Last updated on: 9/24/2020 | Author: ProCon.org

Should the US Move toward 100% Renewable Energy?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

Joshua Rhodes, PhD, Research Associate in the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin, in an Aug. 21, 2018 article, “What Does 100% Renewable Energy Really Mean?,” available at forbes.com, stated:

“If any company or city uses electricity that comes from non-renewable sources, can they still be “100% renewable”? Yes, they can. They can still be 100%, or 80%, or 30% renewable because renewable energy contracts are actually financial contracts that do not require physical delivery of the electricity to the buyer. This can happen because we have an impressive electricity grid that takes electricity from all kinds of sources and distributes it to the homes and businesses who consume it.

Think of it like this: you deposit cash at the bank on Monday and then withdraw cash from an ATM on Thursday. The paper money you’ve withdrawn are not the exact same bills you deposited, but it makes no difference at all, cash is cash. It would be silly, and require a more expensive banking system for everyone, for any individual depositor to demand that they get the exact same bills on Thursday that they deposited at a different location on Monday.

Say a company called Awesome Inc. consumes 1,000 megawatt-hours (MWhs) of electricity per year and they want to go 100% renewable. Awesome Inc. could enter into a virtual Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with a wind or solar farm, say VentusSolis Inc., and agree to buy 1,000 MWhs of electricity per year for 20 years. This agreement guarantees VentusSolis a payment stream for which it can secure the financing needed to build the project. VentusSolis builds the project and 1,000 MWhs of electricity is put on the grid per year, displacing 1,000 MWhs of electricity that would have been supplied by some other power plant, fueled by natural gas or coal, perhaps.

In this example, Awesome Inc. pays for 1,000 MWhs that VentusSolis produced and Awesome Inc. is 100% renewable energy. But in the end, it doesn’t matter who actually consumes the electricity produced from the wind farms or solar arrays; once it’s on the grid, it’s all the same at the wall socket.

To be clear, without energy storage and for times when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing, 100% renewable energy consumers rely on other, perhaps non-renewable, sources for their energy. But they make up the difference when the renewables come back online.”

Aug. 21, 2018

Sierra Club, in an article, “What are 100% Clean Energy Commitments?,” accessed on Sep. 24, 2020 and available at sierraclub.org, stated:

“Over 160 cities, more than ten counties, and eight states across the U.S. have goals to power their communities with 100% clean, renewable energy. These commitments—formalized in resolutions, climate action plans, renewable portfolio standards, and other policies—are the product of leadership from coalitions of civic champions, frontline activists, and Ready For 100 organizers nationwide. In total, over 100 million people now live in a community with an official 100% renewable electricity target.”

Sep. 24, 2020

PRO (yes)

Pro

Nat Keohane, PhD, Senior Vice President, Environmental Defense Fund, in an Oct. 7, 2019 article, “Climate and Energy Experts Debate How to Respond to a Warming World,” available at nytimes.com, stated:

“Climate change is an urgent crisis that’s damaging our economy, our planet, and our children’s future. To prevent the worst impacts, we must achieve a 100 percent clean economy in the United States and other advanced nations by 2050 at the latest, and in the rest of the world soon after. A 100 percent clean economy means we produce no more climate pollution than we can remove.

Achieving this ambitious goal will require policies that guarantee steep reductions in emissions, drive massive investment in clean energy and find ways through nature and technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere. The best science says that we must do all these things.

The reality is that solving this fast enough will take action from Congress. The core policy should be an enforceable, declining limit on climate pollution to ensure that we meet the 100 percent clean goal, achieved through a flexible, market-based approach that creates incentives for businesses and entrepreneurs to find the fastest and cheapest ways to get there. We also need to invest in innovation, reduce barriers to clean energy and energy efficiency, support more resilient farms and forests, and ensure a just and equitable transition for communities throughout America.”

