climate change and renewable energy essay

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Renewable Energy Is Key to Fighting Climate Change

climate change and renewable energy essay

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Renewable energy is one of the most effective tools we have in the fight against climate change, and there is every reason to believe it will succeed. A recent New York Times column seems to imply that renewable energy investments set back efforts to address climate change—nothing could be further from the truth. What’s more, renewable technologies can increasingly save customers money as they displace emissions from fossil fuels.

Wind and solar energy have experienced remarkable growth and huge cost improvements over the past decade with no signs of slowing down. Prices are declining rapidly, and renewable energy is becoming increasingly competitive with fossil fuels all around the country. In some places, new renewable energy is already cheaper than continuing to operate old, inefficient and dirty fossil fuel-fired or nuclear power plants.

In fact, the investment firm Lazard estimates that the cost of generating electricity from wind and solar has declined by 58 percent and 78 percent, respectively, since 2009. Those cost trends are expected to continue, and coupled with the recent extension of federal tax credits for renewable energy, wind and solar growth is widely expected to accelerate over the next several years, with capacity projected to double from 2015 levels by 2021. With careful planning, renewable energy and clean energy options like increased energy efficiency and storing energy for use later will help pave the way.

In the longer term, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan to establish the first national limits on carbon pollution from power plants will continue to drive renewable energy growth. Wind and solar energy will play a central role in achieving the emissions cuts required, and carbon policies like the Clean Power Plan will be critical to ensuring that low-carbon resources are prioritized over higher-emitting power plants.

The benefits are huge

In addition to the climate benefits that they will help deliver, renewables already provide a wide range of market and public health benefits that far outweigh their costs. A recent report from the Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National (LBNL) Laboratory found that renewable portfolio standards—state policies that mandate that a specific amount of the state’s electricity comes from renewables—provide a wide range of economic, health, and climate benefits. The report concluded that in 2013 alone, renewable standards across the country saved customers up to $1.2 billion from reduced wholesale electric prices and $1.3 billion to $3.7 billion from lower natural gas prices (as a result of lower demand for natural gas across the power sector).

The non-market benefits of renewable energy also are considerable. The LBNL researchers estimated that renewables supported nearly 200,000 jobs, provided $5.2 billion worth of health benefits through improved air quality, and resulted in global climate benefits of $2.2 billion. At the same time, according to a separate report by DBL Investors , the top 10 leading renewable states experienced lower electricity price increases than the bottom 10 states between 2002 and 2013.

The United States must continue—and accelerate—its clean energy growth and the transition to a low-carbon electric grid. There will be technical challenges to completing this transformation, but study after study concludes that integrating high levels of renewables into our electric grid is achievable. This is also being demonstrated in practice, as many states are already incorporating wind and solar, including in Texas , where wind has now supplied over 45 percent of the state’s total energy demand on multiple occasions, and in Iowa , as the state now generates 31 percent of its total annual power from wind.

Change is here

Much is said about the need to adapt the electric grid to the variability associated with integrating renewable energy into our electricity mix. Until recently, the huge costs of maintaining back-up generation and transmission in case they’re needed to keep the lights on when large, inflexible resources like coal and nuclear plants suddenly and unexpectedly go offline has too often been ignored. Grid managers and planners are now appropriately as concerned about the need for flexibility and predictability, assets that large fossil and nuclear plants lack. Renewable energy production is variable, but predictable (we mostly know when it will be sunny or windy). However, it can be impossible to predict when large fossil or nuclear plant will have to shut down for critical maintenance.

In a sign of the declining status of large, inflexible base load resources, PG&E recently announced it will close the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California and replace it with 100 percent clean energy (NRDC is a signatory), PG&E explains: “California’s electric grid is in the midst of a significant shift that creates challenges for the facility in the coming decades. Changes in state policies, the electric generation fleet, and market conditions combine to reduce the need for large, inflexible baseload power plants.”

As we move forward, there are a number of grid planning practices and technologies that will help facilitate America’s transition to higher and higher amounts of renewable energy. For example, as more and more cars on the road become electric, those vehicles can help store electricity and manage peak demand so that supply and demand can be better aligned. Demand response (compensating customers for altering their electricity use at specific periods) and time of use electricity pricing can provide similar support. Leading states are currently contemplating how to design policies and market structures that support a modernized, low-carbon grid. Planning for the future can and must be done in parallel with promoting strong renewables growth in the present.

Renewable energy is already helping address climate change. It’s time to put our feet on the accelerator. 

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Aerial view of a wind farm at Pen y Cymoedd in south Wales, UK. Wind-generated power in the UK increased by 83% between 2015 and 2020 to provide nearly a quarter of our electricity . It's also one of the fastest-growing renewable energy technologies globally. © Richard Whitcombe/ Shutterstock

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Renewable energy and its importance for tackling climate change

Replacing fossil fuel-reliant power stations with renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, is a vital part of stabilising climate change and achieving net zero carbon emissions.

Professor Magda Titirici , Chair in Sustainable Energy Materials at Imperial College London, offers an introduction to renewable energy and the future of clean, green power in the UK.

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy comes from sources that replenish naturally and continually within a human lifetime. Renewable energy is often called sustainable energy.

Major sources of renewable energy include solar, wind, hydroelectric, tidal, geothermal and biomass energy, which is derived from burning plant or animal matter and waste.

Switching our reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy sources that produce lower or no greenhouse gas emissions is critically important in tackling the climate crisis .

Clean, green or renewable - what's the difference?

Clean energy doesn't produce any pollution once installed. Nor does green energy, which comes from natural sources such as the Sun and is produced without any major negative impacts on the environment. Renewable energy refers to sources that are constantly replenished.

While there is often overlap between these definitions and most renewable energy sources can also be considered clean and green, it's not always the case.

Nuclear energy doesn't release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, so some people consider it to be clean - providing the radioactive waste is stored safely and doesn't escape into the environment. But the uranium energy source used in nuclear power plants isn't renewable.

Smoke and steam pouring out of power plant chimneys

A coal power plant emitting smoke, steam and carbon dioxide. Fossil fuels such as coal are non-renewable resources. Burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. © Peter Gudella/ Shutterstock

What's the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy?

Non-renewable energy comes from natural resources such as coal, oil and natural gas that take billions of years to form, which is why we call them fossil fuels. They are present in finite amounts and will run out, as we are using them far more quickly than they form.

When will fossil fuels run out?

Research based on 2015 data predicts that coal stocks will last well into the next century, but oil and natural gas reserves (stocks that we know we can extract from) will run out in the late 2060s . However, scientific models suggest that if we are to limit global warming to 2°C - the target agreed at COP26 is 1.5°C - over 80% of coal, 50% of gas and 30% of oil reserves will need to be left untouched anyway.

When we extract fossil fuels from deep within the planet and burn them, we can generate electricity quite efficiently. But the process releases a lot of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) into the atmosphere, which contributes to the greenhouse effect, global warming and biodiversity loss .

Magda explains, 'Fossil fuels brought with them immense technological progress but using them releases CO 2 into the atmosphere, which acts like a blanket, trapping heat that would otherwise escape into space and causing global warming.'

Did you know?

The energy sector is responsible for almost three-quarters of the emissions that have caused global temperatures to warm by 1.1°C since pre-industrial times. 

If we continue to use fossil fuels, the effect will only worsen.

Magda adds, 'If we want to live on this planet much longer than 2050 and keep temperature levels below the 1.5°C of warming agreed to by governments around the world, we need to make some radical changes right now. We need to move to technologies that will give us the same level and comfort of living but drastically cut our emissions and carbon footprint .'

Examples of renewable energy sources

The main types of renewable energy are wind, solar, hydroelectric, tidal, geothermal and biomass. Read on to discover the pros and cons of each of these renewable energy sources.

One of the main benefits of most renewable energy sources is that they don't release carbon dioxide or pollute the air when they are used to produce electricity or heat. Greenhouse gases are emitted during the lifetime of some of the technologies - for example, during their manufacture or construction - but overall emissions are significantly lower than for fossil fuels.

Whereas some countries lack direct access to fossil fuels and must rely on international sources, renewable energy often allows countries to supply their own energy needs, a big economic and political advantage.

Wind energy

Rows of wind turbines sticking up out of the sea, with coastline visible in the distance

An offshore wind farm in the North Sea off the UK coast. Wind energy is an important renewable resource for the UK. According to analysis by Imperial College London's Energy Institute , offshore wind turbines offer the best-value option for meeting the UK's target of delivering carbon neutral electricity by 2035. But the UK's current target for offshore wind electricity production - up to 50 gigawatts by 2030 - will need to be significantly increased to do so. © Riekelt Hakvoort/ Shutterstock

Wind power converts wind - the movement of air - into stored power by turning turbines and converting mechanical energy into electricity. Wind farms can be built both on land and offshore. They work well wherever wind is strong and reliable.

Advantages: Wind energy is a clean, green and renewable resource and turbines can be placed on farmland with minimal disruption. It has the lowest carbon footprint of all renewable energy sources .

Disadvantages: Like any infrastructure, there is an upfront establishment cost and ongoing maintenance fees. These are even higher if wind farms are built offshore. Turbines have a reputation for being noisy and poorly sited wind farms can be dangerous to some wildlife - for instance, if they're placed in the migration paths of birds or bats.

How loud is a wind turbine?

At 300 metres from a dwelling, wind turbines have a sound pressure of 43 decibels , which is between the volume of a refrigerator and an air conditioner.

Solar energy

Solar panels in a field

An array of solar panels in a field in Chippenham, UK. Solar energy is a renewable resource, and the Sun provides more energy than we'll ever use. If we could capture it all, an hour of sunlight would meet the world's energy needs for a year. © Alexey Fedorenko/ Shutterstock

Solar power captures energy (radiation) from the Sun and converts it into electricity, which is then fed into a power grid or stored for later use. Although places near the equator receive the most solar energy, solar panels can generate electricity anywhere that gets sunlight.

Advantages:  Solar energy is renewable, clean, increasingly efficient and has low maintenance costs. Once established, it can dramatically reduce the price of generating electricity.

Disadvantages:  Setting up a solar array is costly and there are expenses involved with energy storage. Solar panels can take up more land than some other types of renewable energy and performance depends on the availability of sunlight. The mining and processing of minerals needed to make the panels can pollute and damage the environment.

China is currently leading the world in solar energy production , with roughly 35% of the global market.

