The president urged more action on renewables in the State of the Union, but an important piece of technology wasn’t part of his focus.
In this week’s State of the Union address, President Obama once again called for more action on renewables. This is not surprising, since energy independence – and green energy, in particular – has become a standard check box on the State of the Union speech template, along with the economy, education and terrorism.
In addition to a call to increase the nation’s transportation fleet running on natural gas, utilities should take note of two points the president made: tax policies that would encourage “fuels of the future” and “set(ting) new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.” The main target here continues to be coal.
A number of factors have combined to reduce our country’s reliance on coal-fired electricity generation and spur the growth of greener energy in a relatively short time. Renewable Portfolio Standards enacted by a majority of states, along with reductions in the cost of solar equipment, new natural gas supplies and EPA standards on coal-fired plant emissions, have had a hand in changing the dynamic of our country’s electricity generation mix.
According to figures from the EIA, more than half of our electricity was generated by coal in 2000; in 2012 it was only 37%. During the same time period, electricity from natural gas has almost doubled (16% to 30%), and renewables have increased 25% (from generating 9% of our electricity to 12%).
While access to new shale natural gas reserves can be thanked for the majority of this shift, renewable energy is on the rise, and for residential solar, it could be faster than many anticipate. With falling prices and new funding mechanisms, residential solar is moving toward the mainstream. As the president noted, every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar.
But an even more promising strategy to further the rapid implementation of renewables such as solar would be to solve the reliability issue. And that is best addressed by energy storage. I wish the president had promoted increased investment in new battery technologies that allow for extended energy storage.
In addition, new battery technology could help with many other issues, like reducing dissipation or loss through transmission, stabilizing generation, providing reserves for extreme weather events like we’ve experienced with the polar vortex, and reducing costs to homeowners who can buy and store energy during off-peak hours.
The president could better realize his dream of a more energy independent country that is also less reliant on coal if he helps focus investment in both renewables and storage.