Pragmatism about renewables?

Pragmatism about renewables?

Since Karen just published a post about reasons to be optimistic and pessimistic about the sustainability and energy efficiency market sectors…I’m going to talk about pragmatism.  And I’m going to talk about our President’s speech last Tuesday.

Caveat:  I’m a huge supporter of renewable energy.  We have done a tremendous amount of work in the solar space and, like many Americans, putting resources behind innovation in this area seems like a no-brainer. (When we asked Americans in our Energy Pulse study what form of energy they would support if they were the President of the United States, overwhelmingly folks picked solar.)

So I was thrilled to hear him proclaim clean energy to be our “Sputnik moment.”  I love the idea that his forthcoming budget will propose an 85% increase in renewable energy investment, a doubling of the number of DOE energy innovation hubs and a doubling of investments in energy efficiency.

But producing 80% of our electricity from clean energy sources 23 years from now?  Well…that just seems a little unrealistic.

I feel certain that those of you in the clean energy world will clobber me with stats and scenarios on how it could be accomplished.  And I honestly welcome it. But all the energy outlook reports published — from the federal government’s own Annual Energy Outlook report all the way out to one recently published by BP — show that even though we’ll be generating more clean energy…we’ll also be consuming more.  So the percentages — the mix of energy sources — will likely not look that markedly different in 23 years than it does today.  Yes, the amount of renewable energy being generated is projected to increase 73%…but, given overall increased production and consumption of energy, that will move renewables from 10% of our grid’s generation mix today to only 14% by 2035.  All the forecasts show that coal will still be doing the heavy lifting, at 43% of our total generation (it’s 45% today).

And for all the President’s budget plans, I’m not sure we can markedly change the forecasts.  It’s a big, big ship and it will take a long time to turn it around.

So, I understand that President Obama must also be Chief Cheerleader…but I’d like to see him be a bit more pragmatic and level with the American people about what’s possible — and about what their responsibility is in this whole thing.  Our Energy Pulse study confirms that 63% of the American population has no idea that we generate the majority of our energy in this country by burning coal. So when our President paints a rosy picture of 80% renewable energy in 23 years, there’s a way in which it allows us all to go, “Cool! Technology is awesome!” and presume that somehow our energy problems will just take of themselves.  In truth, while technology can do part of the job, we all must also literally use less of the stuff.  We must shift from our automatic behaviors of consuming as much energy as we want without a second thought to conscious choices to use less.

MAYBE then we can actually realize the President’s vision. One day.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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