Photo: Public Domain

The Big, Green Monster: Clean Energy

Going green is a catchphrase that even manages to elicit eye-rolls from people who actually do it. It could be a result of over-use, ad nauseam, or maybe there even is a great conspiracy at play to demonize the concept. Either way, there is something about that phrase that misses the mark in capturing the essence of the motivation behind it.

What does going green even mean? Recycling? Energy efficiency? Hybrid cars and vegetarian diets? Really it can mean almost anything, which is probably part of the reason it has become its own cliché. You can tack the adage after any environmentally sound decision.

So when we talk about ‘green’ energy — whether the conversation is between friends, business executives or national leaders — people are inevitably influenced by this green fatigue. Some of the biggest objections to clean energy are based in people’s preconceived notions about how far the technology has progressed, how difficult and expensive it would be to make the switch — and how clean energy doesn’t provide immediate returns for investments.

What do I get out of it, how could it benefit me?

It’s a fair question. Especially when fossil fuels are so cheap. There are even ships taking advantage of the low oil prices by going around South Africa rather than paying the canal fees.

A few recent studies have shown that the future looking optimistic for renewable energy — just based on what is currently available today. With innovators like Elon Musk shaking up the market with groundbreaking technology for vehicles and homes, who knows what tomorrow’s renewable market will even look like.

2015 also turned out to be a record-breaking year for investments in renewable energy, which includes investments in both R & D and expanding existing technology. Even the military is starting to take a really good look at renewable energy from the perspective of energy security.

How this affects us as consumers is looking quite promising, actually. Depending on one’s state of residence, solar panels can be quite a lucrative financial investment, thanks to tax incentives and performance payments for power generated. Homeowners have been able to pay off their solar investment within just a few years and are now producing so much energy that they receive monthly checks instead of bills. Some states have energy choice laws that allow residents to pick their energy supplier, and in so doing their energy source — wind, for example.

Oil and gas prices are not stable. So while the cheap prices might seem enticing today, many of us are waiting for the inevitable — prices will go up again, and utility bills will follow suit. Receiving energy from renewables not only dodges that bullet, but as technology gets more efficient, prices for renewable energy will decrease. So as prices for fossil fuels rise, prices for wind and solar will continue to drop.

Oregon is clearly ready to make the switch. A groundbreaking bill, the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan, was passed by the Oregon Legislature on March 2nd. This bill requires two of the state’s biggest utility companies to phase out coal by 2030 and provide at least 50% of electricity from renewable sources by 2040. Other states are certain to follow suit in the coming years. This massive shift in state policies will send a signal to the energy market, encouraging rapid development in renewable technologies, making the switch easier and more cost effective.

Economic optimism was also the major finding in a 2014 study released by the Citizen’s Climate Lobby (CCL). The CCL is a group of citizen volunteers who support a carbon fee and dividend policy. A policy such as the one proposed by the CCL would put a fee on carbon that increases annually. To offset the increased prices for goods and services, the collected revenue from the fee would then be returned to citizens. The 2014 study, completed by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) found that this policy would create an economic stimulus and create 2.8 million jobs — in addition to reducing emissions to well below 1990 levels, improving air quality, preventing 230,000 premature deaths and decreasing hospital visits.

The benefits of clean energy go well beyond just green. Technology is advancing the world in ways we only dreamed of 20 years ago. The rapid development of computers and smart phones demonstrates just how quickly the world can change. There will soon be a day when clean energy is far superior to fossil fuels. Not only terms of better efficiency, but also in what technology emerges thanks to clean energy innovation.

Clean energy may or may not bring us flying cars, but it certainly will usher in an incredible era of progress and innovation. We know that nonrenewable resources are limited and that burning fossil fuels is polluting our planet. But the simple truth is that fossil fuels are a thing of the past. Our imagination is as limited as the resources that we should have outgrown by now.

Finally, to the ships going around South Africa to avoid canal fees, as Dr. Malcom would have said, you were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you never stopped to think if you should.

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