Playing Catch Up: The U.S. is Losing the Renewable Energy Race

Kendall Kraus
November 2015

Photographer: Daniel Acker

Photographer: Daniel Acker

 

No one enjoys playing catch up.  Why work twice as hard after falling behind if you are already at the top of the ladder?  Right now, the United States is at the top of the global economic ladder and has been since the twentieth century.  However, the U.S. is vulnerable to losing this first-place position due to its lack of progress implementing renewable energy.

Germany is well on it’s way to using 100% renewable energy.  Just this June, Germany succeeded in producing 78% of its energy from renewables, beating their previous record of 74%. Germany is not alone in making great strides in this field; various other countries are making a name for themselves in the renewables field as well.

A small Caribbean Island, Bonaire, has made the switch to renewables successfully as well.  Bonaire depends on wind power and biofuel that is created from algae grown on the island.  Another island off the coast of Denmark, Samso, depends almost entirely on wind power for its energy generation and plans to be entirely fossil fuel free by the year 2030.  Renewable energy is no longer a myth or futuristic dream, it is happening right now and there is proof.  Larger countries, as well, are making successful case studies such as Denmark, Scotland, Ireland, and the UK.  The question is: where is the United States?

The United States is being greatly surpassed in the race for renewable energy usage.  Given the legacy of the USA’s international power and leadership, one would think the country would want to avoid being surpassed in this race, if not for the sake of the planet but for the sake of pride.

The United States reached almost 10% of renewable energy usage in 2014.  A bit pitiful compared to the whopping 78% achieved by Germany.  The largest reasons the Department of Energy states for the low use of renewable usage is cost, the fact that it tends to be “remote”, and its unreliability.  However, these issues no longer make a viable argument.

First, there are large financial incentives to turn to renewables. Financial paybacks have been proven on paper and seen through various case studies.  For example, in Austin, Texas, the lowest costing solar energy was reached at 4 cents per kWh!  In comparison, the average cost for residential energy consumption in the United States was 12 cents per kWh in 2014 (http://solarcellcentral.com/cost_page.html).  The cost of solar energy is rapidly dropping and experts are predicting that it will continue to drop and soon become the cheapest form of energy available.

To summarize this financial argument, Hunter Lovins states in her article “Countries that lead the switch to renewable energy will reap the financial rewards” that countries are making the switch to renewables not because it will help save the planet but because it is the smarter move to make financially.

While it is clear renewable energy sources have made their financial and environmental case, there is another reason the United States should up its renewable energy game.  If the United States wants to remain the leader of the world’s economy, the switch to renewable energy is imperative.  Many professionals are now predicting that China will pass the United State’s economy by the year 2030.  What is China doing?  Investing in solar technologies and away from fossil fuels.

Historically speaking, countries that lead the global economy tend to also be leaders in the energy and transportation fields, amongst other areas.  This being said, in order to remain at the top of the world economy, the United States needs to keep moving towards energy dependence, continue being a leader in technology and finally implement these renewable technologies (http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2013-08-27/six-reasons-the-u-s-will-dominate).  According to Tony Seba, thought leader on topics such as clean energy disruption, 24-hour solar energy capture technology was invented 30 years ago, yet it is still slow to be implemented (Tony Seba: Clean Disruption).  The technology is ready; society just needs to adopt it.

One positive example of innovative progress in the energy and transportation field is the company, Tesla.  Tesla is not only a car company but also an energy storage company, which means it is effectively bringing together energy and transportation in a financially and environmentally sustainable way.  Tesla is projected to generate $459.6 million in revenue in the next 20 years, which outdoes companies like General Motors.  Tesla is a perfect example of successful financial and environmental innovation that will keep the United States a global economy leader.

It is important to realize that the United States is making some strides, and we do not want to discount those efforts.   At the end of the day, however, there is great room for improvement.  Other countries are providing successful case studies that prove that moving forward with renewable energy is beneficial and successful.  The United States should get itself at the forefront of this movement as well.

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Posted in Articles, Blog, Case Study, Energy, Kendall Kraus