Oct. 7, 2019

Pro

Manish Ram, MBA, doctoral researcher at Solar Economy Group, Lappeenranta University of Technology, et al, in an Apr. 2019 report, “Global Energy System Based on 100% Renewable Energy,” available at energywatchgroup.org, stated:

“A full energy transition to 100% renewable energy is not only feasible, but also cheaper than the current global energy system… A global transition to 100% renewable energy across all sectors – power, heat, transport and desalination before 2050 is feasible. Existing renewable energy potential and technologies, including storage, is capable of generating a secure energy supply at every hour throughout the year. The sustainable energy system is more efficient and cost effective than the existing system, which is based primarily on fossil fuels and nuclear. A global renewable transition is the only sustainable option for the energy sector, and is compatible with the internationally adopted Paris Agreement. The energy transition is not a question of technical feasibility or economic viability, but one of political will.”

Apr. 2019

Pro

Joe Romm, PhD, Founding Editor of Climate Progress, in a May 24, 2018 article, “A 100% Renewable Grid Isn’t Just Feasible, It’s Already Happening,” available at resilience.org, stated:

“The ongoing debate around whether it’s feasible to have an electric grid running on 100 percent renewable power in the coming decades often misses a key point: many countries and regions are already at or close to 100 percent now.

According to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there are seven countries already at, or very, near 100 percent renewable power: Iceland (100 percent), Paraguay (100), Costa Rica (99), Norway (98.5), Austria (80), Brazil (75), and Denmark (69.4). The main renewables in these countries are hydropower, wind, geothermal, and solar… In the coming years, emerging and existing technology will work together to bring deeper and deeper penetration of carbon free power into the grid. The only question is no longer ‘if’ but ‘when.’”

May 24, 2018

Pro

Mark Z. Jacobson, PhD, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Director, Atmosphere/Energy Program, Stanford University, in an Aug. 23, 2017 article, “The Benefits of 139 Countries Switching to 100% Renewable Energy by 2050,” available at leonardodicaprio.org, stated:

“Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley have released a new scientific study [of which Jacobson is lead author] that produced 100% renewable energy roadmaps for 139 individual countries, representing more than 99% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The study’s 27 co-authors show how available solar, wind, and water resources can be rapidly scaled to create a global energy system that relies entirely on clean, renewable energy for all purposes.

The result of such a transition would have many benefits, including:

(1) preventing 4-7 million deaths and hundreds of millions more illnesses each year due to air pollution;

(2) reducing greenhouse gas emissions to near zero, allowing us to avoid many dangerous climate impacts associated with the continued use of fossil fuels;

(3) creating over 24 million more permanent, full-time jobs including the replacement of all jobs lost in the fossil fuel industry;

(4) stabilizing global energy prices while simultaneously reducing energy costs for consumers;

(5) improving energy access to 4 billion people who would otherwise be experiencing energy poverty;

(6) and reducing the risk of terrorism and catastrophic impacts associated with large, centralized energy plants.”

Aug. 23, 2017

Pro

Ethan Jodoin, Student at Michigan State University and Facilitator of Green Alliance at MSU, in an Apr. 9, 2019 statement to Voices for 100% Renewable Energy, available at 100percentrenewable.org, stated:

“Moving to 100% renewable energy has huge health ramification outside of climate change and carbon emissions. By limiting the fossil fuels we burn, we prevent cancer in communities living under smokestacks, we drastically reduce the rate of childhood asthma, and perhaps most importantly, we gain energy independence and stop partaking in wars over foreign oil.

100% renewable energy means a healthier, wealthier, and more peaceful United States.”

Apr. 9, 2019

Pro

Jerry Greenfield, Co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s, in a Nov. 19, 2018 statement to Voices for 100% Renewable Energy, available at 100percentrenewable.org, stated:

“When Ben & I started Ben & Jerry’s 40 years, we opened our first shop in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont. Knowing what we know today about climate change, I take a little bit of pride in having converted a small piece of Burlington’s dirty fossil fuel infrastructure into the birthplace of Ben & Jerry’s.

