Renewable energy’s global growing pains

Renewable energy’s global growing pains

(ArsTechnica) The story of the US’ energy economy has become simple: natural gas has gotten incredibly cheap, wind is catching up, and solar will be competitive before the decade is out. All of this is driving a boom in renewable energy and pushing coal out of its dominant spot on the market.

But the US isn’t the world—it’s not even the largest carbon emitter anymore—and its experience doesn’t always reflect what’s happening in other countries. At the recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (or AAAS), speakers had the chance to review what’s happening with renewable energy in a number of other critical countries: Germany, India, and China.

Combined, these countries cover a broad spectrum of experiences. Germany’s a mature industrial economy that’s pushed renewables hard; China’s binged on fossil fuels, but is now trying to change its trajectory; and India is the nation most likely to follow in China’s footsteps.

The talks made clear that while renewable energy is advancing in many places, the transition comes with a lot of growing pains.


The local perspective was provided by UC Berkeley’s Deborah Sunter , who works on modeling the future US electrical grid. Dr. Sunter argued that Assembly Bill 32, passed by California in 2007, was a key moment in the US’ energy transition. With that legislation, California committed to cut emissions to 1990 levels. Soon after, a number of Northeast states formed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative , the US’ largest carbon emissions trading market.

If those were key moments, however, Sunter implied that many more might be on the horizon. Her models indicate that, purely on an economic basis, natural gas will largely displace coal by the 2030s. This will be a temporary victory, however. If recent trends hold, installed solar will become cheaper than natural gas by 2020, and it will take just a decade or two for solar energy to really explode. In her models, it will become so widespread that storage will be deployed simply by time-shift solar-generated electricity, allowing it to be used at night.

Solar will also be boosted by another California […]

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