Renewable energy, no longer the new kid on the block, is now capturing market share from fossil fuels and nuclear energy at an unprecedented rate. The world installed more renewable energy capacity over the past three years than nuclear and fossil fuels combined, disrupting the energy sector and the business case for conventional energy models.
Fact-based arguments and objective scientific evidence aren’t given enough attention in the struggle to win the hearts and minds of decision makers and the public. Some of this may be chalked up to what academics refer to as “incumbents’ inertia” in the face of technological change. Some point to more sinister motives by those who have the most to lose financially from a changing industry.
So the question is whether we can power today’s world, or, more accurately, the world in 2040 or 2050, with renewable energy. The world in 2050, with a population exceeding 9 billion people and a greater proportion having achieved modern living standards, will almost certainly require at least twice as much energy as the world today, and more than 50 times more energy than was required to power the pre-industrial world when we last depended primarily on renewable energy sources.3
It depends on what you count. For some consumers in some places, the cost of electricity from rooftop solar photovoltaic panels is comparable to the retail cost of grid electricity. But that doesn’t reflect the full costs. Like In the United States, the federal investment tax credit subsidizes about one-third of the cost of buying and installing solar panels.23 Other subsidies at the state level frequently augment that subsidy. Net metering policies in many states provide even more subsidies, requiring utilities to buy back power from solar producers at several times the effective rate at which they could purchase power on the wholesale market.24
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