But the urgency of climate change demands that we move from small incremental steps to a rapid economy wide shift to 100% clean energy. This transition is not only necessary, it’s happening. The only question is whether we will move quick enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

When Ben famously said years ago, “if it’s melted, it’s ruined”, he was talking about ice cream but the same is true for our world. I hope you’ll join me in supporting a speedy transition to 100% clean energy now!”

Nov. 19, 2018

Pro

Pramila Jayapal, MBA, US Representative (D-WA), in an Feb. 21, 2018 statement to Voices for 100% Renewable Energy, available at 100percentrenewable.org, stated:

“100 percent renewable energy isn’t a choice. It is our only option. In the fight to ensure that all of our communities have access to clean water, clean air and good paying jobs, we cannot waste time with false solutions. We must invest in a just transition for fossil fuel workers and center the leadership of workers, communities of color and low-income communities who are most impacted by climate change. This is why I co-founded the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force in partnership with Congresswoman Nanette Diaz-Barragán and Congressman Donald McEachin. As an organizer, I’ve seen firsthand that our movements are most formidable when we join forces through intersectional coalitions, which allow us to build our power together instead of fighting separately.

We have the real solutions. 100 percent renewable energy is a call to invest in our future. It is a movement for a better tomorrow. That is why I am an original co-sponsor for the 100 by ‘50 Act, a roadmap to take on climate change and transition away from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2050. We can accelerate this emerging transition by making direct investments in climate resiliency solutions led by communities on the front lines of climate change. We can invest in our workforce to ensure that, as we transition to 100 percent renewables, we are creating high-paying union jobs that will allow workers to provide for their families and retire with dignity. We must provide worker retraining and robust apprenticeship opportunities to equip our workforce with the knowledge and skills to succeed in this new economy.

When we invest in workers, the environment, and the economy, our communities thrive.

We are strongest when we embrace generosity and abundance and lead with kindness and love.”

Feb. 21, 2018

Pro

Barbara Sattler, RN, DrPH, Professor Emerita of Public Health, in an Apr. 4, 2017 statement to Voices for 100% Renewable Energy, available at 100percentrenewable.org, stated:

“As a nurse, I see the need for 100% renewables through a human health lens. There are so many ways in which fossil fuels are creating health risks to humans – from the extractive processes and refineries to burning them for energy. Along the way, there are disproportionate risks to workers and fence-line communities, but ultimately we will all be impacted. Increased risk for chronic diseases, including asthma and other respiratory diseases, is the price we are currently paying. Yet the ultimate fossil-fuel consequence – climate change – is truly a global health threat that is already being experienced worldwide. The fact that we have safer and healthier alternatives should make all this a simple decision. We need to frame ‘100% renewables’ as a goal for disease prevention – a goal towards human and ecological health.“

Apr. 4, 2017

Pro

Joe Biden, JD, 47th Vice President, in a campaign page, “Climate: Joe’s Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice,” accessed July 21, 2020 and available at joebiden.com, stated:

“Getting to a 100% clean energy economy is not only an obligation, it’s an opportunity. We should fully adopt a clean energy future, not just for all of us today, but for our children and grandchildren, so their tomorrow is healthier, safer, and more just.

As president, Biden will lead the world to address the climate emergency and lead through the power of example, by ensuring the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050.”

July 21, 2020

CON (no)

Con

Christopher Clack, PhD, CEO Vibrant Clean Energy, LLC, as quoted in a June 19, 2017 article by Leslie Kaufman, “Is 100% Renewable Energy Feasible? New Paper Argues for a Different Target,” available at insideclimatenews.org, stated:

“If we push down the avenue of 100 percent renewables, it will become very obvious very quickly that it is neither cheap nor effective. We worry that it could be used by our opponents to diminish the role of renewable energy on the grid. We worry if we oversell them, it will lead to disappointment and backlash.”