Hydroelectric energy

Water is held back by a huge wall creating a large lake, surrounded by tree-covered hills

Although hydroelectric energy is renewable, it is not always considered green, as building large-scale dams can negatively impact the environment. Nepean Dam in Australia, shown here, was included in a study that showed dams are causing problems for platypuses by creating a barrier between populations. © Greg Brave/ Shutterstock

Hydroelectric power uses the flow of water, often from rivers and lakes controlled by a dam, to turn turbines and power generators, creating electricity. Hydropower works best for regions with reliable rainfall and large, natural water reservoirs.

Hydropower currently produces more electricity than  all other renewable energy sources combined and provides around 17% of the world's energy.

Advantages: Hydroelectricity is dependable and renewable for as long as there is rainfall or flowing water. Reservoirs can offer additional benefits, such as providing drinking water, irrigation and recreational opportunities, including swimming or boating.

Disadvantages: Hydropower plants take up a lot of room and aren't suited to all climates. They are susceptible to drought. Creating artificial water reservoirs can harm biodiversity in natural water systems by limiting the inflow of nutrients and blocking the journey of migratory fish populations. These reservoirs can also release methane - a type of greenhouse gas - as vegetation in the flooded area decomposes. Large amounts of cement are used to construct dams. The manufacture of this material produces large amounts of carbon dioxide.

Tidal energy

Aerial view of a tidal power plant that has been integrated with a bridge

Renewable tidal energy is produced by the natural rise and fall of the sea. However, tidal power plants can change the local biodiversity. This one on the River Rance in Brittany, France, not only led to the local extinction of a fish called plaice but to an increase in the number of cuttlefish, which now thrive there. © Francois BOIZOT/ Shutterstock

Tidal energy uses the continual movement of ocean tides to generate power. Turbines in the water turn a generator, creating electricity.

Advantages: Tidal energy is renewable, generates no carbon emissions and can produce a lot of energy very reliably.

Disadvantages: Offshore infrastructure is expensive to set up and maintain and there are a limited number of appropriate sites for tidal power plants around the world. They can also damage marine environments and impact local plants and animals.

Geothermal energy

Lots of chimneys and steam

A geothermal power plant in Iceland harnesses this renewable energy source. © Peter Gudella/ Shutterstock

Geothermal power uses underground reservoirs of hot water or steam created by the heat of Earth's core to generate electricity. It works best in regions near tectonic plate boundaries .

Advantages: Geothermal energy is highly reliable and has a consistent power output. It also has a relatively small footprint on the land.

Disadvantages: Drilling geothermal wells is expensive and can affect the stability of surrounding land. It must be monitored carefully to minimise environmental impact. There is also a risk of releasing greenhouse gases trapped under Earth's surface.  

Biomass energy

Several large round storage containers on a site with buildings and lorries

A biogas plant producing renewable energy from biomass in the Czech Republic. © Kletr/ Shutterstock

Biomass energy comes from burning plants, plant by-products or waste. Examples include ethanol (from corn or sugarcane), biodiesel (made from vegetable oils, used cooking oils and animal fats), green diesel (derived from algae, sustainable wood crops or sawdust) and biogas (derived from animal manure and other waste).

Advantages: Abundant and cheaply produced, biomass energy is a novel use of waste product and leftover crops. It creates less emissions than burning fossil fuels and having carbon capture in place can stop carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. Biofuels are also considered relatively easy and inexpensive to implement, as they are compatible with existing agriculture and waste processing and used in existing petrol and diesel vehicles.

Disadvantages: Generating biofuels requires land and water so growing demand for them could lead to deforestation and biodiversity loss. Burning biomass emits carbon dioxide unless carbon capture is implemented.

Ethanol-powered vehicles create up to 86% less greenhouse gas emissions than petrol vehicles, and crops that are grown to produce biomass absorb carbon dioxide.

Can renewable energy replace fossil fuels in the UK?

In 2020, 42% of the UK's electricity came from renewable energy. A quarter of the UK's electricity was produced by wind power, which is the highest proportion of any G20 country and more than four times the global average. Statistics on UK energy trends reveal that from April to June 2022, nearly 39% of the UK's electricity came from renewable energy, slightly more than during the same period in 2021, but down from 45.5% between January and March 2022 when it was unusually sunny and wind speeds were high.

'There has been good news in recent years in terms of progress on renewables,' says Magda, 'but in my opinion, the UK is still lagging behind. It is not so strong yet for truly sustainable technologies. It needs storage and conversion.'

Magda believes that wind (particularly offshore), solar, green hydrogen and rapid innovation in battery storage will be key to the UK reaching net zero by 2050.

She explains, 'The UK is a really windy place, so wind is the perfect renewable energy technology. By 2035 wind and solar should provide 75-90% of total UK electricity to bring emissions down significantly.'

'It has already been shown that it's feasible to produce 90% of the UK's electricity from wind and solar combined. The tech is there and it's becoming more efficient and affordable each year.'

'Offshore wind capacity will also help produce green hydrogen, another crucial part of the UK decarbonisation path.'

What is green hydrogen?

Green hydrogen is a fuel created using renewable energy in a process known as electrolysis. When green hydrogen is burned to produce energy, it releases water.

It's predicted that the UK will need 100 terawatt-hours of green hydrogen by 2035.

What is a terawatt-hour?

A terawatt-hour is a unit of measurement that's large enough to describe the annual electricity needs of entire countries. For scale, one terawatt-hour is equivalent to burning 588,441 barrels of oil.

The future of renewable energy in the UK

Magda believes the UK is at a very critical point in its sustainable technologies journey.

'Everything will depend on what happens this year and next. We need to see radical changes, investment, subsidies and support to reach our target of net zero by 2050.'

'It would cost less than 1% of GDP to get to net zero by 2050 but the advantages would be immense: new jobs, a sustainable economy and a healthy and resilient society.'

Logo featuring a yellow car, power cable and socket painted onto tarmac

An empty electric vehicle charging point © Tony Skerl/ Shutterstock

Challenges and opportunities for renewable energy in the UK

One of the biggest challenges the UK is facing right now is battery storage and access to materials like cobalt and lithium , which are needed to produce lithium-ion batteries at scale.

Why are batteries important for renewable energy?

Batteries help make renewable energy supply reliable and portable - such as in the case of electric vehicles.

Batteries are an important part of our transition to renewable technologies, as they allow energy to be stored and released as needed. For example, solar panels generate energy during the day, and batteries make it possible to store and use that electricity at night.

Currently, just a few countries are responsible for most of the world's production of lithium.

According to Magda, the UK lacks access to the supply chain needed for Li-ion batteries. 'As a result, she adds, 'Johnson Matthey, which is a major company driving battery innovations in the UK, announced they would stop lithium battery research because they are unable to secure a path to raw materials and be competitive on the international market.'

Museum researchers are investigating whether it would be possible to develop a  more sustainable, domestic supply chain by extracting lithium from UK rocks. They made a key breakthrough in 2021 when they produced battery-grade lithium chemicals from UK rocks for the first time.

According to Professor Richard Herrington, Head of Earth Sciences at the Museum, 'An increased, reliable supply of lithium is critical if we are to meet the rising demand for electric cars and provide a dependable supply of energy from renewable sources. The next generation of batteries that don't require lithium may still be three to five years away from being ready for public use.'

However, Magda is optimistic that the UK could lead in emerging battery technologies. 'I think the UK has an amazing opportunity to pioneer the next generation of batteries,' she says.

Innovative models already under development at The Faraday Institution include:

  • Sodium-ion batteries, which are based on waste-derived anodes and critical metal -free cathodes, provide almost the same performance as lithium-ion batteries at half the cost.
  • Lithium-sulphur batteries with 10 times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries make more efficient use of limited materials and eliminate metals from the cathode by using sulphur instead.

Magda adds, 'We need to focus on the areas where the UK has the potential to lead. The UK has such a big tradition in new materials and discoveries, we could move to completely new technologies both for batteries and hydrogen production.'

'There are a lot of challenges, but if we're investing in it, we could be future leaders and even solve one of the most difficult challenges in decarbonisation: flight.'

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  • Publications
  • Fall Issue of The Bridge on Climate Change

The Role of Renewable Energy Technologies in Limiting Climate Change

climate change and renewable energy essay

Author: Douglas J. Arent

Renewable technologies are strategically important for limiting climate change.

The recent National Academies (NRC, 2010) report Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change concluded that “. . . renewable energy technologies that do not emit GHGs [greenhouse gases] are an important and viable part of a near-term strategy for limiting climate change, and they could potentially play a dominant role in global energy supply over longer time scales.”

Renewable energy is potentially a very large energy resource for the United States, and the use of renewables has increased rapidly over the past decade as technology has improved and costs have come down. To realize its full potential, however, renewable technology must continue to improve and users must learn how to integrate renewables into the electricity and transportation fuel systems. In addition, the policy and market forces driving the adoption of renewables must stabilize to provide financial predictability for investors.

This article provides a summary of renewable energy technologies (RETs), 1 including resource potentials in the United States, recent increases in the use of these technologies, technology advancements and cost trends, investment trends, and the policy landscape for renewables. The discussion then turns to how RETs could help limit the impacts of future climate change.

Resource Potentials

The United States is endowed with significant—some say enormous—amounts of renewable resources. Figure 1 provides an over-view of the geographic distributions of solar, geothermal, wind, biomass, and hydro resources in the 48 contiguous states. The theoretical potentials summarized below the map indicate potential electricity-generating capacity of more than 228,000 gigawatts (GW)—that is, more than 200 times the current installed capacity of 1,105 GW (EIA, 2010). The map provides a visual overview of the breadth and diversity of the resource base across the country. In addition, Alaska and Hawaii also have considerable local renewable resources. 2

climate change and renewable energy essay

Despite their great quantities, renewable resources are widely dispersed and are found in relatively low concentrations compared to energy demand, which is highly concentrated in and near major citites. Thus there is a significant challenge in matching resources with energy demand. Even though a vast amount of energy can be supplied by renewables, it will require careful technology development, policy planning, and market adoption measures to meet the challenges of integrating renewables into the current energy system.

Renewable Energy Use in the United States

In the past 150 years, the U.S. energy supply has evolved from 2.5 Quads to about 100 Quads. Today our energy supply is dominated by fossil fuels, but the market penetration of RETs has increased rapidly in the past few decades (Figures 2 and 3).

Total U.S. installed capacity derived from wind, geothermal, solar, and biomass power increased from 15 GW in 2000 to more than 45 GW in 2009. 3  Figure 4 shows the exponential growth in U.S.-installed wind and solar-photovoltaic (PV) capacity indexed to installed capacity. Solar-PV capacity increased 20-fold between 2000 and 2009, while wind capacity increased by a factor of 15. 4  These increases have been driven by technological progress that has improved performance and reduced costs and by strong policy support (detailed below).

