Al Gore: The Clean Energy Revolution Is ‘A Dramatic New Reality’

It will be bigger than the industrial and information revolutions combined.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Aaron Favila

Al Gore believes we are in a turning point in the fight against climate change. The latest version of his “Inconvenient Truth” slideshow, which helped win him a Nobel Peace Prize and an Academy award, is chock-full of charts, factoids, and quotes on the unprecedented revolution in clean energy technologies.

As part of his exclusive interview with me earlier this month, Gore spoke about the stunning advances in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and batteries:

“It is now clear that the sustainability revolution is more significant in the global economy than the industrial revolution and information revolution combined,” Gore said with more optimism than I’ve ever heard.

The clean energy revolution has the breadth of impact of the industrial revolution, but it has been occurring at the speed of the information revolution. The breadth and speed together yield an unprecedented transformation, as is clear from this recent Goldman Sachs chart:

“The rapid adoption of LEDs in lighting marks one of the fastest technology shifts in human history,” the company has noted. LEDs are part of a larger energy efficiency revolution that has kept U.S. electricity demand flat for the past decade and probably will for at least the next decade, too.

The hybrid and electric vehicle (EV) revolution depicted in that figure, though much slower, is equally stunning. Why? Inefficient internal combustion engine vehicles are finally being seriously challenged after dominating the auto market for a full century, as I’ve discussed.

The solar photovoltaic and wind revolution is even more consequential from a climate perspective — since it enables us to decarbonize the electric grid now and to decarbonize transportation in the coming decades with EVs. Gore pointed to the “stunning cost-down curves for PV” and pointed out the explosive growth of solar in Chile.

Finally, the synergy of all of these individual technology revolutions makes the overall clean energy revolution sui generis. One of Gore’s slides cites a 2015 Bloomberg View article “Clean Energy Revolution Is Ahead of Schedule,” saying:

“Solar-plus-batteries is set to begin a dramatic transformation of human civilization.”

Indeed there’s no question that storing the sun’s energy just got a whole lot cheaper. The battery revolution is unstoppable, and so is the renewable energy revolution — and they both enable each other.

“Taken as a whole,” Gore told me, these gains represent “a dramatic new reality.” And they mean that vast amounts of fossil fuels will be left in the ground — “stranded assets” that will cause fossil fuel companies to be “suddenly repriced,” as many coal companies already have been.

Sadly, the fact these revolutions are unstoppable and game-changing doesn’t mean we will make the orderly shift off of fossil fuels fast enough to avert a millennium of climate catastrophe. That depends on political will. But as Gore has long said, political will is a renewable resource.