Rational Cause for Optimism

Who Can You Electrify?

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.

written by ReVision Co-Founder Phil Coupe

More than twenty years ago, scientists established a goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C to avoid the worst climate impacts, urging humankind to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Too many people ignored that warning, and as a result climate scientists’ models in 2014 were predicting apocalyptic global warming of 4 to 5 degrees C by the year 2100.

rooftop-solar-installers-summer.jpgBut much has changed since 2014, such as record-breaking adoption of renewable energy technology around the globe, and deep commitments to clean energy targets by 190 countries, which has bent downward the predicted curve of warming. Climate models now indicate we are tracking toward a 2.1 to 2.4 degree C increase by the end of the century (if existing commitments are upheld).

2.4 is drastically better than 5, but still well above the 1.5 degree threshold, which made me wonder whether we truly had achieved anything over the past decade. So, I reached out to my friend Cam Wake, a glaciologist, climatologist, and chairperson of Kittery, Maine’s Climate Action Network, to ask if he thought we had made any real progress.

“Our collective efforts over the past 10 years have bent the temperature curve in an important direction,” said Dr. Wake, who is a Ph.D. scientist with 35 years of experience and serves as Director of the Center for North Atlantic Studies at the University of New England. “This is a victory to be celebrated! But at 2.4 C warming, there is still lots of suffering.”

While it is true that a temperature rise of 2.1 to 2.4 degree C will cause (and is already causing) painful climate impacts around the globe, it is equally true that humanity is demonstrating its capability to reduce future temperature increases by pivoting away from fossil fuels. Can we accelerate the clean energy transition despite the fossil fuel industry’s power and influence?


No More Coal

At the local level, fossil fuel dominoes continue to fall across our region, as evidenced by the announced closure of New England’s two remaining coal-fired power plants in Bow and Portsmouth, NH. Surging deployments of solar, wind, battery storage, heat pumps, and electric vehicles have made a world of difference in our 10-year outlook. 

The International Energy Agency forecasts that we are on track to see all fossil fuels peak globally before 2030, and Chinese oil and gas giant Sinopec says that peak oil has already occurred in China.

Crucially, global investments in the clean energy sector have been outpacing fossil fuel investments for nearly a decade, and the gap is growing wider by the year as clean energy returns outperform those from coal, oil, and gas.

Credit_IEA2023.pngIEA (2023), Annual investment in fossil fuels and clean energy, 2015-2023, IEA, Paris, Licence: CC BY 4.0.

Considering the sobering reality that world population is forecasted to reach 10 billion by 2050, and global energy demand is expected to grow by 50%, it is premature to start celebrating. We need to be clear-eyed about the enormous challenges associated with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C, which will require a doubling of the record-breaking clean energy deployments achieved in 2023. 

Together, humankind has potentially reduced expected global temperature rise by 50% over the past decade. Clearly our species has vast potential to bend the temperature curve even further toward the 1.5 degree C end of the spectrum. It will require every one of us to reduce our own emissions while coaxing along others who might not yet be as ready and willing to make fundamental energy changes for the common good. What can we say to encourage folks to join the clean energy transition? 

Spreading the Electrification Message

vawter-indoor-ashp_MC.jpgToo many people still don’t realize that solar electricity is the cheapest form of power ever known to humankind, and that electric vehicles cost less than half as much to own and operate as a similar internal combustion engine vehicle. And most people are not aware that battery storage technology is now progressing as rapidly as solar panels, with costs declining and the social and environmental problems associated with first world mining practices being solved through responsible domestic raw materials sourcing.  

We also need to further spread the word that air source heat pumps can reduce heating and cooling costs by 50%, which is leading to rapid widespread adoption in New England and beyond. This is the clean energy model of success that we need to replicate with wind, solar, storage, and electric vehicles, and every one of us has some level of power to bend our community in the right direction, should we choose to use it. 

Ask yourself: "Who in my community can I help better understand the economic and environmental potential of beneficial electrification?"