Bullish on Renewable Energy? So Is the Pope, Walmart, Obama, Google….the List Goes On

, Policy Director and Lead Economist, Climate & Energy | July 29, 2015, 11:17 am EDT
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Here at UCS we’ve always been bullish about a significant role for renewable energy in our power system, a view informed by careful analysis and the latest market trends. But we’re far from alone: the ever-growing list of supporters of strong renewable energy goals includes Fortune 500 companies, investment banks, utilities, presidents and presidential candidates, and the Pope. Welcome to the bright new era of the clean energy economy!

Who loves renewable energy?

Well, hopefully we all do – after all renewable energy means cleaner air, economic benefits, and lower carbon emissions. Here’s a list of just some of the folks who’ve recently gone on the record in their support of renewables and strong climate action:

  • Thirteen of the largest American companies, including Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Apple, Google, Walmart, and General Motors, have signed onto the American Business Act on Climate Pledge. These companies have taken a pledge to make ambitious cuts in their emissions and invest in low-carbon solutions like renewable energy.
  • The B-Team, a global group of business leadersissued a call for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, including a goal for businesses to commit to long-term targets and drive low-carbon solutions to scale, and governments to end all fossil fuel subsidies and to shift this capital to help scale up affordable renewable energy solutions.
  • President Obama and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil recently made a joint announcement committing that “the United States and Brazil each intend to increase the share of renewables – beyond hydropower – in their respective electricity generation mixes to the level of 20% by 2030.”
  • Hillary Clinton just announced a climate plan with a goal of 33 percent renewable energy by 2027. Martin O’Malley, also a Presidential candidate, has voiced his support for “zeroing out fossil energy by 2050.”
  • Tom Steyer, the billionaire investor and philanthropist, and his NextGen Climate America initiative just launched a call for over 50 percent low carbon energy by 2030, including contributions from renewable energy, nuclear energy, and hydropower, and made a strong economic case for it.
  • In his recent encyclical Laudato Si’, the Pope states: “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas — needs to be progressively replaced without delay.” And “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.”

The naysayers are rapidly looking isolated and out of tune with reality.

Who loves renewable energy?

Renewable energy = cleaner air, economic benefits, and lower carbon emissions

How to jump-start the clean energy revolution

There’s lots to love in the current market trends for renewable energy: dramatically falling costs and rapidly growing deployment. But what all these calls from renewable energy champions make clear is that there is so much more cost-effective, untapped renewable energy out there for the taking. We need policies that accelerate the clean energy transition.

Those policies include:

  • A price on carbon to level the playing field with fossil fuels (that currently do not bear the costs of pollution they cause, which are simply passed on to you and me)
  • A national renewable energy standard that sets a high bar for renewable energy deployment
  • Tax incentives and financing incentives to encourage renewable energy deployment, once again to level the playing field with conventional fuels that have long benefited from favorable tax treatment
  • Policies to encourage clean energy innovation that will bring new technologies to market or help cut the costs of existing ones

We know these policies work because leading states and countries have implemented some or all of them – and they’re reaping the economic benefits of doing so.

We’ve also got to advance policies that fashion a grid that can integrate high levels of renewable energy, make renewable energy accessible to all communities, ensure workers and communities dependent on fossil fuels are treated fairly, and ensure low-income folks get help with their energy bills.

Let’s get ambitious with our renewable energy goals!

There’s a growing consensus about the benefits of scaling up the clean energy economy, so let’s get more ambitious about our renewable energy goals. Investing in renewables is a huge economic opportunity – it’s also our best bet to limit the emissions that are fueling worsening climate change.

After all, we didn’t get to Pluto by setting a low bar for space exploration.

Correction (July 30, 8:50 a.m.): An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the timeline for NextGen’s call for low-carbon energy expansion. It is 50 percent low-carbon energy by 2030, not 2050 as was previously stated.

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  • Richard Solomon

    Thanks for a thorough summary of the issues related to increasing our use of renewables. Now UCS members need to encourage their reps in state government and in DC to implement the policy changes suggested in this piece.