Renewable Energy And The Global Disconnect

When we get a panicked call from clients at odd hours of the day or night, it’s for a good reason. Their company is in turmoil; the lights won’t turn on, the machinery won’t start, or a bad furnace has the entire facility feeling like the Arctic. Our first question is almost always this; is everything plugged in?

It’s a lesson learned the first day on the job around here, and a lesson that everyone has undoubtedly learned the hard way at some point or another. But it’s a lesson that applies to bigger, and not nearly so literally, problems as well. Right now, it’s a question we need to ask countries and municipalities seeking both to reduce their emissions and improve the stability of their grid; where’s the disconnect?

By the numbers, that’s exactly what the US and many other countries are facing. Even as the capability and availability of renewable energy rise, many seem intent on clinging to coal even as they espouse commitments to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future. That’s the disconnect; in the past five years, solar and wind energy has doubled, while the use of coal has fallen just 1%. 

In fact, consumption of energy has increased over the past year, in spite of numerous commitments like the Paris Climate Agreement and a year of COVID-19 restrictions which, at least initially, shocked the energy world into low demand. Demand fell so much last spring that oil, for example, went negative, with companies that normally bought the stuff actually paying clients to buy it and store it. 

We just aren’t moving away from fossil fuels at a pace anywhere near what is needed. That’s the general theme of the EMBER report, a year-end look at electricity use around the world. The report looks at changes in renewable energy investment, generation, and implementation, as well as how its rise impacts or affects fossil fuels. In many ways, the report was overflowing with good news on renewables, including a 15% increase in renewable energy generation, enough to take on a record 9.4% of the global need.

In the US, approximately 12% of our national energy needs are met by renewable sources, which puts us on par with most other G20 countries. Still, we’re behind many European nations, including the UK, which now has reached the impressive mark of 29% of its energy needs being met sustainably. Germany is the most successful country at 33%, while oil-centric countries like Russia sit at near zero. 

The energy is there. Countries have been slow to invest in, and expand upon, current renewable projects and even more hesitant to explore new ways to fund renewable energy initiatives at grid scale. It’s easy to point to the changed priorities of a pandemic as an excuse, but in many ways, the past year’s reduced energy needs and the overwhelming expenditure on stimulus and relief could have played an important role in sparking investment, creating jobs, and transitioning communities while demand was at record lows. 

The US  and the world have a long way to go in the drive to a responsible energy reality. At Keen, we’re working with like-minded private businesses to lead the way.