By Jules Kortenhorst
Magnifies the impact
Second, while each breakthrough makes a big difference on its own, the combination of new technologies magnifies the impact.
Big Data is already enabling better forecasting of wind and solar production and demand, leading to a much higher share for renewables in the energy mix. The falling cost of batteries not only accelerates the diffusion of EVs, but also allows them to store power for the electricity grid.
And, more broadly, IT has enabled smart-timed EV charging and other methods for making the grid more flexible and efficient.
Moreover, as the costs of renewable energy fall, wind and solar power can be used to produce hydrogen , another clean-energy source that may be more suitable for economic sectors, such as air transport, that have so far struggled to shift to low-carbon fuels.
And, looking ahead, the next frontier of sustainability may lie in blockchain technologies, which could facilitate “trade” in surplus electricity among consumers in innumerable, instantaneous transactions.
Finally, the political environment is rapidly changing. A decade ago, there was no Paris climate agreement, financial institutions were not accounting for climate-related risks in their investment portfolios, and most industries were as committed as ever to fossil fuels. All of that has changed.
Even in the United States, where President Donald Trump continues to champion high-carbon energy sources, coal-fired power plants are shutting down faster than ever, and plans for new natural-gas plants are being replaced with more cost-effective wind and solar options.
And as the shift toward renewables gains momentum, it will be easier for elected officials to pursue more climate-friendly policies and regulations, thereby creating a virtuous circle of change.
As the green transition comes of age, it will offer solutions to all of humanity’s energy needs, placing a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future well within reach.
Yet even as we embrace optimism, we must not lose sight of the fact that climate change is accelerating. With GHG emissions continuing to rise, the future of humanity hangs in the balance. One hopes that the shift to sustainable energy will tip the scale in our favor.
Jules Kortenhorst is CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute.