Niche no More: Renewables Set to Power 25% of Everything in 2018

President Obama’s climate change talk last week is still being considered and debated by greens across the country.

Granted, it gained him some much-needed cred among environmentalists, if simply because it took on climate change in a substantive way rather than ignoring it, as many politicians do.

But the speech and White House paper that accompanied it also set many greens off for the President’s wholehearted embrace of natural gas (and fracking), and his still wobbly stance on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Where he and his administration scored big was their emphasis on efficiency and renewables, which have to be a big part of any country’s energy future, especially the most-consumptive nation on the globe (the U.S.).

Now if he and his team can truly follow up with the policies and the money to support all that talk, progress will be made.

Prior to last week’s speech, President Obama had already put some efficiency measures into motion. Since he took office, there are 40 percent more fuel-efficient cars and light trucks on the road, and by 2020 new passenger cars must average 35 miles per gallon. Next year, 2014, a new federal plan calls for a 30 percent increase in funding for clean energy technology across all agencies, including advanced bio-fuels.

Here are more specifics from the President’s Climate Action Plan (which you should download and read):

In 2012, the President set a goal to issue permits for 10 gigawatts of renewables on public lands by the end of the year. The Department of the Interior achieved this goal ahead of schedule and the President has directed it to permit an additional 10 gigawatts by 2020. Since 2009, the Department of Interior has approved 25 utility-scale solarfacilities, nine wind farms, and 11 geothermal plants.

Also, the Department of Defense – the single largest consumer of energy in the United States—is committed to deploying 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on military installations, including solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal, by 2025. In addition, federal agencies are setting a new goal of reaching 100 megawatts of installed renewable capacity across the federally subsidized housing stock by 2020.

With respect to renewable energy initiatives, the Obama plan for climate change was bold in some areas, but global leaders have already introduced similar efforts. Today 138 countries have introduced renewable energy targets, mostly to be met by 2020. Pilot projects promoting solar installations are proliferating around the globe and there are more wind turbines online every day, both onshore and off, creating jobs, more power and cheaper costs.

The challenge now is for local efforts to be successful in helping to finance capital costs and infrastructure, as well as grid integration, so that all of these marvelous plans and pilot projects aren’t left adrift, unconnected.

Efforts like Global Power Shift are attempting to make sure that just as the 20th century was dominated by oil, the 21st will see clean energy become the standard. Last weekend, activists from Istanbul to the Philippines took to the streets to promote anti-coal campaigns. (Lessening coal’s role in energy creation is complicated by the fact that 1,200 new coal plants and mega coal mines are already planned in China, India, Australia, Indonesia, the U.S., Poland and Germany. If allowed to proceed, the true end of a clean atmosphere may be nearer than we know.)

Perhaps the best renewables-related news this week came from the International Energy Agency, which reported that by 2016 power generation from hydro, wind, solar, and other renewable sources worldwide will exceed power created by gas and be twice the amount provided by nuclear.

According to the awkwardly named IAE study “Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report,” renewables are already the fastest-growing power generation section and are expected to grow by 40 percent in the next five years.

By 2018 it is estimated that one quarter of the world’s power mix will come from renewables, up from 20 percent in 2011. The main reason: Costs are coming down.

One thing that has to change if all of these world plans are to work is that subsidies have to alter. Today, the old-school, fossil-fuel energies (coal, gas, oil) receive six times the government help that renewables do.

To that end, the best news in the IEA’s report is that renewables are becoming increasingly cost-competitive. It cites several markets, including Brazil, Turkey and New Zealand, where building wind plants compete favorably with the cost of building new fossil-fuel burning plants.

That is something everyone should be talking about.

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