Concurrent with rapid market growth, private-sector investment has been pouring into renewable industries, increasing from $46 billion in 2004 to more than $150 billion per year globally since 2008 (UNEP, 2010). Investments range from venture capital through corporate and project financing and cover a broad spectrum of technologies, with recent emphasis on solar, bio-resource fuels and products, and wind power. Complementary investments have been made in demand management, batteries, and hybrid and purely electric vehicles.

Overall, the energy landscape of supply and demand is rapidly expanding from heavy reliance on a few relatively concentrated energy resources with significant distribution infrastructure and a homogeneous demand profile (e.g., internal combustion engines for transportation) to more heterogeneous supply resources and use technologies. For example, transportation, which was solely based on petroleum fuels, now includes biofuels and electricity and flex-fuel, hybrid, and purely electric vehicles.

Technological Advances

The costs of RETs have been reduced significantly in recent decades (Figure 5). Many studies have reported the importance of R&D-induced learning and cost reductions, as well as of market growth (Gillingham et al., 2008; Grübler, 2003; Nemet, 2006).

Cost reductions of 50 to 80 percent have been realized in the past few decades as a result of technological advances. For example, the average size of wind turbines increased from 50 kilowatts (kW) to more than 2 MW per turbine for land-based systems and more than 5 MW per turbine for offshore systems, with weighted average-capacity factors increasing from 22 percent to 34 percent (Wiser and Bolinger, 2009).

Solar-PV conversion efficiencies increased from 10 to 12 percent for single-junction cells and to more than 40 percent for cells with multiple layers that are optimized to collect different wavelengths of light 200 to 400 times as concentrated as normal solar radiation. Worldwide production capacity of solar-PV expanded from 47 MW in 1990 to more than 10,000 MW per year in 2009 (Kazmerski, 2009; SEIA, 2010).

The cost and performance of RETs must, of course, be considered in the context of competing technologies and the policy environment. Nevertheless, continued market expansion and increasing investment in innovation in both the public and private sectors are expected to lead to further cost reductions and technical advancements, which, in turn, will lead to more attractive renewable options, especially as climate-related emissions are priced into more market and investment criteria.

Mitigating Future Climate Change

RETs, with lower GHG emissions relative to other energy resources, have the potential to provide reliable, affordable energy services while simultaneously reducing overall GHG emissions. Derived from domestic resources with no, or lower, variable costs (e.g., compared to volatile oil and natural gas prices), RETs can help mitigate both geopolitical concerns and energy price volatility, as well as providing a basis for continued technology innovation and domestic economic prosperity.

However, we must also take into account unresolved issues related to RETs, such as variability, siting, and visual concerns, and for some issues related to land use (e.g., biofuels), agricultural practices, and the consumption of water and other natural resources. These associated issues have to be appropriately addressed before we can realize the full potential of renewables.

Integrating Renewables into the Current Energy System

Compared to projected power requirements, the resource potential, particularly for solar and wind energy, is enormous. However, remote locations, low energy density, and variability are some of the reasons RETs have not garnered a greater market share thus far.

Numerous studies have been conducted, including major integration studies of the western and eastern grid areas of the United States, in which research teams evaluated the impacts of up to 35 percent renewable power (EnerNex, 2010; IEEE, 2009; Piwko et al., 2010). These studies indicate that renewable energy represents a near-term, leveragable opportunity, provided that the issues of siting, access to transmission, and systems operations can be addressed.

The following conclusion from the recent Western Wind and Solar Integration Study (Piwko et al., 2010) reflects, in general, the findings from these studies:

• Renewable energy penetration on the order of 30 to 35 percent (30 percent wind, 5 percent solar) is operationally feasible provided significant changes to current operating practice are made, including:

> increase in the balancing area to accommodate greater geographic dispersion

> increase utilization and build new transmission

> incorporate state-of-the-art wind and solar forecasts in unit commitment and grid operations

> increase the flexibility of demand and dispatchable generation where appropriate (e.g., reduce minimum generation levels, increase ramp rates, reduce start/stop costs or minimize down time)

In a separate study, Accommodating High Levels of Variable Generation , the North American Electric Reliability Corporation evaluated issues associated with the integration of variable resources (NERC, 2009). The key considerations identified in this study for accommodating variable resources are consistent with the results of other studies: (1) diversify supply (e.g., technologies) across a large geographical region to leverage resource diversity, and use advanced control technology to address ramping, supply surplus, and voltage control; (2) ensure access to and the installation of new transmission lines; (3) add flexible resources, such as demand response, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and storage capacity (e.g., compressed-air energy storage); (4) improve the measurement and forecasting of variable generation; (5) use more comprehensive system-level planning, from distribution through the bulk power system; and (6) enlarge balancing areas to increase access to larger pools of generation and demand options.

Recent and current investigations in the United States and abroad are focusing on systems-level solutions, including the introduction of information technology (IT)-enabled power management, advanced forecasting, adaptive and shiftable loads, and technology advances in energy storage and other areas with the goal of moving toward power systems with a larger share, possibly a majority, of renewable generation (Denholm et al., 2010; DOE, 2010; Krewitt et al., 2009; Sterner, 2009). The combination of mulitiple enabling capabilities is likely to create opportunities for power systems in which renewables will become increasingly important.

Although renewables are clearly a suite of key enabling technologies to address climate change (Clarke et al., 2009; Edenhofer et al., 2010; NRC, 2010), technical systems-level multi-technology integration is just emerging as a field of inquiry. A few studies have considered integration of variable RETs, in combination with other technologies. For example, Krewitt et al. (2007) have investigated the role of RETs in a stabilization scenario, with global primary energy share of about 50 percent by 2050. Østergaard (2008) evaluated the geospatial scale of system boundaries in combination with optimization criteria for scenarios in western Denmark, including heat loads; he concluded that energy savings and reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide must be taken into consideration for wind power generation to be economical.

Lund and Kempton (2008) evaluated integration that included hybrid or electric vehicles with vehicle-to-grid capabilities. In their analysis, the vehicles have a distributed storage and auxiliary services capability, which increases the load-matching abilities of the system with higher penetration of RETs and lower overall GHG emissions. More recently, Denholm et al. (2010) reported on systems-level integration issues associated with wind, solar, storage, and dynamic loads.

These analyses all stress the importance of system-level analysis that accounts for multiple time scales and probability distributions of generation, demand profiles, and a portfolio of enabling technologies with a large share of RET generation. These initial studies conclude that there are no substantial technical barriers to the integration of RETs and that the costs of integration for enough renewables to supply up to 30 percent of energy demand will not exceed $5/MWhr (IEEE, 2009). More insights may also be gained from rigorous technical and economic analyses focused on systems-of-systems solutions.

The development of the “smart grid” has recently been accelerated with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Intelligent power generation, transmission, distribution, and dynamic demand management will enable a power system that can incorporate larger amounts of variable renewable energy. System-level dynamic control and associated savings in costs and emissions, in combination with innovations in load shifting, energy storage, and real-time information and decision tools, will lead to a rethinking of the nation’s energy mix.

Markets, Policy, and Finance

To put U.S. energy policy into a global perspective, as of 2009, at least 85 countries and 35 states and the District of Columbia had renewable-energy promotion policies. More than 50 countries and 10 U.S. states and Canadian provinces have adopted policies that guarantee revenue for renewable power generation (e.g., feed-in policies), and at least 38 states and provinces have enacted renewable portfolio standards (UNEP, 2010). Although national level renewable standards and climate legislation have yet to be passed by both houses of Congress, provisions for manufacturing or production tax credits (PTCs) for RETs have been available at various times.

Targets for biofuels as a share of transport energy have been set in the United States (20 percent by 2022), the European Union (10 percent by 2020), Japan (5 percent by 2030), and several other countries. Tax exemptions for biofuels were enacted in a number of countries in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Policies with feed-in tariffs, national building codes, national tax credits, and capital subsidies to support solar-PV continue to be promulgated.

Policy approaches to RETs, and to energy issues and climate change in general, include market mechanisms to support innovation. Fischer and Newell (2008), Komor and Bazilian (2005), Martinot et al. (2007), and Popp (2010) have reported on approaches that have been used or are being considered to address tactical and strategic requirements, including innovation, knowledge spillovers, performance standards, quotas, and fiscal mechanisms. Key attributes of effective policies include: (1) predictability over a sufficient period of time to reduce investment risks; (2) the creation of a level playing field; and (3) the inclusion of material impacts, such as greenhouse-gas costs and benefits.

In the short to medium term, the impacts of carbon prices under stabilization scenarios are not likely to attract enough investment to expand market penetration of RETs fast enough to have a material impact on climate change, especially if emitters among developing countries do not participate in global efforts (Clarke et al, 2009; Edenhofer et al., 2010). Although a carbon-price framework would provide a strong signal to the investment community, investment decisions for RET projects will continue to be based on risk-adjusted returns. Thus, policy mechanisms that complement a carbon price may be necessary to drive short-term investments in projects and expansions in manufacturing, which depend on fiscal and market policies (as well as local incentives, cost of capital, and profit margins).

Investors in riskier R&D are seeking not only large, growing markets, but also breakthrough technologies that will attract public and private investment. This complex, dynamic innovation-and-investment environment is well suited to the development of a policy portfolio approach that includes a broad range of R&D, as well as renewable fuel standards, renewable portfolio standards, and feed-in tariffs. Complementary measures, such as restructured pricing, guaranteed access to the electricity grid, workforce training, and the development of technical standards, have been implemented in many jurisdictions (e.g., Cory et al., 2009; Darghouth et al., 2010; Doris et al., 2009).

An example of the benefits of predictable policies and fiscal stimulus is the feed-in tariffs in the Euro-pean Union, which have led to a sevenfold increase in RET electricity generation (compared with the rate of increase elsewhere). Germany’s policy of 20-year fixed feed-in tariffs for RET power led to strong, consistent growth and created a wind market with the largest installed capacity in the world, until 2007, even though Germany has significantly less total wind potential than the United States. Spain experienced major growth after passing its RET policy in 1997, which lasted until a recent restructuring of the tariffs. Denmark’s wind industry experienced steady growth throughout the 1990s, although the rate has since slowed because of market saturation and land constraints.

The United States has a strong growth curve for wind, driven largely by PTCs and the recent cash-grant option. Since its establishment in 1992, the PTC has been extended a number of times, although it was allowed to lapse in 1999, 2001, and 2003, which led to significant decreases in annual installations in 2000, 2002, and 2004.

