A Change Is Gonna Come
“It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will” – Sam Cooke
On October 8, 1963 American rhythm and blues singer-songwriter Sam Cooke called the Holiday Inn North in Shreveport, Louisiana to make reservations for himself, his wife, and his band.
Upon arrival at the motel, Cooke was informed by the desk clerk there were no vacancies.
Realizing that the motel was “whites only”, Cooke – an African-American and commonly known as the King of Soul – left after yelling and arguing with the clerk.
The discrimination and the struggles experienced by African-Americans troubled Cooke and inspired him to write “A Change Is Gonna Come”, a song released posthumously on Cooke’s final album on December 22, 1964, just days after his funeral.
Though only a modest hit after its release, “A Change Is Gonna Come” became an anthem for the American Civil Rights Movement. It was played in Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic Malcolm X and quoted by President Barack Obama in his 2008 victory speech.
In 2007, the song was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, with the National Recording Registry deeming the song “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”
Although the hope, urgency and confidence expressed in the song’s lyrics haven’t yet eliminated racial discrimination, the message of change coming is central to almost all aspects of life.
Progress impossible without change
George Bernard Shaw succinctly said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
The visionary writer Peter Russell – author of The Global Brain and The White Hole in Time – says changes in human culture are happening faster and faster now and will continue doing so in the future.
“We have already experienced more change in our lives than anybody else has ever experienced, and we will experience in the next ten years more change than we’ve experienced so far,” Russell told an interviewer.
So let’s discuss the changes coming to renewable energy sources (RES) and see if minds cannot be changed about how quickly RES can replace fossil fuels.
First let’s define RES – they are the following renewable non-fossil energy sources: wind, solar, geothermal, wave, tidal, hydropower installations, biomass, landfill gas, sewage treatment plant gas and biogases.
RES have been discriminated against for years as the world burned through its diminishing supply of oil, coal, and gas. Fossil fuel companies, right wing think tanks, and even international energy agencies have proclaimed it will be decades before RES supplant fossil sources.
The most glaring discrimination worldwide against RES has been the size of subsidies given to RES versus those given to fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency estimates fossil fuel consumption subsidies worldwide amounted to $548 billion in 2013, a $25 billion reduction from 2012.
The IEA goes on to state: “Those subsidies were over four-times the value of subsidies to renewable energy and more than four times the amount invested globally in improving energy efficiency.”
In effect, your tax money is being used to subsidize climate change.
The report further states: “Fossil fuel subsidies rig the game against renewables and act as a drag on the transition to a more sustainable energy system. On the other hand, subsidies to renewables can, if well designed – aid the deployment of sustainable technologies in support of energy security and environmental goals.”
The dissertation European Union Renewable Energy Policy and Its Effects on Competition and the article Renewable Energy Policies and Barriers discuss the many other ways renewable energies have been discriminated against and detail suggested policy changes. RES detractors say the cost is too high, the timing is wrong, and reliability is unproven.
Perfection requires constant change
Winston Churchill wisely said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
The world has often transitioned to a different energy source – from wood to coal; from whale oil to kerosene; from coal to oil, gas and nuclear; from the horse and buggy to the automobile. The transitions took place not because of a particular fuel scarcity but due to benefits gained by the switch.
Widespread adoption of renewable energy sources offer elimination of fossil fuels that are causing alarming rises in atmospheric carbon dioxide and worldwide temperature increases both of which are causing global warming and climate disruption.
While these transitions in the past took between 50 and 75 years to become significant portions of the energy portfolio, evidence is mounting that the transition to renewables will occur much more quickly.
After all most renewable technologies were hatched decades ago. Electric vehicles were invented in the early 1800s and had a heyday in 1900, with a hybrid car invented in 1916. The photovoltaic effect was discovered in 1839; the solar cell was invented in 1941; wind power for electricity in 1887; a geothermal power plant was invented in 1904 and biofuel from vegetable oil in the 1890s.
The intervening years since invention have witnessed significant improvements in all these renewable technologies and today they are poised to fulfill their promise.
Countries are leading the way
Andy Warhol whimsically said, “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
The Solutions Project and Mark Jacobson of the Atmosphere & Energy Program at Stanford University have provided the evidence we can power our civilization entirely without fossil fuels. Jacobson has devised 100% renewable energy plans for every one of the 50 American states.
In a 2009 Scientific American cover story, Jacobson presented a detailed plan showing how the entire world could be powered by wind, solar and water sources by 2030.
A study led by the MIT Energy Initiative produced a 332-page report entitled The Future of Solar Energy that concluded today’s solar panels are all that is needed to supply the world with many terawatts of clean solar power by 2050 (a terawatt is equivalent to 1,000,000 megawatts). The other main point the study makes is that it will take political will to finally wean the world off of fossil fuels.
Some countries have found that political will and have already achieved significant renewable energy milestones:
· Costa Rica used only renewable energy to generate power for at least the first 75 days of the year, a record for any country.
· On a recent Saturday afternoon, a swath of northeastern Germany from the Baltic Sea to the Polish border, an area roughly the size of Switzerland, was being powered entirely by energy from the wind and the sun.
· Wind power production in Denmark on November 3, 2013 exceeded the level of power consumption. In 2014, wind-generated energy made up 39.1% of Denmark’s overall electricity consumption, more than doubling the 18.8% wind contributed in 2004. In January 2014 alone, power from wind made up 61.4% of the Danes’ electricity consumption. This website provides a real-time overview of Danish power production, consumption, exports and imports.
· In Spain from January to March this year, wind provided 23.7% of electricity generation while nuclear made up 22.7%. Renewable sources provided 47% of the country’s electricity in March. Spain also has one of the largest solar industries in the world, with solar power accounting for almost 2,000 megawatts in 2012. Spanish wind power generation can also be viewed in real-time.
· Ireland now generates 17% of its electricity from wind and plans to get 42% from renewable sources by 2020.
· Scotland, a net exporter of electricity, generates 30% of its electricity from renewables with a goal of 100% from renewables by 2020.
Renewable cities: a place for climate action
San Francisco journalist Herb Caen affectionately said: “A city is not gauged by its length and width, but by the broadness of its vision and the height of its dreams.”
More than 50 cities are committed to 100% renewable energy including Vancouver, San Diego, San Francisco, Sydney, Australia, Georgetown, Texas, and Copenhagen, which plans to be carbon neutral by 2025. Some, like Reykjavik, Iceland, are already there for electricity and heat.
Malmo, Sweden, will be 100 per cent renewable for all three sectors – electricity, heating/cooling and transport – by 2030.
The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) has partnered with the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Centre for Dialogue in Vancouver on a new global program entitled “Renewable Cities”.
Renewable Cities aims to accelerate the adoption of 100% renewable energy within cities globally and was launched at a Global Learning Forum in Vancouver on 13-15 May. It is a five-year program that has been co-designed with leaders in local government, the private sector, key innovators and thought leaders, and utilities.
At the recent ICLEI World Congress 2015, host city Seoul announced plans to reduce its energy use and increase renewable generation, including rolling out 40,000 solar panels to households by 2018 and 15,000 electric vehicles. By 2030 it is hoped that the city of 11 million will cut CO2 emissions by 40%.
In Germany, 140 regions have committed to 100% renewable energy and 80 have achieved it (including Rhein-Hunsrück) and the other 60 are on their way. In early 2014, it is estimated that Rhein-Hunsrück already produced more than 230% of its total electricity needs, exporting the surplus to the regional and national grid, or re-directing it to meet other energy demands.
In the region of Osnabrück, 82% of total electricity consumption comes from RE (mainly solar and wind) and 22% of total heating consumption comes from RE (mainly biomass).
Wangen im Allgäu is a historic city in southern Germany with a population of 26,398.The town currently derives 50% of its electricity needs from renewable energy sources mostly solar PV (21,121 MWh/year) followed by biogas (15,128 MWh/year) and hydro (9,080 MWh/year). Wangen’s goal is to reach a 100 percent energy supply based on renewables for all community facilities by 2020 (electricity) and 2030 (heat).
The change is underway
Albert Einstein eruditely said: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
According to the 9th “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2015” – prepared by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance – worldwide investments in renewable energy projects rose by 17% in 2014, amounting to US$270 billion.
Over all, the biggest renewable energy investments last year took place in China, where $83.3-billion was spent. That’s a 39% rise from 2013. The second biggest player was the United States, where $36.3-billion was invested, up 7% from 2013. Japan was third followed by Britain, Germany and Canada.
The 103GW of capacity added by renewables last year equals the energy generating capacity of all 158 nuclear power plant reactors in the USA.
