warming, sea level rise, massive floods, fires, and storms are a way of life; from Fukushima to Hurricane Sandy; from California’s recent drought to floods in the Midwest. Some of these conditions are natural and some are human induced.  All need to be more effectively addressed with investments in stronger and more resilient infrastructure.  But the idea that business as usual is acceptable is not accepted by the young people who will experience more of the impacts of climate change than old people will.  People know that fossil fuels cause climate change and pollution and they want a new way to power their homes and businesses.

While people would like to see an alternative to fossil fuels, that does not mean they will use them if they become available.  The alternatives must be convenient, reliable, and relatively inexpensive.  We all have sunk costs in current energy investments: our car, our water heater, and the rest of the appliances in our homes; these are barriers that will slow the transition to a new energy system.  The electric car will need to be better and cheaper than the internal combustion car if it is to take over the market.  That is true for renewable energy at home.  But these technologies are improving on a daily basis.  The electric version of the Model T is coming and it will transform personal transportation.  Home battery storage is improving its reliability and coming down in price.  As these technologies improve, they will drive fossil fuels from the marketplace.

I am convinced that this transition is coming but know it would be a whole lot faster if we didn’t have a president who equated fossil fuels with wealth and national might.  The effort to revive the fossil fuel industry in the United States is not helpful and we may lose our technological advantage in the renewable energy innovation race.  But China, Japan, India, and Europe are more than ready to fill in for us if we falter.  Japan has no fossil fuels and is desperate to wean itself from nuclear in an energy politics dominated by the Fukushima disaster.  There are plenty of alternatives to the U.S. federal government working right now to develop renewable energy.

Renewable energy will replace fossil fuels because they will be less expensive, as reliable, and as convenient as fossil fuels.  The polls indicate that the latent market for renewables in already in place.  The issue is not if, but when.  The health of our planet requires that this transition take place as soon as possible.  Government incentives could and should be used to accelerate this process.  In the United States, these incentives will need to come from states and cities since it is clear our dysfunctional federal government will do little or nothing to help.

Read more at Why Renewable Energy Will Replace Fossil Fuels

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