In Honor of Sesame Street’s 50th, the ABCs of Clean Energy Momentum

November 8, 2019 | 11:18 am
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

With Sesame Street celebrating a milestone birthday (50!), it seems fitting to offer a tribute. So here, in honor of the Street’s long-standing commitment to things alphabetic, are the ABCs of clean energy momentum.

“Sunny day…

A is for action. Clean energy momentum involves a broad range of technologies, sectors of our economy, and leaders. So consider this alphabet just a taste of the many ways and places that clean energy has been working to be a powerful force for good.

B is for basics. And where it all starts is with the technologies at the core. In the electricity sector, hydroelectric power has been around for more than a century, geothermal is a fascinating technology, and bioenergy offers opportunities. But a lot of the momentum-y action on the electricity generation side in recent years has been with wind and solar power.

C is for California. Smart policies have been another key piece of clean energy’s successes, and a lot of the progress has been a result of state action. The Golden State has been in the forefront in a whole lot of ways, as a pioneer in wind power, solar energy, energy efficiency, and vehicle electrification, and in the policies to accelerate progress.

D is for data. Part of what’s exciting about clean energy is that it keeps hitting new records, new heights, with amazing regularity—and the data keep getting better. Take wind power, for example: We have almost 10 times as much installed wind capacity in the US as we had in 2006, and the industry in this country is poised to cross the 100,000 megawatt (MW) mark—enough to generate 30 million typical American households’ worth of electricity.

E is for energy efficiency. Clean energy encompasses more than renewable energy; the cleanest (and often cheapest) electron, of course, is the one you never produce. And energy efficiency has made incredible progress of its own, propelling it to become one of our nation’s leading electricity resources.

“Sweepin’ the clouds away…

F is for fairness. Equity has seldom been the central part of our energy choices it should be, and fossil fuels—coal, natural gas, oil—still place too high a pollution burden on marginalized communities and families of color. Clean energy isn’t a panacea, but it is helping us make progress in rectifying those wrongs. Coal, for example, which as recently as 2006 fueled half of US electricity supply, is now down to a quarter, in part due to renewable energy progress.

G is for global warming. Climate change is another important reason why all our clean energy progress—and fossil fuel displacement—is a good thing. Clean energy has been an important tool for addressing CO2 emissions from the power sector, and holds the prospect of a lot more progress.

H is for Hawaii. The Aloha State earns a place in the alphabet in part by being the first state to have committed to 100% clean energy, in 2015. Now at least seven other states, plus DC and Puerto Rico, are headed down the path to 100, and others will follow soon—along with hundreds of cities, counties, corporations, and others.

Eight states plus Washington DC, and Puerto Rico (not pictured here) have committed to 100% Renewable or Clean Energy Standards. Another 13 states are actively considering similar measures.

I is for innovation. Innovation is an important part of the fuel mix that’s been keeping clean energy’s momentum growing and growing. That includes technical upgrades such as higher efficiency solar cells and bifacial solar modules, longer wind turbine blades and taller wind turbine towers, and lots of interesting stuff happening with energy efficiency.

J is for jobs. Jobs are yet another big piece of what’s so attractive about clean energy. The US wind industry employs twice as many people as are involved in coal mining, and the US solar industry employs more than twice again as many.

K is for Kansas. Clean energy’s bipartisan nature might surprise some folks, but state leadership in wind power development comes in blue, purple, and red. Kansas is the state with the highest percentage of wind generation (36%), with Iowa a close second (34%). Texas is definitely the top state for wind capacity (kilowatts) and generation (kilowatt-hours), followed by Oklahoma, Iowa, and California.

L is for lighting. Energy efficiency has been making its mark in many sectors of our society—think about how little energy your current fridge and air conditioner use compared to their forebears. And lighting has been particularly neat to watch, with the arrival first of compact fluorescent lights, then white LEDs, contributing to the first-ever appreciable drop in electricity use per household. White LEDs alone had grown to 14% of basic light bulbs in US homes by 2016, from basically 0% in 2012.

M is for (grid) modernization. This part of the clean energy success story is at an early stage, but coming. Our electricity grid is outdated, and needs updating to accommodate the much higher levels of clean energy resources needed to address climate change. That means investments in electric transmission, energy storage, microgrids, and flexible demand as well as changing power market rules to treat renewables fairly.

N is for North Carolina. Love for solar, like wind, is a bipartisan thing. In terms of state solar capacity, North Carolina is second only to California, and Arizona is number three.

North Carolina hearts solar jobs.

“On my way to where the air is sweet…

O is for offshore wind. Offshore wind is a really exciting new frontier for clean energy—exciting for technology geeks because of the mechanics and the scale, and exciting for policy makers and the public because of the power it offers so close to so many big cities, and its jobs and economic development potential.

P is for power. And while we’re on the subject of offshore wind: One of the really neat aspects has been the rapid evolution of the turbine technology, from the 3 or 4 MW wind turbines that were standard just a few years ago, to the 6 MW turbines used off our coasts in 2015, the largest-installed-to-date 8.8 MW turbines now off Scotland, the 9.5 MW turbines about to be installed off Belgium, and the 12 MW turbines-to-be chosen for the largest US project proposal to date.

Q is for quality (of life). Lots of dimensions of clean energy come around to the concept of quality of life in all of our communities. Fixing the disproportionate impacts of power plant pollution, for example. For the longer term, addressing climate change and its own disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities. And making sure clean energy jobs and careers are real options now for racial and ethnic minorities.

R is for rooftops. Clean energy is exciting in part because of all the places it can be, and is, taking place. Solar is a prime example, the way photovoltaic (PV) panels can go up on a home’s roof in a collection of 10-20, go on larger roofs (think big box stores) by the hundreds, or go in fields by the thousands. Other technologies, like wind, are largely large-scale phenomena. Energy efficiency? All kinds of places.

S is for storage. Energy storage is an increasingly important (and affordable) component for helping all the pieces come together. And we have a good, important opportunity to make sure equity is baked in from the beginning.

T is for transportation. Clean energy momentum isn’t just about the power sector. Think electric vehicles (cars, trucks, buses), and public transportation. Big opportunities for innovation—and pollution reduction.

“Can you tell me how to get…

U is for unlimited. As in renewable energy’s potential, which is virtually limitless. Or our own potential (to move us in the right direction), which is completely limitless.

V is for Virginia. One more state mention, using my author prerogative to get my home state in here. It hasn’t generally deserved a spot on the clean energy leaderboard, but Old Dominion looks to be next in line to have offshore wind turbines in US waters.

W is for Washington (DC). Cities and states and companies doing what they can is really important, but we’ll get where we need to much faster with federal leadership. Like with a national renewable electricity standard to make sure that the country as a whole is pulling in the right direction.

“…How to get to Sesame Street?”

X is for x. As in the x-factor, the unknown. We have a whole range of clean energy technologies available now, and know how to get them out there. We also want to be creating space in our clean energy revolution for not just the innovations we see, but the innovations we haven’t yet imagined—new technologies, new locations, new uses.

Y is for you. You are a crucial piece of the clean energy transition and transformation: you as consumer, as advocate, as constituent, as voter. We definitely can’t get there without you.

Z is for zero. With all the economic, job-related, pollution, and equity benefits, making the switch to fully clean energy makes so much sense. Zero-carbon is where we’re headed. And we’ve got zero excuses for not moving on this.

That’s the A-to-Z version. But let’s face it: Clean energy is making a difference in our lives in more ways than even Count von Count could count.

About the author

More from John

John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.