The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

It's Rocky, but the Transition to Clean Energy is Well Underway

The sequester. Continued Congressional gridlock. Declining levels of venture capital funding. High-profile bankruptcies. The boom in low-cost natural gas. As the Obama administration seeks to find its footing for a second term, there appear to be plenty of reasons to hold a very bleak outlook for clean tech in the U.S. and beyond.

But when we take a look at some other indicators — perhaps quieter data points that don’t make the breathless headlines or trending tweets du jour — a different story is emerging. Even with all the hype about fracking, natural gas was not the No. 1 source of new electricity generation in the U.S. in 2012. In fact, it was wind power, accounting for 41 percent of new capacity compared with 33 percent for gas, according to the Energy Information Administration. Add in solar, biomass, geothermal, and other renewables (excluding large hydro), and nearly half, 49 percent, of the nation’s new power capacity came from clean-energy sources. It’s worth noting that in new wind-power deployments, 70 percent of the equipment is now manufactured in the U.S. And in January of this year, all of the new generating capacity in America — every megawatt ­­— came from renewables, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. 

Obviously any single month can be a statistical anomaly, particularly in the dead of winter, but it’s still a pretty notable factoid. And in Europe in 2012, the story was even more dramatic, with nearly 70 percent of new generation capacity (more than 31 GW) from clean sources across the EU. Solar led the way there with 37 percent, with wind adding 26.5 percent, both more than the 23 percent added from natural gas, which remains much more expensive than in the U.S.

At the same time, coal-fired electricity in the developed world continues its sharp decline. In the U.S., practically every day brings news of old coal plants being retired or plans for new ones being shelved. In late February, American Electric Power said it would shutter three Midwestern coal plants with a combined 2,000 MW of capacity in an emissions lawsuit settlement, replacing some of the capacity with wind and solar resources in Indiana and Michigan. And Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he will end the city-owned utility’s contracts for coal-fired power — some 40 percent of its current energy mix — by 2025. Coal-fired generation as a percentage of the nation’s electricity mix has declined in each of the past seven years, from nearly 50 percent in 2005 to less than 38 percent last year.

This, my friends, is an energy transition. As Clean Edge co-founder/managing director Ron Pernick and I note in our current book Clean Tech Nation, the developed world does not need new coal or nuclear. The future is an energy mix of renewables, energy efficiency, and natural gas. And our path to that future is well underway.

But transitions of this magnitude are never smooth, and the rocks in the path right now are tripping up (if not injuring) policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs, and corporations. It’s not just an evolution from dirty to clean energy, but a transition with clean tech itself — from R&D to deployment.

Many others have noted this: the clean-energy industry is growing up. As exciting as scientific breakthroughs can be — and dozens of them were on display this week at the annual ARPA-E Innovation Summit outside Washington, D.C. — state and federal policy, in some cases, needs to shift focus to putting steel in the ground (or silicon on the roof). That’s why I tend to agree with my friend Jigar Shah, CEO of the Carbon War Room and co-founder of solar financing pioneer SunEdison, in questioning President Obama’s choice of MIT professor Ernest J. Moniz as the next Secretary of Energy. I’d rather have seen one of the former governors widely rumored as candidates — Jennifer Granholm, Bill Ritter, or Christine Gregoire — who helped lead efforts to make clean-tech deployment and jobs a significant part of their states’ economies. 

Another respected clean-tech compatriot, venture capitalist and blogger Rob Day of Black Coral Capital in Boston, just weighed in on this transition within clean tech, sharing his firm’s new investment philosophy in his regular guest column for Greentech Media. “From our perspective, Day says, “the opportunity now lies in market reinvention. Figuring out how to accelerate how people buy, sell and deploy these new technologies, in scalable ways. It means focusing on new business models, not solely on breakthrough technology innovations.”

One could easily attribute the current boom in U.S. solar deployment, for example, to (along with falling PV prices) the revolution in financing that allows residential and commercial customers to lease rather than own their rooftop systems. To unleash the next wave of deployment, the industry’s focus is now on reducing soft costs – in installation, permitting, and the like. Most of those breakthroughs won’t come out of research labs (and, to its credit, DOE’s SunShot program has made this a priority).

Passionate arguments will rage over this — but that’s a good sign that, as Buffalo Springfield sang 45 years ago about a different kind of transition, “There’s something happening here.” Any goal as audacious as this one — transforming the world’s energy use — is certainly worthy of debate. 

Lead image: Solar panel sun via Shutterstock

Untitled Document

Get All the Renewable Energy World News Delivered to Your Inbox

Subscribe to Renewable Energy World or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest news and information.

 Subscribe Now


Solar water heating

California Regulators Propose Expansion of Eligibility Requirements for Solar Water Heating Program

Jennifer Delony The California Public Utilities Commission has proposed expanding the eligibility requirements for customers seeking ...

Florida Supreme Court Takes Up Solar Question

Wayne Barber Because Florida remains one of only four states where current laws expressly deny citizens and businesses the freedom...
solar net metering

Lithuanian Net Metering Hits Snag from Outset

Linas Jegelevicius The much anticipated net metering in Lithuania has hit a major snag from the very start – the introduced network oper...
Solar energy

Colorado PUC Orders No Changes to Solar Net Metering

Vince Font In what is being lauded as a “fair outcome” for consumers, utilities and the solar industry alike, the Colorado Publi...


Canadian Solar Wins Five Solar Power Projects Totaling 185 MW in Brazil

These power projects were won under a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the B...

$100 Off of 5-day Advanced PV Project Experience. Download a Topic Schedule.

Assemble, ground, energize, and commission a complete grid-tied SolarEdge system from s...

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd talks politics of fear vs. politics of hope

Rudd, who led the Australian parliament from 2007 to 2010, told the Summit audience tha...

Intersolar AWARD „Solar Projects in India“ – Applications being accepted until September 18

The Intersolar AWARD in the category Solar Projects in India honors projects in the fie...


Washington, DC Bridges the Solar Gap

The District of Columbia has enjoyed 15 years of strong economic growth. But prosperity is spread unevenly across the...

Sell Through Hypothesis

You first learned to hypothesize, or make educated guesses, in grade school science class. Now it’s time to ref...

Cronimet / THEnergy study: In solar for mines size does not always matter - Reducing CAPEX with energy efficiency and load shifting

Munich, September 2015. Mining companies are constantly gaining interest in solar solutions because frequently solar ...

Final Program Now Available for GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo

GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo - Final Program from



Volume 18, Issue 4


To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:


Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon



Successfully Integrating Solar: A Proactive Approach

•      What does the increasing solar penetrati...

Doing Business in Europe – in partnership with GWEC, the Global Win...

There is now 128.8 GW of installed wind energy capacity in the EU (appro...

Doing Business in South Africa – in partnership with GWEC, the Glob...

Wind Energy in South Africa has been expanding dramatically, growing fro...


Sell Through Hypothesis

You first learned to hypothesize, or make educated guesses, in grade sch...

Vacancy? No Problem!

Have you ever tried to sell an efficiency product or service to a prospe...

Final Program Now Available for GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal...

GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo - Final Program f...


Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now