How far have we really gotten with alternative energy?


Electricity generation from coal, oil and natural gas represented 60% of all power generated world-wide this year, down from 67% in 2010, according to data and consulting firm IHS Markit. That is likely to drop to 42% to 48% by 2030, depending on how aggressively countries move toward renewables. Each of the alternative fuels has its own potential, and its own obstacles. Here’s a closer look at current status and outlook for five types of carbon-free energy that could play a bigger role in the future. To learn more, read “How Far Have We Really Gotten With Alternative Energy?” Reading this article may require a subscription from the media outlet.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Energy Department says the U.S. now gets just 3% of its power from solar sources. 
    • Globally, just 4% percent of power generation this year is from solar, up from 1.4% five years ago, according to IHS Markit. 
    • Global installations will likely increase 20% this year to 175 gigawatts, according to IHS Markit. 
    • That’s about enough to power roughly 35 million U.S. households for a year.
  • About 10% of global commercial electricity production came from nuclear power in 2020, well below the high point in the mid-1990s of 17.5%, according to the latest World Nuclear Industry Status Report.
  • Wind provides about 7% of the world’s electricity, a share projected to at least double by 2030, according to IHS Markit. 
    • Installations last year reached a record 93 gigawatts, up 53% from 2019, according to the Global Wind Energy Council industry group.
  • Geothermal plants provide less than 1% of the world’s electricity, but drilling has been on the rise for the past six years. 
    • An estimated 180 wells are being drilled each year for power generation, and that number is expected to rise to 500 by 2025.
  • The International Energy Agency says hydrogen currently supplies less than 1% of the world’s energy, and adds that only 1% of that amount is low-carbon, or green, hydrogen. 
    • The Hydrogen Council trade group forecasts that hydrogen could supply 20% of the world’s energy by 2050.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Natural gas is a necessary factor in the transition towards cutting carbon emissions. Yet to achieve a net-zero goal, it is crucial for coal and oil fired plants to diminish entirely if we have any chance of reaching the proposed targets. Natural gas can be used to reduce carbon emission and aid in the transition to implementing alternative fuels once available, and economically priced. The urgency of the climate crisis demands that the power sector pioneers the rapid decarbonization of economies worldwide. The technology needed to reach net zero already exists, however, planning and investment are needed to accelerate the energy transition. Critically, it’s not just economics that’s driving the energy transition. Today’s global targets for 2030 are nowhere near enough to meet the Paris targets, as the United Nations (UN) has made clear. Globally, emissions must be cut in half over the next decade. It is the job of every power company to now put strategies and capital in place to navigate to net zero and to embed flexibility at the heart of grids to unlock 100% renewable energy systems. To achieve this, utilities must commit to front-loading their efforts and investment strategies. 


Photo by Nuno Marques on Unsplash

California’s pathway to 100% clean electricity begins to take shape, but reliability concerns persist


California’s energy agencies are taking a first stab at assessing possible pathways to the state’s ambitious goal of achieving 100% renewable and zero-carbon electricity by 2045, but concerns about system reliability — especially in light of the rolling blackouts — continue to plague regulators. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), California Energy Commission (CEC) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) released a draft report on getting to a 2045 clean electricity portfolio, which indicated the goal is technically achievable. To learn more, read “California’s pathway to 100% clean electricity begins to take shape, but reliability concerns persist.”

Key Takeaways

  • The report presents important initial insights into potential paths for the electric sector, Mary Nichols, CARB chair, said at the workshop, adding that “the initial work highlights the enormous challenge ahead, requiring a complete transformation in the type of electricity that Californians consume.”
  • California’s carbon goals are part of legislation passed by the state in 2018, called Senate Bill 100, which calls for 100% of electric retail sales in the state to come from renewable energy and zero-carbon resources by the end of 2045.
  • The bill also required the three energy agencies to create a report evaluating the policy and follow it up with updates at least every four years. The agencies intend to submit a final version of the initial report early next year.
  • Based on this analysis, the report concludes that achieving the 100% clean electricity goal is technically achievable, and could cost around 6% more than the baseline 60% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) future by 2045, although that could change if renewables continue to decline in cost at a faster rate than anticipated by the models.

Path to 100% Perspective

A place where the transition to renewables has progressed quite far already is California. The lessons learned along the way have been plentiful, but powerful nonetheless. The record-breaking heat wave that swept across the western part of the country and caused a series of blackouts in the Golden State, offered additional modelling opportunities to demonstrate the most effective mix of energy to accommodate any extreme weather situation during the transition, and to meet clean power mandates. The big challenge facing California and the rest of the world is how to integrate renewables into the grid while building security of supply and a sustainable power system with an affordable plan for everyone involved.



Photo by Matthew Hamilton on Unsplash