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Op-Ed: The real drivers behind the clean energy revolution

About Fifteen years ago, oil was at a low of $15 per barrel and the clean energy sector was in its infancy. Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” had not come out yet and NASA launched its Envisat environmental satellite with the purpose of recording information on environmental change.

By 2005, “alternative energy” actually meant “new methods for extracting old fossil fuels: tar sands, “clean coal,” and a new thing called fracking,” according to RenewEconomy. However, here we are, in 2017, and the mention of alternative energy means we’re talking about renewable energy sources.

Renewable energy, a clean energy source, has taken off across the globe, and while renewables were considered to be in their infancy not so many years ago, something happened to make the whole concept of renewable energy go mainstream around the world.

View into the Eagle Butte coal mine in Gillette  in Wyoming s Powder River Basin. The open-pit  truc...

View into the Eagle Butte coal mine in Gillette, in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. The open-pit “truck and shovel” mine produces low-sulfur, sub-bituminous coal from the vast Roland and Smith seams.
Carol M. Highsmith

According to the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), one out of every five units of energy delivered to consumers today comes from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, or you could say that 20 percent of our energy is derived from renewables.
READ MORE: Digital transformation is reshaping the energy sector
If you were to ask what particular issue, incident or technical advancement was behind our clean energy transformation, you might get a whole list of possible answers. Was it the Paris Climate Pact, or possibly Al Gore’s documentary? Funny thing, but even energy analysts got it wrong, including the International Energy Agency (IEA) because they were too conservative in their projections.

The real drivers behind our energy transformation
Actually, there are three drivers that have set us on the clean energy course. I would say the first driver is the public – concerned scientists, citizens, and activists, all coming together – voicing their concerns over the many issues confronting us today with the intent to find solutions.

What is amazing to me is this “coming together” took place around the globe, despite our nationalities or political differences. The evidence was staring us in the face, from extremes in weather to rising sea levels, disastrous droughts to famine. The world’s citizens knew it was time to do something to mitigate the environmental changes putting us at risk.

US President Donald Trump caused outrage when he withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris clim...

US President Donald Trump caused outrage when he withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord

The second driver in this transformation would be our political leaders, including state and local government officials in the U.S. and global political leaders. Under President Barack Obama’s leadership, renewable portfolio standards, enhanced automotive standards, and air and water quality standards were enacted.

A number of countries, as well as some states and cities in the U.S., began listening to their citizens, imposing bans on plastics and the burning of fossil fuels. Today, many cities around the globe have taken their concern for the environment even further, making long-term commitments to reduce greenhouse gasses and change over to renewable energy sources for their citizens.

The biggest driver of energy transformation
Last, but certainly not the least is businesses. Businesses actually play two key roles in our energy transformation. Five of the six most publicly valuable companies in the world are U.S.-based technology companies: Google (Alphabet), Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook. They have listened to their customers, and there are millions of them.

 The number of people working in the renewables sector could reach 24 million by 2030  more than off...

“The number of people working in the renewables sector could reach 24 million by 2030, more than offsetting fossil-fuel job losses and becoming a major economic driver around the world.,” says the IRENA report.
EDF Report

These same companies are also the source of the greatest amount electrical consumption, globally. Every one of them has committed to 100 percent clean energy, with Google leading the way, already having reached its goal and the others not far behind. These companies have a combined market capitalization of nearly $2.3 trillion — More than the size of nearly every economy that signed the Paris accord.
Read More: Renewable energy leaps forward with floating wind farm
Other companies, like JP Morgan Chase, have committed to 100% clean energy, becoming part of the solution while showing leadership. JP Morgan Chase is the world’s third largest bank and the largest U.S. bank by assets. In making the bank’s commitment public, Morgan Chase stated it had “facilitated and advised on some of the largest clean financing and strategic transactions in the renewable energy sector.”

Business’ key role in innovation and entrepreneurialism
When it comes to clean energy, nowhere has the impact of innovation been felt greater than in start-ups. From Tesla to Plug and Play, and Invenergy to Dandelion, start-up companies have proven themselves in their creativity, fueled by the belief that nothing is impossible.

Nowhere has growth been more evident than in the battery storage sector, with innovative solutions popping out of the woodwork almost daily, here lately. And it is exciting, even if one knows nothing about the technology behind the latest discoveries. The bottom line for many of us is that it works.

Computer model of what Hywind will look like on completion. Statoil's floating wind turbine concep...

Computer model of what Hywind will look like on completion. Statoil’s floating wind turbine concept—has been designed to generate electricity offshore with minimal environmental impact. Hywind supports a wind turbine generator on a floating steel cylinder extending 80—100 meters beneath the surface of the sea.
Statoil ASA

None of our innovations would be possible without the technology companies we have today. The software and computer algorithms created through digital technology and artificial intelligence are disruptive to older, legacy-based business models, according to Quartz. By disruptive, this means companies relying on a business model that has worked for decades will find digital technology innovations disruptive unless they are embraced in a long-term business model.

Some companies, including Morgan Chase and others, have managed to pull this change off by aggressively investing in the energy transformation going on today and protecting the long-term sustainability of the company. One thing is for sure – As the renewable energy revolution continues to grow, those who refuse to climb aboard the bandwagon will be left behind.

Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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