June 19, 2017

Con

Joshua Rhodes, PhD, Research Associate in the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin, in an Aug. 21, 2018 article, “What Does 100% Renewable Energy Really Mean?,” available at forbes.com, stated

“Bottom line: is 100 percent renewable doable? Getting the entire grid to be 100% renewable energy would be a tall order. There is considerable agreement among most engineers in this space that getting the grid to 80% green would be relatively easy, but that last 20% would be a lot tougher. In 2017, Texas got about 18% of its energy from wind and solar, so there is room for more growth among those sources. That said, we have other technologies (nuclear, carbon capture, etc.) that also could help us get to a low-carbon future, if that is where we decide to go.

I’d prefer to see the conversation move away from insisting we get our electricity from 100% renewable sources, because that really misses the point. The climate isn’t threatened by what technologies we use, it is threatened by the emissions from those technologies. When we focus just on technologies, that restricts the tools we can use. However, the more tools we have at our disposal, the better chance we have to develop solutions to our energy problems in a meaningful way.”

Aug. 21, 2018

Con

Cutter W. González, Energy Project Campaign Manager, Policy Analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, in a Sep. 26, 2018 article, “Commentary: Myth, Not Renewable Energy, Generates Georgetown’s Buzz,” available at statesman.com, stated:

“Georgetown [Texas] has caught the attention of the media with its transition to a power supply of 100 percent renewable energy. The city touts the decision as making economic and environmental sense. But do the noble ideals of lower prices and improved environmental outcomes match the real effects of going “100 percent renewable?” Not quite…

The results are mixed and ill-investigated, which should — and does — cause concern among conservationists. Couple that with the fact that dispatchable energy sources like coal and natural gas must stay online to supplement when wind and solar fail, and you quickly realize that it’s not such a great deal after all… [E]ven though renewable energy’s reliability issues are mitigated by the existence of dispatchable energy sources such as coal and natural gas, the system is only kept afloat by citizens being forced to pay for the backup. And the greater renewable energy use grows, the more expensive and unsustainable the system becomes.

It’s obvious: If every Texas city adopted Georgetown’s model, we would have an energy supply that is extremely unreliable and a burden on taxpayers’ pocketbooks. The bottom line is that 100 percent renewable simply is not doable.”

Sep. 26, 2018

Con

Ryan Block, contributor to Renewable Energy World, in an Apr. 2, 2019 article, “Why 100% Renewable Energy Goals Are Not Practical Policies,” available at renewableenergyworld.com, stated:

“[T]oday, we are currently in a new era where state legislatures and Green New Deal advocates are debating whether or not to increase the nominal requirements – the percentages of the energy portfolios to come from renewables – to either 50% or 100% within the next 15 or so years. In terms of the actual energy that has to be produced to meet the standards, the targets are significantly increasing.

The issue is that our current technologies are intermittent, variable, and unpredictable as they depend on the weather and consequently have limited capacity factors. At the scale needed, storage is currently not a viable option as the technology is very expensive and still developing.”

Apr. 2, 2019

Con

John Merline, senior writer for donor communications at The Heritage Foundation, in a Feb. 3, 2019 article, “Green New Deal: Is 100% Renewable Energy Even Possible, Or Good For The Environment?,” available at investors.com, stated:

“[A]ttempting to turn the country’s energy supply to 100% renewable would be a monumental task. It would involve fundamentally reshaping the nation’s energy economy. And it would add significantly to energy costs — since renewable energy is generally more expensive… The idea of getting to 100% renewable gets even more difficult, since environmentalists oppose several forms of renewable energy claiming they aren’t ‘clean enough.’

…Most forms of “clean” energy require massive amounts of land to produce relatively small amounts of energy… There’s also the political problem of finding enough land to site the huge number of new wind and solar plants needed. Local communities are increasingly hostile to existing efforts…

Aside from all these hurdles, the final one that remains is that renewable energy is expensive…More troubling is the fact that these higher costs hurt the middle class and poor hardest. That’s because they spend a greater share of their household income on utility bills than do the rich.

Once you get beyond the bumper sticker appeal, calls for 100% renewable energy look like a bad deal for the economy, families, and even the environment.”

