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.
by ReVision Energy co-founder Phil Coupe
An unexpected decision made recently by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut oil production should be viewed as a Hellfire missile shot across America’s bow. With their goal of raising the global commodity price of oil, authoritarian OPEC member countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran are trying to help their ally Russia get more money for Russian oil exports to customers like China. This, in turn, helps Russia continue to finance its criminal war of aggression against Ukraine with planet-killing oil profits.
Oil rig in the south of Russia. Photo credit: World Bank Photos.How should democratic nations and citizens react to this circling of autocratic, oil-laden wagons? Reducing use of oil and gasoline is the most impactful action we can take to constrict the flow of dirty financial ‘oxygen’ to Russia while simultaneously conserving our domestic oil reserves for only the most critical needs (like national security). The less we use in America, the more difficult it is for OPEC to nudge the global oil price higher.
The good news is that clean technology innovation, combined with the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) unprecedented incentive programs, is accelerating America’s transition away from fossil fuels much faster than was imaginable ten years ago.
In its first six months, the IRA has sparked more than 100,000 clean energy jobs and unleashed more than $90 billion of investments in manufacturing plants that will produce solar panels, electric vehicles, long-duration batteries, and other climate-friendly technologies. Solar is now a $35 billion player in the U.S. economy, employing 255,000 Americans and averaging 24% growth per year over the past decade.
Solar and wind are expected to account for a combined 16 percent of total U.S. electric power generation in 2023, up from 14 percent in 2022, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In 2022, the 683,130 gigawatt hours generated across the country from wind and solar were enough to power 64 million average American households, defined as a residential customer who uses about 886 kilowatt hours per month. While this progress is inspiring, broader scale solutions are just over the horizon.
Photo Credit: Form Energy.In response to the raw material sourcing challenges and relatively short duration of lithium-ion batteries, companies like Boston-based Form Energy are developing massive iron-air batteries capable of storing electricity for 100 hours. These are cost-competitive with the natural gas power plants currently used to fill the intermittency gaps of wind and solar. Form’s batteries can be made cheaply because they largely consist of iron, one of the most abundant minerals on earth. Form is under contract to place two of its batteries at coal-fired power plants that are scheduled for retirement. Each of these two pilot storage projects will provide 10 megawatts of instantaneous power for up to 100 hours, meaning that each iron-air battery will store 1,000 megawatt-hours.
Similarly, Noon Energy is rapidly advancing their revolutionary approach to renewable energy storage that relies on carbon dioxide and oxygen to create grid-scale batteries. These can help power towns and cities for multiple days when wind and solar are unavailable.
Photo Credit: BETA Technologies. Further out on the cutting edge of solving some of our most difficult decarbonization problems are companies like Vermont-based BETA Technologies, which has built and started testing small electric airplanes that can fly more than 200 miles on one charge. Companies like UPS and United Therapeutics have already placed orders for electric planes they expect to receive from BETA in 2025.
With 8 billion people burning fossil fuels within earth’s closed atmosphere, mitigating anthropogenic climate damage remains one of the most compelling reasons for humanity to hasten the transition to renewable energy, battery storage and beneficial electrification.
But long-term national security and present-day geopolitical conflict are equally urgent motivations for us to continue building as quickly as possible our just, equitable and fossil-free electric future. Despite today’s saber-rattling by oil-rich authoritarian regimes and Russia’s unconscionable war crimes against Ukraine, we think it’s rational cause for optimism that clean energy innovation and the IRA’s history-shattering scale are discernably accelerating the inevitable decline of oil, gas, and coal.