Happy Earth Day! Because it is the one time of year we are forced to think about our Earth and how our actions affect it, I thought it more that appropriate to take a post to talk about clean energy. Conventional fuels such as nuclear, oil and gas are raising an increasing a number of concerns. Over the past decade, there has been an incredible movement worldwide towards cleaner, better energy.
History of the Clean Energy Movement
Throughout the 19th century, demand for fossil fuels increased immensely due to new advances and uses. The hoover Dam was built in 1936 as one of the first huge sources of renewable energy in America. The first nuclear reactor project aimed at energy production started in 1947 amidst political tensions that threatened US oil supply. Smog produced by burning fossil fuels was blamed for illness and death among humans in Europe and America, starting the first negative reactions to fossil fuels. The first solar powered technologies were developed in the 1950s.
The US then suffered from an oil embargo due to Israeli support during the Arab-Israeli War, which forced America to focus on nuclear energy and develop alternative energy sources. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in 1970 because of extreme damage to nature as a result of energy harvesting. People wanted to move toward renewable energy as a replacement to decrease both dependence on oil from other countries and pollution. Wind turbines were introduced to generate electricity along with solar farms after 1980. Since then, there have been many wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal power plants and other forms of alternative energy implemented around the world.
Here is a picture of the first ever wind turbine.
Movements Towards Energy Regulation
Many of the proposed energy regulations in the last decade are inspired by major environmental disasters in an attempt to avoid future disasters. One of the most influential disasters was the Gulf of Mexico (Deepwater Horizon) oil spill in 2010. This was the largest oil spill accident in recent history. It spilled in 172 million gallons of oil into the ocean causing 11 people to lose their lives and extensive damage to the sea floor and marine and wildlife habitats. Regulations that followed were aimed at improving well designs and equipment standards.
President Obama pledged to cut US emissions 28 percent over the next decade, a responsibility that will fall mostly on his successor, in hopes that it will encourage other nations to pledge equally vigorous emissions cuts.
Grist.org released an article detailing reasons why clean energy is gaining on fossil fuels; the world is taking climate change serious, there’s a sea change in Chinese energy behavior (China promising to cap carbon emissions by 2020), clean energy is taking hold in developing countries (developing countries spent $30 billion on renewables in 2014) and the price of renewables is falling. Bloomberg New Energy Finance released a study that showed that countries around the world are adding more clean electric generating capacity from hydropower, nuclear, solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal in 2013 than they did from oil, gas, and coal.
TalkWalker released a case study analyzing clean energy on social media networks in order to help green energy providers stay on top of the latest industry developments to remain competitive with traditional forms of energy.
Below are two graphics from their study. The 1st shows the amount of online mentions for different types of renewable energy and the 2nd shows the most popular forms of renewable energies being discussed around the world.
Solar energy is experiencing increasing popularity because it is becoming more affordable and is enabling businesses and households to implement their use. Also, wind energy is popular in Europe because of the massive amount of offshore wind parks and other wind farms across the continent.
States and Renewable Energy
Many states are passing regulation to promote renewable energy or restrictions on traditional energy. North Carolina passed their Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard in 2012 in an attempt to drive citizens and companies towards using renewable energies. Since these standards were passed, twice people have attempted to propose bills to stop the mandated use of renewable energies at extra cost. On April 22 the most recent bill, HB 681, was struck down. According to the 2014 Census, North Carolina has experienced approximately 15 percent annual increase in revenues generated by clean energy activities since 2012, reaching $4.8 billion in gross revenues in 2014, up $1.2 billion from 2013.
Illinois is also moving forward toward clean energy with their Clean Jobs Bill, HB 2607. This bill aims to have 35% renewable energy by 2030, 20% energy efficiency by 2025 and will add 32,000 more jobs per year in Illinois. According to a Huffington Post article, a recent poll on Illinoisans showed that 70-percent support increased energy efficiency, 64-percent support increased solar energy, and 59-percent support more wind power. There’s only 16- and 19-percent support for more nuclear energy and coal, respectively.
While New York State banned fracking, Texas is pushing forward a bill that would block cities in Texas from banning fracking, HB 40. Another town in Texas, Georgetown, has implemented plans to be completely solar and wind powered by 2017. Some states are taking steps forward or resisting opposition to bills that promote use of renewable, clean energy and federal regulation is not lagging far behind.
Federal Actions with Renewable Energy
Today (Earth Day 2015-April 22) Mark Pocan and Jan Schakowsky introduced the Protect Our Public Lands Act, HR 1902. This Act aims to ban hydraulic fracturing on land owned by the United States and leased to a third party, and for other purposes.
A few days before senator Ted Cruz announced his presidential candidacy, he proposed the American Energy Renaissance Act, HR 1487. This bill seeks to prevent the federal government from regulating greenhouse gas emissions through any of its executive agencies, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency. It would do so by expressly forbidding any efforts to fight climate change under five laws — The Clean Air Act, The Federal Water Pollution Control Act, The National Environmental Policy Act, The Endangered Species Act, and The Solid Waste Disposal Act.
Finally, President Barack Obama used his trip to the Florida Everglades to speak about the issues of climate change on Earth Day 2015. During his speech on the eastern edge of the 1.5 million acre wetland he said, “We do not have time to deny the effects of climate change. This is not some impossible problem that we cannot solve,” he said. “We can solve it if we have some political will.” Christy Goldfuss of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality said without stepped-up action, Joshua Tree National Park could soon be treeless and Glacier National Park devoid of glaciers.
Regulation is always along difficult process. Carly Fiorina, a likely 2016 GOP candidate, brought up a valid point that regulation with climate change will not be as effective as innovation could be. “The only answer to this is innovation, and in that America could be the best in the world,” Fiorina said, adding that a global deal to cut emissions won’t work “because we will not have a harmonized regulatory regime.” Our Earth needs our help, and it is up to us as citizens of the world to push forward with innovation and regulation so we have a healthy, happy Earth to pass onto our children.