With the economic downturn in late 2008 and 2009, few companies had the “appetite” to use the tax credits, and the policy was amended, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to include an option for a tax grant (Bolinger et al., 2009). At the same time, in 2008 Germany and Spain dramatically restructured their feed-in tariffs, effectively lowering the return for potential investors and dramatically curtailing interest in new project development (Campoccia et al., 2009).

To mitigate the public costs of uniform feed-in tariffs and provide transparent, stable policy support, Cory et al. (2009) describe a comprehensive system of feed-in tariff structures for wind energy differentiated by technology, project size, application, and resource intensity. They also evaluate fiscal structures that would reduce the overall differential costs for RETs with enough predictability to attract development and investment. This strategy could be adopted in the United States, as more jurisdictions consider this policy option.

By comparison, the Chinese wind market has increased sharply since 2000, with a 40 percent average annual growth rate from 2000 to 2009. The target for wind power in the recent 10-year plan is for more than 100 GW of wind by 2030, with concomitant investment in manufacturing, installation, and operations.


Increasing interest in renewable technologies in the United States and globally in the past few decades can be attributed to a combination of factors, including the importance of RETS to energy supply, energy security, economic prosperity, and environmental effects, including limiting the impacts of climate change. Technological advancements in RETs have led to dramatic cost reductions and improved the competitiveness of renewables, even in the absence of GHG pricing. Renewable energy markets have grown at double-digit rates to more than $150 billion annually and are in a position to continue growing.

For the United States, with its enormous resource base, advancing technologies, and supportive public policies, renewable energies not only offer a near-term, high-leverage option for mitigating potential climate change and addressing other public policy goals, such as economic prosperity and energy security, but they also provide a long-term technology platform for a sustainable energy economy. The combination of mulitiple enabling capabilities is likely to create opportunities for power systems in which renewables will become increasingly important. However, realizing these benefits will require concerted efforts to adopt and implement coordinated actions on a national scale.

Bird, L., D. Hurlbut, P. Donohoo, K. Cory, and C. Kreycik. An Examination of the Regional Supply and Demand Balance for Renewable Electricity in the United States through 2015 Projecting from 2009 through 2015. NREL/TP-6A2-45041. Revised June 2010. Golden, Colo.: NREL.

Bolinger, M., R. Wiser, K. Cory, and T. James. 2009. PTC, ITC, or Cash Grant? An Analysis of the Choice Facing Renewable Power Projects in the United States. NREL Report No. TP-6A2-45359. Available online at .

Campoccia, A., L. Dusonchet, E. Telaretti, and G. Zizzo. 2009. Comparative analysis of different supporting measures for the production of electrical energy by solar PV and wind systems: four representative European cases. Solar Energy 83(3): 287–297.

Clark, L.E., J.A. Edmonds, B.H. Krey, R.G. Richels, S. Rose, and M. Tavoni. 2009. International climate policy architectures: overview of the EMF 22 international scenarios. Energy Economics 31(2): S64–S81.

Cory, K., T. Couture, and C. Kreycik. 2009. Feed-in Tariff Policy: Design, Implementation, and RPS Policy Interactions. NREL Report No. TP-6A2-45549. Golden, Colo.: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Available online at .

Darghouth, N., G. Barbose, and R. Wiser. 2010. The Impact of Rate Design and Net Metering on the Bill Savings from Distributed PV for Residential Customers in California. LBNL-3276E. Available online at .

Denholm, P., E. Ela, B. Kirby, and M. Milligan. 2010. The Role of Energy Storage with Renewable Electricity Generation. NREL/TP-6A2-47187. Available online at .

DOE (U.S. Department of Energy). 2010. Renewable Energy Futures Study. Forthcoming. Washington, D.C.: DOE.

Doris, E.; S. Busche, S. Hockett, and J. McLaren. 2009. The Role of State Policy in Renewable Energy Development. NREL Report No. CP-6A2-45971. Available online at .

Edenofer, O., B. Knopf, M. Leimbach, and N. Bauer, eds. 2010. The Economics of Low Stabilization. Energy Journal 31, special edition.

EIA (Energy Information Administration. 2010. Independent Statistics and Analysis. Available online at .

EnerNex. 2010. Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study. NREL Report No. SR-550-47078. Available online at .

Fischer, C., and R. Newell. 2008. Environmental and technology policies for climate mitigation. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 55(2): 142–162.

Gillingham, K., R.G. Newell, and W.A. Pizer. 2008. Modeling endogenous technological change for climate policy analysis. Energy Economics 30(6): 2734–2753.

Grübler, A. 2003. Technology and Global Change. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

IEA (International Energy Agency). 2010. Key World Energy Statistics 2009. Paris: IEA.

IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). 2009. Wind and the grid: the challenges of wind integration. IEEE Power and Energy 7(6).

Kazmerski, L.L. 2009. Solar Photovoltaics Technology: The Revolution Begins. P. 219 in Proceedings of the 2009 67th Annual Device Research Conference (DRC), June 22–24, 2009, University Park, Pennsylvania. Piscataway, N.J.: IEEE. NREL Report No. CP-5A0-47548. doi:10.1109/DRC.2009.5354898.

Komor, P., and M. Bazilian. 2005. Renewable energy policy goals, programs, and technologies. Energy Policy 33(14): 1873–1881.

Krewitt, W., S. Simon, W. Graus, S. Teske, A. Zervos, and O. Schaefer. 2007. The 2 C scenario—a sustainable world energy perspective. Energy Policy 35(10): 4969–4980.

Krewitt, W., K. Nienhaus, C. Klessmann, C. Capone, E. Sticker, W. Graus, M. Hoogwijk, N. Supersberger, U. von Winterfeld, and S. Samadi. 2009. Roles and Potential of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency for Global Energy Supply. Completed for the German Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt). December.

Lund, H., and W. Kempton. 2008. Integration of renewable energy into the transport and electricity sectors through V2G. Energy Policy 36(9): 3578–3587.

Martinot, E., C. Dienst, L. Weiliang, and C. Qimin. 2007. Renewable energy futures: targets, scenarios, and pathways.  Annual Review of Environment and Resources 32: 205–239.

NRC (National Research Council). 2010. Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change. Prepublication. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. Available online at .

Nemet, G.F. 2006. Beyond the learning curve: factors influencing cost reductions in photovoltaics. Energy Policy 34(17): 3218–3232.

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Østergaard, P.A. 2009. Reviewing optimisation criteria for energy systems analyses of renewable energy integration. Energy 34(9): 1236–1245.

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1  In this article, renewable energy technologies are defined to include wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, ocean energy, hydrokinetic, and geothermal energy sources. Pathways to providing thermal, electrical. or mechanical power from these resources include thermal, chemical, and direct conversion (e.g., photovoltaics or solar cells).  

2   National and state resource data and maps are available at .

3  Including traditional hydropower, the U.S. installed generation capacity is 120 GW.

4  Absolute values are: wind capacity of 2,578 megawatts (MW) in 2000 and 35,159 MW in 2009; solar-PV capacity of 85 MW in 2000 and 1,677 MW in 2009.

Why renewables are the cornerstone of the global energy transition

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Can Renewable Energy Solve the Global Climate Change Challenge?

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Maanasa Mendu is relying on innovation and electric charges to tackle the global energy crisis. The freshman at Mason High School in Mason, Ohio, will travel this month to St. Paul, Minnesota, as a top 10 national finalist in the 2016 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. While there, she’ll present her invention that helps make wind power a globally applicable energy source. “Wind power is a powerful and popular form of renewable energy with enormous potential,” says Mendu in her competition video. “We need to make wind power an efficient and globally applicable energy source.” Mendu has created a device that uses piezoelectricity materials that are eco-friendly and cost-efficient to provide wind power to the world.

Mendu’s invention and passion for the future of energy generation are well in tune with the critical needs of the global economy. The adoption of renewable energy, generated from natural resources like sunlight, wind, tides, plant growth and geothermal heat, is a key strategy in combatting greenhouse gas emission-fueled climate change, which the World Economic Forum identifies each year as a serious global risk. Traditional fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and petroleum – which renewables seek to replace — contribute to the air pollution that causes global warming.

An article published this month by our parent publication, Knowledge@Wharton, explores today’s market for wind and solar power and the realities of climate change. Says Wharton business economics professor Arthur van Benthem: “The renewable energy industry has experienced dramatic growth over the last couple of years.”

Here are some fast facts shared by van Benthem and other climate change experts about the global challenge to deal with greenhouse gas emissions:

  • Wind and solar power prices have plunged. As the cost of renewable generation nears the cost of fossil-fueled electricity, more people are likely to spend money to install this energy and use it.
  • Projections about future wind and solar deployment have become more optimistic, especially in the U.S. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a company that analyzes the energy system, expects total installed solar will more than quadruple between now and 2022, on the strength of continued cost declines. And the projection made in the year 2000 by the International Energy Agency of how much wind power capacity there would be in 2040 has been revised upward, fivefold.
  • Solar power use in the U.S. is on the rise in part because companies have found efficient ways to acquire customers, process the applications and install the panels on people’s roofs. SolarCity, based in Silicon Valley, Calif., is one of the country’s leading residential solar companies. Tesla, the electric-power car company founded by Elon Musk, is expected to acquire SolarCity in November.
  • The power generation industry is only responsible for a part of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. The other sectors combined — which include transportation, heating and cooling, cement making and industry — make up a larger share of emissions than power.
  • As part of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, reached in December 2015, every nation pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Electric vehicles can help nations meet their emissions-reductions targets, but not everyone is convinced just yet that they need to buy an electric car. Sales of electric vehicles have been far lower than what some of the more optimistic observers in the industry had projected a few years back.
  • Chevy’s Bolt and the upcoming Tesla 3 are expected to have ranges of 200 miles, for the same price at which cars were selling six years ago, which should help.
  • In order for a true renewable energy revolution, governments need to cap fossil fuel emissions – designate a level above which emissions can’t exceed. The oil industry opposes this move, but experts believe such drastic measures will lead to more green innovations and emissions-abatement technologies. In other words, more and more scientists and entrepreneurs will think like Maanasa Mendu.

Related Links

  • K@W: Solar and Wind Power Are Growing — but Won’t Solve Climate Change
  • 2016 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge
  • Elon Musk, Lyndon Rive, and the Plan to Put Solar Panels on Every Roof in America
  • Green Car Reports
  • K@W: What Are the Gains from the Paris Climate Accord?
  • The World Economic Forum

Conversation Starters

Can the growth in renewables like wind and solar alone solve the climate change challenge? Why or why not?

