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Lester Brown: The Great Energy Transition to Solar and Wind Is Underway - EcoWatch

The great energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy is under way. As oil insecurity deepens, the extraction risks of fossil fuels rise, and concerns about climate instability cast a shadow over the future of coal, a new world energy economy is emerging. The old economy, fueled by oil, natural gas, and coal is being replaced with one powered by wind, solar, and geothermal energy.

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Each company suffered a drop in profits. With rooftop solar panels capable at once of powering homes and recharging car batteries, there will be a personal degree of energy independence not known for centuries.


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Our relationship with the natural world will change from one where we are in conflict with nature to one where we are again in sync with it. Instead of seeing ourselves apart from nature, we will see ourselves as an integral part of the natural system. Smokestacks that dirty the air and alter the climate will be replaced by solar panels residing on our rooftops and fields of turbines turning gracefully in the wind.

This century, as the world shifts to solar and wind, we are witnessing the localization of the energy economy. Instead of coming from halfway around the world, our energy will be as close as the roofs over our heads. Government policies are an important component of the energy transition.


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  • One basic policy instrument is the feed-in tariff FIT , which typically guarantees renewable energy producers—from rooftop solar owners to large-scale wind farm operators—grid access and a long-term purchase price for their electricity. Another government measure is to mandate that a certain amount of electricity generation be from renewable sources.

    Called renewable portfolio standards RPS or quotas, these policies are in place at the national level in some two-dozen countries.

    Janet Larsen - The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy - Offstage

    Tax credits also can support deployment of wind and solar power. Some 37 countries have national production or investment tax credits for renewable energy. Such pro-renewables policies help level the playing field with artificially cheap fossil fuels that have been subsidized long past their debuts on the energy scene. The energy transition would be supercharged by systematically putting a price on carbon to convey more accurately the true social and environmental costs of burning coal, oil, and natural gas.

    Done right, pricing carbon sends a powerful market signal and guides decision makers toward more-sustainable choices.

    The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy

    Putting a price on carbon can involve implementing a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade system, or a combination of the two. With cap-and-trade programs, regulators set a limit on emissions, and polluters can either reduce their emissions or buy emissions permits on the carbon market. The market sets the price. A carbon tax, in contrast, is a far simpler instrument—a tax on each ton of carbon dioxide emitted.

    The Great Transition : Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy

    It could be applied at the wellhead or mine or at the point where fossil fuels are processed or used. Revenue from a carbon tax can go toward environmental or clean energy programs. Alternatively the carbon tax can be offset by a reduction in taxes on labor or can be returned to consumers directly via a dividend. All but the most profligate energy users would end up better off economically.

    Meanwhile, it is generally cheaper to invest in energy efficiency than to build new generating capacity. There is an enormous potential to reap substantial energy savings in each of the major energy-consuming sectors—lighting, buildings, appliances, industry, and transportation. For example, about 20 percent of global electricity consumption goes to lighting.