Hiltzik: The world turns to renewables, with the help of Biden and… China?

American conservatives may be trying to stem the tide, but solar and wind power are on the rise worldwide, leaving coal, natural gas and oil in the dust as energy sources.

This is the conclusion of the International Energy Agency, which it says in its latest annual report on renewable energies, published in December. 6, that solar and wind power will become the largest source of electricity generation worldwide by 2025.

In its share of total generating capacity, the IEA says, only solar will surpass natural gas by 2026 and coal, which has held the top spot for decades, by
2027.

The global energy crisis is driving the accelerator for the expansion of renewable energy.

– International Energy Agency

These new estimates are the product of rapidly changing conditions in the US and around the world. Among them is the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which disrupted oil and gas deliveries from Russia to Europe.

The resulting price increases made solar and wind generation more economically competitive and prompted countries around the world to accelerate efforts to divest from fossil fuels.

Another factor is the emergence of new policy initiatives in China and the US, according to the IEA, an intergovernmental agency based in Paris.

China is expected to install “almost half of the world’s new renewable energy capacity in 2022-2027,” the IEA says, judging by the targets it set in its latest five-year plan.

The Inflation Reduction Act, signed by President Biden in August. 16, provides about $370 billion in support for clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction projects.

Biden’s description of the bill as “America’s most aggressive action to combat the climate crisis” has been echoed by green energy advocates.

Energy Innovation Policy and Technology, a San Francisco think tank, estimated that provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37% to 43% below levels of 2005 by 2030, making the measure “the most important federal climate and clean energy legislation in US history.”

The IEA’s projections are a massive jump from its expectations of just a year ago, with a 30% increase in installed renewable capacity over last year’s forecast. The nearly 2,400 gigawatt growth projected for 2022-27 is “equal to China’s entire installed power capacity today,” the IEA says.

These numbers underscore the stupidity of the American right-wing campaigns against green investments. As I reported recently, red states are pulling millions of dollars in assets from investment firms they accuse of boycotting oil, gas and coal companies and recognizing the economic impacts of global warming.

Sooner or later, these states will have to face reality: coal and gas are dying energy sources and renewables are the wave of the future. My colleague Noah Bierman reports that Kentucky will soon employ twice as many people in electric vehicle jobs as in the coal industry.

renewable

Installed wind and solar power capacity is increasing, and is poised to overtake coal and natural gas as energy sources in the coming years.

(International Energy Agency)

That’s not surprising: Coal mining employment in this state has fallen from more than 18,600 workers to 4,200 in just the past 10 years. However, Kentucky is among the red states that have attacked institutional money managers BlackRock and Vanguard for considering the global transition from fossil fuels to renewables as an investment driver.

Solar and wind are not the only renewable energy sources addressed in the IEA forecast.

Hydroelectric power is also mentioned, although the agency says environmental permitting and construction hurdles will slow the growth of that source; in fact, the IEA expects hydro to fall from 16.2% of global energy capacity today to 14.1% by 2027, largely because it will be overtaken by solar and wind.

By 2027, the IEA forecasts, solar, wind and hydropower will account for 50.7% of global generation capacity, while coal and gas will fall to 40%. Nuclear power, which according to some measures is considered “green” energy because it does not produce greenhouse gases, will remain stable but drop to 9.4%, down from the current 9.9%.

Geothermal will remain a marginal source due to its high investment costs. The IEA says hydrogen is a promising renewable fuel, but its biggest role would be to stimulate the growth of solar and wind power, since producing hydrogen as a fuel requires energy.

One energy source that is not fully mentioned in the IEA forecast is fusion. The nuclear process that powers the sun has long been a holy grail for Earth-bound researchers, but no one has been able to report success in staging fusion reactions that reliably produce net gains of energy without climate effects, so far.

The U.S. Department of Energy is set to announce a “breakthrough” in fusion research at the agency’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on Tuesday. The details of the achievement are still unclear, though many years of further development are likely to be necessary before it is a significant contributor to the gridiron.

Meanwhile, solar and wind energy are the sources that will transform the global energy landscape, bringing the world closer to the goal of net zero emissions by 2050. According to the IEA’s forecast, the dominant player in this transformation will be China.

The Inflation Reduction Act is likely to reverse years of US government inaction on climate goals, a welcome counterweight to China’s stance on energy technologies.

“There is strong competition among the world’s largest economies to have a privileged position when it comes to the next chapter of the industrial sector,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol told the Financial Times. The United States and India are ramping up manufacturing of solar PV equipment, in part to reduce their reliance on Chinese manufacturers.

What the IEA forecast makes clear is that renewable energy has exceeded expectations of just a few years ago and can continue to grow exponentially as long as government policies evolve to support it.

Even if the effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were to wear off tomorrow, it has awakened decision makers across the developed world to the need to move away from fossil fuels as a matter of national security.

“The global energy crisis,” the IEA concluded, “is pushing the accelerator on the expansion of renewable energy.”

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