Do you have any personal experience with renewable energy? For example, solar panels on the roof of your house? Is renewable energy a topic of interest in your school or your community? What about the use of electric cars? Research some local strategies for fighting the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

Why do you think the oil industry opposes capping fossil fuel emissions? Similarly, The Obama administration attempted to cap emissions through the Clean Air Act, but the legislation is under review by the Supreme Court . Why would there be opposition to laws and changes that clean our air and help to save the planet? Discuss different dimensions of the relationship between business and the environment.

Using the “Related Links,” research SolarCity. Who is Lyndon Rive? What did you learn about him and the business of renewable energy deployment, in particular solar power?

3 comments on “ Can Renewable Energy Solve the Global Climate Change Challenge? ”

1750 is generally accepted as the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels were 278 PPM. CO2 levels are now 400 PPM. 67% of all electrical power in this country is produced from fossil fuels. BUT fossil fuels only accounts for 30% of all sources of carbon gas associated with Climate Change. 100% renewables is only 30% of the problem. The first power plant was built in 1882.

World population reached 1 billion in 1804, just under 3 billion in the 50s when CO2 begin to rise, just over 5 billion in 1992 when the UN Conference on the Environment and Development is held in Rio de Janeiro that resulted in the Framework Convention on Climate Change, 6 billion in 99 and 7 billion in 2011. Climate Change is the result of carbon gas emissions which are caused by Industrialization which is driven by Population growth. By 2023, world population will have increased 33% over 1999. Many scientists consider game over at 9-10 billion.

CO2 levels are now over 400 PPM. To reduce CO2 levels in our atmosphere ONLY 1 PPM requires the removal of 7.81 billion tons of CO2 PLUS THE AMOUNT WE ARE NOW ADDING. To put this in perspective, Ivanpah 400 Mwe Solar Power Plant will offset 400,000 tons/yr of GHG. It would require 19,525 Ivanpahs to offset CO2 levels 1 PPM.

Weather is the state of the atmosphere at a place and time as regards to heat, dryness, sunshine, wind, rain, etc. Climate is the weather conditions prevailing in an area in general or over a long period. Climate Change is a Long Term change in global or regional climate patterns. Climate Change does not 10-20 years make, to short of a period. The weather service uses super computers to predict the weather one day in advance and sometimes wrong. All of this complexity we experience as “weather” is simply the result of uneven heating of the Earth, and the atmosphere ‘trying’ to reduce the differences in temperature. Note hurricanes generally start near the equator. A hurricane’s source of energy or fuel is water vapor which is evaporated from the ocean surface and rises to the upper atmosphere where it condenses into clouds and heat radiated into space keeping the planet cool. Surface ocean temperatures are cooler after a hurricane. So even minor global temperature increases may not be the proof needed and one reason there isn’t any consensus among scientists. To determine Climate Change we need to observe Changes in migratory patterns of animals and changes in plant habitats.

This is a very informative comment. After reading it, I have a few responses. First you address the fact that 100% renewables are only 30% of the problem. I would argue that they solve for even less, especially given the difficulty of implementing clean energy sources. In order to solve the problem, we need the right policies and legislation to actually implement the technologies in an effective manner. This part has always been harder. People like familiarity, and the status quo is as familiar as it gets, even if the status quo is extremely problematic. Therefore, even with fully developed renewables that are becoming more and more affordable, people are still more likely to stick with something that has always worked for them: fossil fuels.

Next, you name statistics about world population. I agree that we are approaching our carrying capacity and we really need to start thinking about ways to combat this. There have been many efforts to decrease fertility rates including China’s one-child policy, raising the minimum legal age for marriage, providing low-cost, safe access to contraception and other reproductive healthcare, and improving education and workforce opportunities for women. The UN says that 42% of governments have adopted one or more policies to lower their fertility levels. While the government should not actively try to limit families to a certain size through legislation, such as the one-child policy, workforce and education equality for women is a must, as well as safe and reliable access to healthcare. If these two beneficial actions happen to decrease fertility rates, then I definitely support them as a means to slow the growth of the world population and feel that they should be implemented universally.

Moving on, I found your next point to be very insightful. It really highlighted all the work that we have to do and how decreasing a single ppm would actually require that we remove several billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. Your visualization about the Ivanpah 400 Mw Solar Power Plant depicted just how much CO2 is still in the atmosphere, how much we have left to solve, and how pressing this issue is. However, you should consider how the climate crisis is a complex issue that requires solutions in renewable energy, population management, and policy. Industrialization and population may be inherently linked, but enacting green policies is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. Doing something as simple as creating a law that prevents companies from selling internal-combustion-engines immediately puts a large dent in the 3 billion metric tons of CO2 that come from just passenger cars each year. However, this is even greater, since most of the cars in the US are not even passenger cars, they are SUVs and trucks, so by preventing companies from selling gas-guzzlers, we take a huge chunk out of the emissions from passenger cars and we take out of the additional emissions from SUVs and trucks. Another simple legislation is making net-metering widely used. Net metering is when renewable sources are used to power each home, individually, and the excess power goes to the grid, which offsets the price of using the utility for customers, incentivizing them to do it.

On your last point, while I see the reasoning, I have to disagree. The evidence of climate change is blinding. The difference between weather and climate is that weather is a short-term gauge, which you can see in the Weather app on your phone, whereas climate is a long-term measurement. The complexities in weather are not from the atmosphere trying to reduce the heat of the Earth. Weather, even with our advanced technology, is practically impossible to predict because of how chaotic it is. There are so many different aspects to consider, wind patterns, temperature, geography, topography, humidity, precipitation, atmospheric pressure, and the list goes on. Weather complexity cannot be simplified to the idea of “uneven heating” in the Earth and the atmosphere trying to cool itself.

Furthermore, I was intrigued by your theory about how climate change can only be proven by the migratory patterns of animals and birds. While I do not necessarily agree with this point, I am curious to see your logic behind it.

We are a carbon cycle life, we exhale carbon dioxide and are flatulence is methane or CH4. Our plastics, pharmaceuticals, and just about everything we consume contains carbon. The amount of carbon in our atmosphere began its meteoric rise about the time of the beginning of the industrial revolution. Therefore carbon gases are the result of industrialization. Industrialization is production of cars and everything else that makes are life easier and is driven by Population growth. 68% of our elect power is from fossil fuels, but Power is only 30% of the carbon gas problem. But note from above, our problem is not carbon gases but with our explosive population growth we have reach the limit of the planet to support us without drastic changes in lifestyle.

RE was a Project Manager with engineering and construction of the world first utility scale solar power stations at Luz Kramer, pending solar direct steam patent and developer of several solar power plants. But I don’t sell cars

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Renewable Energy 101

In any discussion about climate change , renewable energy usually tops the list of changes the world can implement to stave off the worst effects of rising temperatures. That's because renewable energy sources such as solar and wind don't emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming .

Clean energy has far more to recommend it than just being "green." The growing sector creates jobs , makes electric grids more resilient, expands energy access in developing countries, and helps lower energy bills. All of those factors have contributed to a renewable energy renaissance in recent years, with wind and solar setting new records for electricity generation .

For the past 150 years or so, humans have relied heavily on coal, oil, and other fossil fuels to power everything from light bulbs to cars to factories. Fossil fuels are embedded in nearly everything we do, and as a result, the greenhouse gases released from the burning of those fuels have reached historically high levels .

As greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere that would otherwise escape into space, average temperatures on the surface are rising . Global warming is one symptom of climate change, the term scientists now prefer to describe the complex shifts affecting our planet’s weather and climate systems. Climate change encompasses not only rising average temperatures but also extreme weather events, shifting wildlife populations and habitats, rising seas , and a range of other impacts .

Of course, renewables—like any source of energy—have their own trade-offs and associated debates. One of them centers on the definition of renewable energy. Strictly speaking, renewable energy is just what you might think: perpetually available, or as the U.S. Energy Information Administration puts it, " virtually inexhaustible ." But "renewable" doesn't necessarily mean sustainable, as opponents of corn-based ethanol or large hydropower dams often argue. It also doesn't encompass other low- or zero-emissions resources that have their own advocates, including energy efficiency and nuclear power.

Types of renewable energy sources

Hydropower: For centuries, people have harnessed the energy of river currents, using dams to control water flow. Hydropower is the world's biggest source of renewable energy by far, with China, Brazil, Canada, the U.S., and Russia the leading hydropower producers . While hydropower is theoretically a clean energy source replenished by rain and snow, it also has several drawbacks.

Large dams can disrupt river ecosystems and surrounding communities , harming wildlife and displacing residents. Hydropower generation is vulnerable to silt buildup, which can compromise capacity and harm equipment. Drought can also cause problems. In the western U.S., carbon dioxide emissions over a 15-year period were 100 megatons higher than they normally would have been, according to a 2018 study , as utilities turned to coal and gas to replace hydropower lost to drought. Even hydropower at full capacity bears its own emissions problems, as decaying organic material in reservoirs releases methane.

Dams aren't the only way to use water for power: Tidal and wave energy projects around the world aim to capture the ocean's natural rhythms. Marine energy projects currently generate an estimated 500 megawatts of power —less than one percent of all renewables—but the potential is far greater. Programs like Scotland’s Saltire Prize have encouraged innovation in this area.

Wind: Harnessing the wind as a source of energy started more than 7,000 years ago . Now, electricity-generating wind turbines are proliferating around the globe, and China, the U.S., and Germany are the leading wind energy producers. From 2001 to 2017 , cumulative wind capacity around the world increased to more than 539,000 megawatts from 23,900 mw—more than 22 fold.

Some people may object to how wind turbines look on the horizon and to how they sound, but wind energy, whose prices are declining , is proving too valuable a resource to deny. While most wind power comes from onshore turbines, offshore projects are appearing too, with the most in the U.K. and Germany. The first U.S. offshore wind farm opened in 2016 in Rhode Island, and other offshore projects are gaining momentum . Another problem with wind turbines is that they’re a danger for birds and bats, killing hundreds of thousands annually , not as many as from glass collisions and other threats like habitat loss and invasive species, but enough that engineers are working on solutions to make them safer for flying wildlife.

Solar: From home rooftops to utility-scale farms, solar power is reshaping energy markets around the world. In the decade from 2007 and 2017 the world's total installed energy capacity from photovoltaic panels increased a whopping 4,300 percent .