“Once again in 2014, renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP.
What is happening in Canada?
While serving as Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson said: “We only need to look at what we are really doing in the world and at home and we’ll know what it is to be Canadian.”
Canada remained among the top 10 countries in the world for investment in renewable energy last year, placing sixth overall for the second year in a row, with investments of about US$8-billion, up 8% over 2013.
About $4.5-billion was invested in wind projects in Canada last year, and another $2.8-billion in solar. One of the major drawbacks to greater investment in Canada is the lack of a national policy on renewable energy targets. Nine provinces have targets, but the federal government has yet to wake up on the issue.
Statistics Canada reports that capital investments by Canadian businesses in renewable energy technologies in 2012 totalled $547 million, up 20% from 2010. Investment was highest in biomass energy technologies, which accounted for more than half of the total in renewable energy technologies.
Yet the Acting on Climate Change: Solutions from Canadian Scholars report released in March says: “Renewable energy (the potential of which has been known since the 1980s) is one of Canada’s largest resources. Existing hydroelectric plants and wind power facilities are cost-effective sources of electricity. It has been shown that wind alone could provide several times existing fossil and nuclear electricity supply up to a cost (including transmission) of about 8 cents/kWh.
These could be supplemented by solar photovoltaic, geothermal, ground-based heat recovery, biomass and biogas to supply a large portion our energy needs across the country.”
That same report says 77% of Canada’s electricity is already produced from low-carbon emission sources, but as for reaching 100%, the report goes on to state: “Many of the technical barriers appear in fact to be barriers of information and seem easier to surpass at the municipal level than at higher level of governments.”
We must bust the myths about renewable energy and develop our vast RE potential.
At the same time we must learn to moderate our energy use. Recent studies have shown that there are no insurmountable technical problems to reducing energy use by a third, both in the affluent world and in rapidly modernizing countries, notably through efficiency gains.
The great transition
British author Terry Pratchett said: “People don’t like change. But make the change fast enough and you go from one type of normal to another.”
Lester Brown, lead author of the recently published The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy, writes: “Encouragingly, the energy transition is progressing much faster than most people realize. And it will accelerate. We are looking at the prospect of a half-century’s worth of change within the next decade.”
Energy is the main source of GHG emissions and thus crucial to climate change mitigation. According to Canada’s latest GHG inventory, energy accounts for 81% of all human-related GHG emissions.
The Earth League, which includes Nicholas Stern, the author of several influential reports on the economics of climate change; Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a climate scientist and adviser to Angela Merkel; and the US economist Jeffrey Sachs, released a statementon Earth Day urging world leaders to follow up on their commitments to avoid dangerous global warming.
They said that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground if humanity is to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
“Energy derived from the sun, the wind, the sea, and the Earth’s heat, water and biomass has the potential to meet the world’s energy demand in a sustainable way,” says Dr. Stephan Singer, director of global energy policy for WWF International.
“Harvesting our energy from renewable sources can raise social and environmental prosperity significantly by securing affordable, reliable and clean energy for everyone.”
RE has multiple benefits
Mahatma Gandhi said it best: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
According to futurepolicy.org, “An ambitious 100% renewable energy target is not only about transforming our energy supply but also a more holistic vision of a better future.
A transition towards a fully renewable energy powered society offers several other benefits such as reduction in air, water and land pollution, health benefits, improved energy security and resilience, sustainable economic growth, employment, social and human development and, given its inherently decentralised nature, opportunities for improved democratic decision-making processes and citizen involvement at the local level.”
The potential of RE is game-changing. A recent study by the New Climate Institute and the Climate Action Network found that the world’s biggest economies could save $520 billion a year if they go 100% renewable, generating 3 million new jobs.
A good climate future is still within reach if we can learn to be the change we want to see in the world.
Embracing renewable energy is too good an opportunity to be missed. It is a journey of innovation which will create a new generation of jobs and industries while strengthening the resilience of communities and people everywhere.
The coming change to renewable energy is inevitable. New finance models combined with stable and predictable renewable energy policies linked across public and private sectors will drive the transition process and achieve a 100% renewables future.
As Sam Cooke sang, “Oh yes it will.”
Michael Jessen is a Nelson-based eco-writer and owner of the sustainability consultancy Zero Waste Solutions. He can be reached by email at email@example.com