From our bird's-eye view of the renewable energy industry, we often see positive developments for humanity before they become common knowledge. The purpose of this blog is to highlight the clean energy innovations and sustainability actions that are legitimate cause for optimism despite the very real threats to people and the environment posed by climate damage.
"Hope is a stance, not an assessment." These are the words of Amory Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, an organization leading the transition away from fossil fuels for the past 40 years. During his 2023 talk at Dartmouth College, Lovins made the point that people should use “applied hope” to grapple with the enormity of the climate crisis because “you can’t depress people into action.”
Hope gives us the courage to act, even when problems are overwhelming and the odds of success seem impossibly long. Construction of America’s largest solar + storage facility is a recent example of people taking action to build a cleaner, more resilient energy future.
Located on desolate southern California terrain, and partially on the grounds of Edwards Air Force Base, the “Edwards & Sanborn” project is comprised of 1.9 million solar panels (made in the USA by First Solar) paired with roughly 3.3 GWh of battery storage. The $1.7B project is expected to generate enough electricity for 238,000 homes while offsetting 640,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions annually for the next 30-plus years.
Large-scale renewable energy and decarbonization projects are accelerating across the U.S. (and globe) in places and industries that seemed impossible just a decade ago. While it’s not surprising to see the biggest solar + storage project in California, readers might be shocked to know that Texas produced more renewable power from wind and solar in 2023 than any other state, and 55% more than California, according to Environment America’s recent Renewables on the Rise Report.
If clean energy can scale rapidly in politically challenging states like Texas, it becomes easier to imagine decarbonizing other states, as well as industries that require enormous inputs of fossil fuels, like aviation and cement-making.
A new sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) biorefinery that just opened in the deep South is evidence that the clean energy transition is beginning to penetrate some of industry’s most difficult sectors. LanzaJet’s $200 million Freedom Pines Fuels facility is designed to produce 9 million gallons of plant-based aviation fuel and 1 million gallons of renewable diesel per year, with a 70% reduction in carbon emissions compared to conventional jet fuel and a ~60% reduction in carbon emissions compared to fossil diesel.
Like the aviation industry, cement-making is another extreme decarbonization challenge because its manufacture relies heavily on fossil fuels and the carbon-intensive process of limestone decomposition. Utilizing an electrochemical process that extracts calcium and silicates at ambient temperature for the manufacture of a zero-emission substitute for traditional concrete, Sublime Systems is making strong progress on a product that will help clean up the commercial construction industry.
In Holyoke, MA, where 80% of the paper used in the United States was manufactured in the late 1800s, Sublime Systems has secured 16 acres in the former paper-making district to build its first plant. By 2026, Sublime intends to produce tens of thousands of tons of its low carbon cement in the former “Paper City.”
Throughout the global economy, clean technology, renewable energy, and battery storage are rapidly progressing with the same fervor, innovation and profit-making that propelled the vast advancements of the Industrial and Technological Revolutions. Although it is still slower than the pace desired to avoid future negative impacts of the climate crisis, the world’s rate of decarbonization continues to gain momentum everywhere, all at once.
Rejecting the idea of blind optimism in his Dartmouth remarks, Amory Lovins said “applied hope is a pragmatic and grounded conviction that starting with hope and acting out of hope can cultivate a different kind of world.” In our view, achieving all the clean energy progress to date domestically and abroad, in the face of fierce, unrelenting fossil fuel industry opposition, is rational cause for optimism.