In addition to solar panels, which convert the sun's light to electricity, concentrating solar power (CSP) plants use mirrors to concentrate the sun's heat, deriving thermal energy instead. China, Japan, and the U.S. are leading the solar transformation, but solar still has a long way to go, accounting for around two percent of the total electricity generated in the U.S. in 2017. Solar thermal energy is also being used worldwide for hot water, heating, and cooling.

Biomass: Biomass energy includes biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel , wood and wood waste, biogas from landfills, and municipal solid waste. Like solar power, biomass is a flexible energy source, able to fuel vehicles, heat buildings, and produce electricity. But biomass can raise thorny issues.

Critics of corn-based ethanol , for example, say it competes with the food market for corn and supports the same harmful agricultural practices that have led to toxic algae blooms and other environmental hazards. Similarly, debates have erupted over whether it's a good idea to ship wood pellets from U.S. forests over to Europe so that it can be burned for electricity. Meanwhile, scientists and companies are working on ways to more efficiently convert corn stover , wastewater sludge , and other biomass sources into energy, aiming to extract value from material that would otherwise go to waste.

Geothermal: Used for thousands of years in some countries for cooking and heating, geothermal energy is derived from the Earth’s internal heat . On a large scale, underground reservoirs of steam and hot water can be tapped through wells that can go a mile deep or more to generate electricity. On a smaller scale, some buildings have geothermal heat pumps that use temperature differences several feet below ground for heating and cooling. Unlike solar and wind energy, geothermal energy is always available, but it has side effects that need to be managed, such as the rotten egg smell that can accompany released hydrogen sulfide.

Ways to boost renewable energy

Cities, states, and federal governments around the world are instituting policies aimed at increasing renewable energy. At least 29 U.S. states have set renewable portfolio standards —policies that mandate a certain percentage of energy from renewable sources, More than 100 cities worldwide now boast at least 70 percent renewable energy, and still others are making commitments to reach 100 percent . Other policies that could encourage renewable energy growth include carbon pricing, fuel economy standards, and building efficiency standards. Corporations are making a difference too, purchasing record amounts of renewable power in 2018.

Wonder whether your state could ever be powered by 100 percent renewables? No matter where you live, scientist Mark Jacobson believes it's possible. That vision is laid out here , and while his analysis is not without critics , it punctuates a reality with which the world must now reckon. Even without climate change, fossil fuels are a finite resource, and if we want our lease on the planet to be renewed, our energy will have to be renewable.

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  • Published: 03 August 2020

Impacts of climate change on energy systems in global and regional scenarios

  • Seleshi G. Yalew   ORCID: 1 , 2 , 3 ,
  • Michelle T. H. van Vliet 2 , 4 ,
  • David E. H. J. Gernaat   ORCID: 1 , 5 ,
  • Fulco Ludwig 2 ,
  • Ariel Miara   ORCID: 6 , 7 ,
  • Chan Park   ORCID: 8 ,
  • Edward Byers   ORCID: 9 ,
  • Enrica De Cian 10 , 11 ,
  • Franziska Piontek 12 ,
  • Gokul Iyer   ORCID: 13 ,
  • Ioanna Mouratiadou   ORCID: 1 ,
  • James Glynn   ORCID: 14 ,
  • Mohamad Hejazi 13 ,
  • Olivier Dessens 15 ,
  • Pedro Rochedo   ORCID: 16 ,
  • Robert Pietzcker   ORCID: 12 ,
  • Roberto Schaeffer   ORCID: 16 ,
  • Shinichiro Fujimori   ORCID: 17 , 18 ,
  • Shouro Dasgupta   ORCID: 10 , 11 ,
  • Silvana Mima 19 ,
  • Silvia R. Santos da Silva   ORCID: 13 , 20 ,
  • Vaibhav Chaturvedi 21 ,
  • Robert Vautard   ORCID: 22 &
  • Detlef P. van Vuuren   ORCID: 1 , 5  

Nature Energy volume  5 ,  pages 794–802 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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Although our knowledge of climate change impacts on energy systems has increased substantially over the past few decades, there remains a lack of comprehensive overview of impacts across spatial scales. Here, we analyse results of 220 studies projecting climate impacts on energy systems globally and at the regional scale. Globally, a potential increase in cooling demand and decrease in heating demand can be anticipated, in contrast to slight decreases in hydropower and thermal energy capacity. Impacts at the regional scale are more mixed and relatively uncertain across regions, but strongest impacts are reported for South Asia and Latin America. Our assessment shows that climate impacts on energy systems at regional and global scales are uncertain due partly to the wide range of methods and non-harmonized datasets used. For a comprehensive assessment of climate impacts on energy, we propose a consistent multi-model assessment framework to support regional-to-global-scale energy planning.

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We wish to thank the JPI Climate initiative and participating grant institutes for funding the ISIpedia project. We also thank J. Burrough for professional advice on the English of a near-final draft. E.d.C. has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 756194 (ENERGYA). J.G. is supported by a research grant from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) under the SFI-NSFC Partnership Programme, grant no. 17/NSFC/5181. D.P.v.V., R.S. and D.E.H.J.G. are supported by the Horizon 2020 NAVIGATE project, and D.P.v.V., R.S. and D.E.H.J.G. also acknowledge support from the COMMIT and Horizon 2020 ENGAGE project. F.P. acknowledges support through the project ENGAGE funded in the framework of the Leibniz Competition (SAW-2016-PIK-1), as well as through the project CHIPS, part of AXIS, an ERA-NET initiated by JPI Climate, and funded by FORMAS (SE), DLR/BMBF (DE, grant no. 01LS19XXY), AEI (ES) and ANR (FR) with cofunding by the European Union (grant no. 776608). R.S. acknowledges the financial support from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), from the National Institute of Science and Technology for Climate Change Phase 2 under CNPq grant no. 465501/2014-1 and the National Coordination for High Level Education and Training (CAPES) grant no. 88887.136402/2017-00, all from Brazil. A.M. acknowledges support from the US Department of Energy, Office of Science’s Integrated Multisector Multiscale Modelling project and National Science Foundation’s Water Sustainability and Climate grant no. 1360445. This work was authored in part by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (A.M.), operated by Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC, for the US Department of Energy (DOE) under Contract No. DE-AC36-08GO28308. S.F. is supported by the Environment Research and Technology Development Fund (2-1908 and 2-2002) provided by the Environmental Restoration and Conservation Agency, Japan. C.P. is supported by Korea Environment Industry & Technology Institute (KEITI) through Climate Change R&D Programme, funded by the Korea Ministry of Environment (MOE) (2018001310003).

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S.G.Y. and D.P.v.V. codesigned the study. S.G.Y. collected and analysed data, and cowrote the initial draft manuscript with D.P.v.V. S.G.Y., D.P.v.V. and M.T.H.v.V. performed sectoral analysis of energy systems. S.G.Y., D.P.v.V., M.T.H.v.V., D.E.H.J.G., F.L., A.M., C.P., E.B., E.d.C., F.P., G.I., I.M., J.G., M.H., O.D., P.R., R.P., R.S., S.F., S.D., S.M., S.R.S.d.S., V.C. and R.V. contributed to the review of sectoral and regional climate impacts.

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Yalew, S.G., van Vliet, M.T.H., Gernaat, D.E.H.J. et al. Impacts of climate change on energy systems in global and regional scenarios. Nat Energy 5 , 794–802 (2020).

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Causes and Effects of Climate Change

Fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – are by far the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for over 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions.

As greenhouse gas emissions blanket the Earth, they trap the sun’s heat. This leads to global warming and climate change. The world is now warming faster than at any point in recorded history. Warmer temperatures over time are changing weather patterns and disrupting the usual balance of nature. This poses many risks to human beings and all other forms of life on Earth.

Industry and Transport

Causes of Climate Change

Generating power

Generating electricity and heat by burning fossil fuels causes a large chunk of global emissions. Most electricity is still generated by burning coal, oil, or gas, which produces carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide – powerful greenhouse gases that blanket the Earth and trap the sun’s heat. Globally, a bit more than a quarter of electricity comes from wind, solar and other renewable sources which, as opposed to fossil fuels, emit little to no greenhouse gases or pollutants into the air.

Manufacturing goods

Manufacturing and industry produce emissions, mostly from burning fossil fuels to produce energy for making things like cement, iron, steel, electronics, plastics, clothes, and other goods. Mining and other industrial processes also release gases, as does the construction industry. Machines used in the manufacturing process often run on coal, oil, or gas; and some materials, like plastics, are made from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels. The manufacturing industry is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Cutting down forests

Cutting down forests to create farms or pastures, or for other reasons, causes emissions, since trees, when they are cut, release the carbon they have been storing. Each year approximately 12 million hectares of forest are destroyed. Since forests absorb carbon dioxide, destroying them also limits nature’s ability to keep emissions out of the atmosphere. Deforestation, together with agriculture and other land use changes, is responsible for roughly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Using transportation

Most cars, trucks, ships, and planes run on fossil fuels. That makes transportation a major contributor of greenhouse gases, especially carbon-dioxide emissions. Road vehicles account for the largest part, due to the combustion of petroleum-based products, like gasoline, in internal combustion engines. But emissions from ships and planes continue to grow. Transport accounts for nearly one quarter of global energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions. And trends point to a significant increase in energy use for transport over the coming years.

Producing food

Producing food causes emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases in various ways, including through deforestation and clearing of land for agriculture and grazing, digestion by cows and sheep, the production and use of fertilizers and manure for growing crops, and the use of energy to run farm equipment or fishing boats, usually with fossil fuels. All this makes food production a major contributor to climate change. And greenhouse gas emissions also come from packaging and distributing food.

Powering buildings

Globally, residential and commercial buildings consume over half of all electricity. As they continue to draw on coal, oil, and natural gas for heating and cooling, they emit significant quantities of greenhouse gas emissions. Growing energy demand for heating and cooling, with rising air-conditioner ownership, as well as increased electricity consumption for lighting, appliances, and connected devices, has contributed to a rise in energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions from buildings in recent years.

Consuming too much

Your home and use of power, how you move around, what you eat and how much you throw away all contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. So does the consumption of goods such as clothing, electronics, and plastics. A large chunk of global greenhouse gas emissions are linked to private households. Our lifestyles have a profound impact on our planet. The wealthiest bear the greatest responsibility: the richest 1 per cent of the global population combined account for more greenhouse gas emissions than the poorest 50 per cent.

Based on various UN sources

Industry and Transport

Effects of Climate Change

Hotter temperatures

As greenhouse gas concentrations rise, so does the global surface temperature. The last decade, 2011-2020, is the warmest on record. Since the 1980s, each decade has been warmer than the previous one. Nearly all land areas are seeing more hot days and heat waves. Higher temperatures increase heat-related illnesses and make working outdoors more difficult. Wildfires start more easily and spread more rapidly when conditions are hotter. Temperatures in the Arctic have warmed at least twice as fast as the global average.

More severe storms

Destructive storms have become more intense and more frequent in many regions. As temperatures rise, more moisture evaporates, which exacerbates extreme rainfall and flooding, causing more destructive storms. The frequency and extent of tropical storms is also affected by the warming ocean. Cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons feed on warm waters at the ocean surface. Such storms often destroy homes and communities, causing deaths and huge economic losses.

Increased drought

Climate change is changing water availability, making it scarcer in more regions. Global warming exacerbates water shortages in already water-stressed regions and is leading to an increased risk of agricultural droughts affecting crops, and ecological droughts increasing the vulnerability of ecosystems. Droughts can also stir destructive sand and dust storms that can move billions of tons of sand across continents. Deserts are expanding, reducing land for growing food. Many people now face the threat of not having enough water on a regular basis.

A warming, rising ocean

The ocean soaks up most of the heat from global warming. The rate at which the ocean is warming strongly increased over the past two decades, across all depths of the ocean. As the ocean warms, its volume increases since water expands as it gets warmer. Melting ice sheets also cause sea levels to rise, threatening coastal and island communities. In addition, the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide, keeping it from the atmosphere. But more carbon dioxide makes the ocean more acidic, which endangers marine life and coral reefs.

Loss of species

Climate change poses risks to the survival of species on land and in the ocean. These risks increase as temperatures climb. Exacerbated by climate change, the world is losing species at a rate 1,000 times greater than at any other time in recorded human history. One million species are at risk of becoming extinct within the next few decades. Forest fires, extreme weather, and invasive pests and diseases are among many threats related to climate change. Some species will be able to relocate and survive, but others will not.

Not enough food

Changes in the climate and increases in extreme weather events are among the reasons behind a global rise in hunger and poor nutrition. Fisheries, crops, and livestock may be destroyed or become less productive. With the ocean becoming more acidic, marine resources that feed billions of people are at risk. Changes in snow and ice cover in many Arctic regions have disrupted food supplies from herding, hunting, and fishing. Heat stress can diminish water and grasslands for grazing, causing declining crop yields and affecting livestock.

More health risks

Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity. Climate impacts are already harming health, through air pollution, disease, extreme weather events, forced displacement, pressures on mental health, and increased hunger and poor nutrition in places where people cannot grow or find sufficient food. Every year, environmental factors take the lives of around 13 million people. Changing weather patterns are expanding diseases, and extreme weather events increase deaths and make it difficult for health care systems to keep up.

Poverty and displacement

Climate change increases the factors that put and keep people in poverty. Floods may sweep away urban slums, destroying homes and livelihoods. Heat can make it difficult to work in outdoor jobs. Water scarcity may affect crops. Over the past decade (2010–2019), weather-related events displaced an estimated 23.1 million people on average each year, leaving many more vulnerable to poverty. Most refugees come from countries that are most vulnerable and least ready to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

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How Renewable Energy Can Change The World

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Works Cited:

  • American Kennel Club. (n.d.). Dogs 101: Facts about dog breeds.
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  • Good Housekeeping. (2019, September 25). Dogs vs. cats: Which is the better pet for you?
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  • PetMD. (n.d.). Cat vs. dog: Which pet is better?
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  • VCA Hospitals. (n.d.). Litter box training for your cat.

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Climate change affects your life in 3 big ways, a new report warns

Alejandra Borunda

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Rebecca Hersher at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., July 25, 2018. (photo by Allison Shelley) (Square)

Rebecca Hersher

climate change and renewable energy essay

Climate change causes tens of billions of dollars in economic damage in the United States every year, according to a new assessment. Many survivors of climate-driven disasters, including hurricanes, floods and wildfires, struggle for months or even years to repair their homes or find new stable housing. Here, a Louisiana home damaged by a hurricane sits waiting for unaffordable repairs. Ryan Kellman/NPR hide caption

Climate change is expensive, deadly and preventable, according to the new National Climate Assessment, the most sweeping, sophisticated federal analysis of climate change compiled to date.

Released every five years, the National Climate Assessment is a congressionally mandated evaluation of the effects of climate change on American life. This new fifth edition paints a picture of a nation simultaneously beset by climate-driven disasters and capable of dramatically reducing emissions of planet-warming gasses in the near future.

This is the first time the assessment includes standalone chapters about climate change's toll on the American economy, as well as the complex social factors driving climate change and the nation's responses. And, unlike past installments, the new assessment draws heavily from social science, including history, sociology, philosophy and Indigenous studies.

The new approach adds context and relevance to the assessment's robust scientific findings, and underscores the disproportionate danger that climate change poses to poor people, marginalized communities, older Americans and those who work outdoors.

"Climate change affects us all, but it doesn't affect us all equally," says climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, one of the authors of the assessment. But threaded throughout the report are case studies and research summaries highlighting ways "climate action can create a more resilient and just country," she says.

This is also the first time the National Climate Assessment will be translated into Spanish, although the Spanish-language version won't be available until the spring, according to the White House.

The National Climate Assessment is extremely influential in legal and policy circles, and affects everything from court cases about who should foot the bill for wildfire damage, to local decisions about how tall to build coastal flood barriers. "It really shapes the way that people understand, and therefore act, in relation to climate change," says Michael Burger, the director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

Hundreds of scientists from universities, industry, and federal agencies contributed to the report. They reviewed cutting-edge research published since the last report and contextualized it in decades of foundational climate research.

The fifth edition of the assessment arrives as millions of Americans are struggling with the effects of a hotter Earth. Dramatic and deadly wildfires, floods and heat waves killed hundreds of people in the United States in 2023.

And, while federal spending on renewable energy and disaster preparedness has increased, the U.S. is also investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure that is not compatible with avoiding catastrophic warming later this century.

Here are the three big takeaways from the Fifth National Climate Assessment . More information about the specific effects of climate change in your area can be found in the assessment's regional chapters .

climate change and renewable energy essay

Windmills near Whitewater, Calif., in 2020. Reducing fossil fuel use and investing more in renewable energy sources such as wind will help the U.S. avoid billions of dollars of economic costs and help Americans live longer, healthier lives according to the Fifth National Climate Assessment. Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP hide caption

Windmills near Whitewater, Calif., in 2020. Reducing fossil fuel use and investing more in renewable energy sources such as wind will help the U.S. avoid billions of dollars of economic costs and help Americans live longer, healthier lives according to the Fifth National Climate Assessment.

Climate change makes life more expensive

Food, housing, labor – it all gets pricier as the Earth heats up, according to the National Climate Assessment.

Climate-driven weather disasters, like heat waves, floods, hurricanes and wildfires, are particularly expensive. They destroy homes and businesses, wreck crops and create supply shortages by delaying trucks, ships and trains. Such disasters make it more likely that families will go bankrupt, and that municipal governments will run deficits, the authors note.

Weather-related disasters in the U.S. cause about $150 billion each year in direct losses, according to the report. That's a lot of money – roughly equal to the annual budget for the Energy Department – and it's only expected to go up as the Earth gets hotter.

And that's all before factoring in the less obvious or tangible costs of climate change. For example, healthcare bills for people who are sicker because of extreme heat, or have respiratory illness brought on by breathing in mold after a flood. Exposure to wildfire smoke alone costs billions of dollars a year in lost earnings, the assessment notes – a burden that falls disproportionately on poor people who work outdoors.

"The research indicates that people who are lower income have more trouble adapting [to climate change], because adaptation comes at a cost," says Solomon Hsiang, a climate economist at the University of California, Berkeley and a lead author of the assessment.

For example, one of the simplest ways to adapt to severe heat waves is to run your air conditioner more. But "if people can't pay for it, then [they] can't protect themselves," explains Hsiang.

And the hotter it gets, the more profound the economic harm, assessment warns. Twice as much planetary warming leads to more than twice as much economic harm, the assessment warns.

climate change and renewable energy essay

A roadside memorial to those who died in the wildfire that swept through the town of Lahaina, Hawaii in August. The latest National Climate Assessment underscores the many ways that climate change is already making Americans sick, and even killing them. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

A roadside memorial to those who died in the wildfire that swept through the town of Lahaina, Hawaii in August. The latest National Climate Assessment underscores the many ways that climate change is already making Americans sick, and even killing them.

Climate change makes people sick and often kills them

Since the previous NCA was released five years ago, the health costs of climate change have gone from theoretical to personal for many Americans.

The most obvious risk? Extreme weather, particularly heat, says Mary Hayden, the lead author of the chapter examining human health. Heat waves have become hotter, longer, and more dangerous, and they're hitting areas that aren't ready for them–like the "record-shattering" heat dome that descended on the Pacific Northwest in 2021 and caused hundreds of deaths.

But it's not just heat. Wildfire smoke can send people thousands of miles from the fires to hospitals with respiratory problems and heart disease complications. Hurricanes can disrupt people's access to healthcare: when a clinic is flooded or people are displaced, for example, kidney patients can't get dialysis treatment .

In most cases, the people who bear the brunt of the disasters are those already at risk: poor communities, communities of color, women, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups. Temperatures in formerly redlined neighborhoods in cities across the country can soar nearly 15 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than wealthier areas just blocks away, putting residents at much higher risk of heat exposure.

The assessment also homes in on research tracking less-obvious health impacts. Living through climate disasters, for example, can leave lasting emotional scars. "We're not just talking about [people's] physical health–we're talking about their mental health. We're talking about their spiritual health. We're talking about the health and well-being of communities which are being affected by this," Hayden says.

That means recognizing the long-term effects on communities like Paradise, California, where people still deal with deep emotional trauma five years after their town burned in the 2018 Camp Fire. The report also flags the growing emotional toll on children and young people, for whom anxiety about the future of the planet is bleeding into all parts of their lives.

climate change and renewable energy essay

A lobsterman paddles out to his boat in a harbor in Maine. Climate change is disrupting ways of living with, and from, the ocean. Ryan Kellman hide caption

Climate change threatens people's special, sacred places and practices

The places, cultural practices, and traditions that anchor many communities are also in flux because of climate change.

Fishing communities are seeing their livelihoods shift or collapse. The Northeast's iconic lobster fishery, the single most economically valuable in the country, has withered as marine heatwaves sweep through the regional seas . Shrinking snowpack and too-warm temperatures are interrupting opportunities for beloved recreational activities, like skiing or ice fishing .

