John, I went and read the Google report that you referenced.
There is no question that mitigation will be important in the future — we are not going back to 350ppm any time soon, and we’ll have to deal with the fallout. We are at 400ppm and rising, with no ability to remove CO2 from the air rapidly.
But as for the rate of future emissions, the news is much, much better than even environmentalists understand. (And again, I am working on this story for my next post.)
Take this quote from the Google paper.
Consider an average U.S. coal or natural gas plant that has been in service for decades; its cost of electricity generation is about 4 to 6 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour. Now imagine what it would take for the utility company that owns that plant to decide to shutter it and build a replacement plant using a zero-carbon energy source. The owner would have to factor in the capital investment for construction and continued costs of operation and maintenance — and still make a profit while generating electricity for less than $0.04/kWh to $0.06/kWh.
OK, solar needs to be cheap to compete. Absurdly cheap. But then, take this quote from a Forbes article this summer:
The latest battering to coal’s standing came when Dubai announced June 27 that it would build a massive 800-megawatt solar plant that will produce electricity at an average cost of 2.99 cents a kilowatt hour, substantially below what even coal-fired power plants charge.
In 2014, the idea of getting solar this cheap seemed hopeless. In 2017, it’s actually last year’s news.
All of this action is happening outside the US, but we are so bad at reporting international news that we don’t realize it. In January, China promised to install roughly 70 GW of solar per year for the next four years. That is more solar than existed in the entire world when Google shut down their project — and China will be installing it each year.
You say that renewables will only play a small part in our immediate future, and only a few months ago I would have agreed with you. But I did not appreciate just how fast the rest of the world is moving.
It’s mind-boggling. It’s also a story we need to tell.