Feb. 3, 2019

Con

Stephen Moore, Distinguished Visiting Fellow for Project for Economic Growth, and Andrew Vanderplas, special assistant and research associate for the Institute for Economic Freedom at The Heritage Foundation, in an Oct. 30, 2018 article, “State Renewable Energy Mandates: A Regressive Green Tax on America’s Poor,” available at heritage.org, stated:

“At least a dozen other states are set to increase their mandatory standards in 2019. California is set to move to 60 percent legally mandated renewable energy by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045. These mandates come with a steep price to consumers—individuals, families, and businesses. Residents in states with existing high mandates must often spend between 50 percent and 100 percent more on their electric bills than residents of states where utility companies are free to rely on the market and purchase electric power from the lowest-cost source—often coal, natural gas, and nuclear power. Because lower-income households spend five to 10 times more of their incomes on energy than do high-income households, high RPSs [renewable portfolio standards] are a regressive—and unduly burdensome—tax on the poor…

Green energy mandates are a big gamble—of a state’s entire economy—on the future of wind and solar power. If that bet is wrong—as it has been in most states—the consequences for families and businesses could be disastrous, and it will be the poorest Americans who suffer most.”

Oct. 30, 2018

Con

Michael Shellenberger, environmental author, in a May 6, 2019 article, “The Reason Renewables Can’t Power Modern Civilization Is Because They Were Never Meant To,” available at forbes.com, stated:

“[S]tarting around the year 2000, renewables started to gain a high-tech luster… But no amount of marketing could change the poor physics of resource-intensive and land-intensive renewables. Solar farms take 450 times more land than nuclear plants, and wind farms take 700 times more land than natural gas wells, to produce the same amount of energy…

The transition to renewables was doomed because modern industrial people, no matter how Romantic they are, do not want to return to pre-modern life.

The reason renewables can’t power modern civilization is because they were never meant to. One interesting question is why anybody ever thought they could.”

May 6, 2019

Con

Nick Loris, Deputy Director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies and Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy at the Heritage Foundation, in an interview, “The Green New Deal,” accessed on Sep. 24, 2020 and available at heritage.org, stated:

“[J]ust looking at the transition away from coal, oil, and natural gas, and nuclear to 100% renewables. If you try to boil that down into what that would like from a consumer standpoint, I mean you’re talking about potentially hundreds of dollars per month in your electricity bill, of an increase. Those costs spread throughout the economy. That’s such a critical component that people haven’t really been able to get their hands around because, yes, you pay more at the gasoline station or pay more for your electricity, but because energy is such a necessary component for all of the goods and services we have here in the United States you’re paying more at the grocery store, you’re paying more when you buy clothes at Walmart, when you go out to eat, whether you go to the movies.

It has these huge, huge ripple effects throughout the economy where you’re talking about potentially millions of jobs lost and millions or trillions of dollars lost in gross domestic product and then tens of thousands of dollars lost in household income. Those are costs that are just a small snapshot of what could happen.”

Sep. 24, 2020

Con

James Temple, Senior Editor for energy at MIT Technology Review, in a Feb. 26, 2018 article, “Relying on Renewables Alone Significantly Inflates the Cost of Overhauling Energy,” available at rechnologyreview.com, stated:

“It increasingly appears that insisting on 100 percent renewable sources—and disdaining others that don’t produce greenhouse gases, such as nuclear power and fossil-fuel plants with carbon-capture technology—is wastefully expensive and needlessly difficult.

In the latest piece of evidence, a study published in Energy & Environmental Science determined that solar and wind energy alone could reliably meet about 80 percent of recent US annual electricity demand, but massive investments in energy storage and transmission would be needed to avoid major blackouts. Pushing to meet 100 percent of demand with these resources would require building a huge number of additional wind and solar farms—or expanding electricity storage to an extent that would be prohibitively expensive at current prices. Or some of both.

The basic problem is that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. The study analyzed 36 years’ worth of hourly weather data and found there are gaps in renewable-energy production even on a continental scale.”

Feb. 26, 2018