Does it surprise you that fossil fuels provide over 65% of U.S. electric power? Notably, in 2015 U.S. coal-fired power plants were responsible for about 71% of the total energy-related CO2 emissions. Globally, coal is responsible for nearly 30% of energy use and 44% of carbon emissions. And according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, estimated worldwide coal reserves are expected to last 120 years if consumed at forecasted levels.
As proponents of the environment and clean energy, we aren’t shocked to hear that the coal industry is declining. Coal is a disaster for the environment and for the mining communities – it causes air pollution, acid rain, fires, sludge, disturbance and destruction of acres of forest, mountaintops and countless riverbeds – not to mention the danger of the job and the terminal health impacts it has on the miners and community – and the list goes on.
There’s good news: the demand for coal is going down. Is this a short term decline, or indicative of a shift in how the world gets its energy and electricity, favoring renewables?
Natural gas is gaining favor
This spring, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) published a graphic illustrating the annual share of the U.S. electricity generated by coal, natural gas, nuclear, and renewable energies. Between 2014 and 2015 the amount of U.S. power generated from coal in the U.S. fell by 226,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh); while natural gas increased by 208,000 GWh. However, renewables only contributed a 10,000 GWh year-over-year increase. Natural gas is favored as it is considered a “firm” power, versus the “intermittent” power of renewables, and it is also becoming more cost competitive.
Renewables on the rise
Renewable energy is making gains, though at a slower pace. According to Newsweek, the share of total U.S. electricity production from renewables (including hydroelectric dams) rose from about 9.5 percent to more than 14 percent over the last 10 years, with a steady climb.
And The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) December 2015 “Energy Infrastructure Update” revealed that renewables were responsible for 64% of all new electrical generating capacity installed last year.
But if the U.S. wants to get serious about its Clean Power Plan and our global commitment to the COP21 United Nations climate agreement (officially signed by 177 parties on April 22!), are we moving fast enough to elevate the use of renewable energies? Nope.
Buildings can help
Buildings account for 39% of CO2 emissions in the U.S. To reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, building owners and developers have an enormous opportunity by investing in renewable energy.
“Renewable energy is no longer costly or out of reach,” says Paladino Vice President Brad Pease. “They are increasingly competitively priced thanks to strides in research and advancements in technology. The building owner population would make an enormous impact if they shifted to renewable use.”
Consider the cost of wind energy – it has declined by two-thirds in just the last six years due to more advanced equipment, making it one of the lowest costing energy sources, even without factoring in tax incentives.
And renewables are proving new employment opportunities. According to the Washington Post, the solar industry employs over 210,000 people and is ever growing, and the wind energy industry provides 77,000 jobs.
Business-friendly regulations and incentives
Cities are starting to require renewable energy on new buildings and provide other incentives.
Incentives to implement renewable energies are also flooding the market. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) presents policies and incentives in every market. Washington State has 99 policies; New York has 92; DC has 44; and California boasts a whopping 183 policies.
We have everything we need to meet our goals today. The technology, regulatory environment, and the data exists to wind down and conclude our use of coal. When building owners do their part and invest in renewables, they contribute to a healthy, sustaining world – and they embrace the future of energy rather than the past.