Indigenous communities are being forced to adjust to new climate realities, which are disrupting traditional food-gathering traditions. In Palau, a monthly tradition of catching fish at a particularly low tide has been upset by sea level rise, which keeps water levels too high to trap fish in the historically-used places . Sea level rise is also forcing coastal communities to re-think their very existence, pulling apart the social fabric that has developed over generations.

But many communities – Indigenous people, farmers and fishers, groups that have lived tightly connected to their environments for a long time – have deep stores of resilience from which to draw, says Elizabeth Marino, a sociologist and the lead author of the chapter on social transformations. "There is quite a lot of wisdom in place to adapt to and even mitigate climate change," she says. "It allows people to come up with solutions that fit the lives that they lead, and that's also a place of hope."

The fixes to climate change can make Americans' lives better

The fifth assessment lays out a stark picture of the climate challenges the U.S. faces. Keeping planetary warming to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the goal of the international Paris Agreement, will require immediate, enormous cuts to fossil fuel emissions in the U.S and beyond. Keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), an ambitious target written into the Agreement, will be even harder, the report says.

But it also points out many successful efforts underway to adapt to the new reality and to prevent worse outcomes.

"It's not the message that if we don't hit 1.5 degrees, we're all going to die," says Hayhoe. "It's the message that everything we do matters. Every 10th of a degree of warming we avoid, there's a benefit to that."

Addressing fossil fuel-driven climate change can also help people live healthier lives, stresses J. Jason West, the lead author on a chapter on air quality. Dialing back fossil fuel emissions would help prevent further climate change and also lessen the kinds of air pollution most harmful to human health." There really is a lot of opportunity to take action that would resolve both of those problems at the same time," West says.

There's been a subtle shift in the report's perspective since the last one, says Candis Callison, a sociologist and author of the report. There's now a clear acknowledgement, developed through years of rigorous research, that the fossil fuel-powered society the U.S. built over generations was profoundly unjust. Many pollution-producing coal or gas power plants were sited in communities of color rather than white communities, affecting people's health outcomes for generations. And decisions about land and water use for energy extraction often excluded tribal communities , with consequences still playing out today.

The transition forward can look different, she says. "Climate change actually provides us with an opportunity to address some of those inequities and injustices–and to respond to these impacts," Callison says. "That's really a powerful thing."

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Column: Solving climate change will have side effects. Get over it

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When I wrote a column two weeks ago urging the Biden administration to approve a lot more solar and wind farms on Western public lands, I knew I would get flak from critics of large-scale renewable energy — and indeed I did.

On social media, conservationists blasted me for what they described as my failure to understand that sprawling solar projects and towering wind turbines tear up wildlife habitat and destroy treasured landscapes. They called me a shill for money-grubbing utility companies and suggested it’s obvious that we should rebuild our energy systems around solar panels on rooftops.

I’m sympathetic to those arguments and want to clarify where I’m coming from.

I’m familiar with the science showing that human survival depends in part on limiting further biodiversity loss and protecting much of the remaining natural world. I feel a deep appreciation for America’s spectacular public lands; I’ve hiked and camped across the West, from the Teton Crest Trail to Mt. San Jacinto . I’d love to see more national monuments created.

In an ideal universe, I’d support building renewable energy exclusively within cities and on previously disturbed lands such as farm fields and irrigation canals. In an ideal universe, I’d support only climate solutions that don’t cause other problems.

But we don’t live in an ideal universe.

We live in a universe where every clean energy technology has drawbacks, whether economic or technical or political. A universe where there aren’t enough rooftops to replace all the fossil fuels we now burn. Where skeptical farmers are fighting to stop their neighbors from switching to solar energy production. Where building solar on canals is wildly expensive , at least so far.

Just as importantly, we live in a universe where human beings use mind-boggling amounts of energy.

Every time we flip a light switch, run the dishwater or take a drive, we’re using energy. Our coffee mugs, our clothes, our homes — they took energy to manufacture. Same with the food we eat, the TV shows we love and our favorite board games.

Even with aggressive energy-efficiency improvements, we’ll need an unprecedented solar and wind building spree to replace all the coal, oil and fossil natural gas boiling the planet and spewing toxic fumes responsible for millions of deaths each year.

Piles of coal are ready to burn at Utah's Intermountain Power Plant, a major source of electricity for Los Angeles.

So why have we had so much trouble coalescing around the need for a broad range of clean energy technologies?

If you ask me, it’s because it’s so hard to grapple with the enormity of the climate crisis.

Deadlier heat waves, bigger wildfires, shrinking reservoirs, rising oceans — we understand them on paper. But most of the time they’re abstract, lurking in the background. Whereas a wind farm that will kill golden eagles is tangible, easy to grasp. Same with a solar farm that will be visible from Joshua Tree National Park , or an electric line that will cut through ancient burial sites .

It’s not wrong to care about that stuff. It’s not wrong to want to protect the places we know and love.

But too many of us have gotten stuck looking at the world through a narrow defining lens.

Mistrustful of monopoly utility companies? Then you probably see rooftop solar panels as the ideal climate change solution. Live near the coast and love the ocean views? Then solar farms in the desert probably sound better than offshore wind turbines. Find it easier to cope with the idea of climate chaos if you can convince yourself a single technology or policy will fix everything? Then maybe you’re a devotee of nuclear reactors , or a carbon fee , or carbon capture and storage .

If we were having this conversation a few decades ago — say in 1988, after climate scientist James Hansen testified to Congress that global warming had arrived — then debating the best suite of climate solutions might be a good use of time. We could work together to reach consensus on the right path forward and ensure the side effects were as painless as possible.

But this is 2023, not 1988.

Largely thanks to the fossil fuel industry’s climate denial and the Republican Party’s continued intransigence , we’re out of time. I keep saying this in my columns, but it bears repeating: Scientists have calculated we need to cut global climate pollution nearly in half by 2030, just seven years from now, to avoid an extremely scary future. Seven years is nothing. This is an emergency.

Much as I hate the idea of paving over desert tortoise habitat with solar panels or refusing to remove dams that have decimated salmon populations , I hate the idea of 3 degrees Celsius of planetary warming a lot more. Much as I sympathize with rural towns that don’t want to live with industrial wind turbines as their neighbors, I sympathize more with my neighbors here in Los Angeles who can’t afford air conditioning and don’t want to die of heatstroke the next time the thermostat hits 121 degrees .

Girls play in a stream near Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley.

For those of you reading this with frustration — I realize I’m probably not going to convince you. You don’t know why I can’t just understand that your climate solution is the best one, and use my platform as a journalist to help bring it about.

My unsatisfying response is that I’m a realist.

I know that not every proposed clean energy solution is a good idea. But the reality is that solar farms and wind turbines, for all their faults, are some of the most proven, cost-effective, politically popular tools for reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

I could spend all my time singing the praises of rooftop solar — which I did last week , by the way — and it wouldn’t change the fact that avoiding the worst consequences of climate change will be a hell of a lot easier if we embrace big solar and wind.

Now, for those of you reading this and nodding in agreement — thanks for your support. But I hope you’ll stop and ask yourself: What are you personally willing to sacrifice to bring about a safe climate future? What changes will you make in your life?

Will you eat less meat, replace your gas stove with an induction cooktop or lease an electric car? Will you make climate change a top priority at the ballot box, and post about it on Instagram, and bring it up at the dinner table on Thanksgiving?

If you hear about a climate solution that rubs you the wrong way, will you swallow hard and look the other way?

Because that’s what it’s going to take.

To maintain a habitable planet for ourselves and our children and grandchildren, we’ll need to make some compromises. We’ll need to stand by and watch as some pristine ecosystems are razed in the name of renewable energy. We’ll need to learn to live with exorbitantly wealthy investors raking in additional profits at our expense. We’ll need to elect some politicians whose ideas don’t fully line up with our own, because they’re nonetheless our best hope of avoiding planetary collapse.

Above all, we’ll need to stop yelling at each other and start cooperating with people we think are wrong.

That’s the world we live in. Welcome to the Anthropocene.

And now, here’s what’s happening around the West:


Smoke from wildfires nearly obscured the Los Angeles skyline when viewed from Griffith Observatory in September 2020.

This past Friday and Saturday were 2 degrees Celsius hotter than Earth’s preindustrial average — the first times we’ve crossed a climate threshold that scientists have long urged us to avoid. Two days at that level doesn’t mean we can’t still avoid longer-term warming above 2 degrees. But they do serve as an urgent reminder that we can’t keep wasting time , experts told my colleague Hayley Smith. And even if we ultimately fail to limit warming to 2 degrees, every barrel of fossil fuel that we don’t burn makes a difference. As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe told Hayley and The Times’ Ian James for their important story on the latest U.S. climate report , “Every 10th of a degree of warming matters. Every bit matters.”

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is out with a new analysis showing how much more it must do to bring clean energy to low-income communities and people of color. Hayley Smith wrote about the report , which found that just 23% of the city’s electric vehicle investments, 38% of its solar projects and 46% of its home energy-efficiency incentives have gone to disadvantaged communities. For an example of how climate action can help those communities, see this piece by Oakland Voices’ Momo Chang about a California program bringing rooftop solar to an affordable housing complex for Oakland seniors. (See also my column from last week about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s appointees slashing rooftop solar incentives for apartment renters.)

On a Northern California farm, a Black naturalist is working to use African American heritage to help usher humanity through the climate crisis. Here’s the powerful story , from The Times’ Tyrone Beason, about EARTHseed Farm and its founder, Pandora Thomas. “People look to Black culture for what’s the newest music, hairstyle or fashion trend,” she says. “Imagine if they looked to our communities for what’s the newest trend for how we should be living around climate practices and environmental practices. What can we garner from the past that we can bring to this moment to help us plot a better future?”


California officials voted to let Pacific Gas & Electric bury 1,230 miles of power lines — a multibillion-dollar investment that should help reduce wildfire ignition risk but will also contribute to PG&E customers paying an average of $32 more per month. The company had asked for an even bigger rate increase to pay for burying even more power lines, the Associated Press’ Adam Beam writes. Electric rates are already frustratingly high, but this type of investment is almost certainly necessary — just last week, Cal Fire concluded that a Southern California Edison power line helped spark the 2022 Fairview fire , which killed two people, the Washington Post’s Vanessa Montalbano and Brianna Sacks report. In related news, the California Supreme Court just ruled that PG&E can’t be sued for shutting off power to prevent wildfire ignitions, my colleague Kevin Rector reports.

The Biden administration is rolling out $169 million from the Inflation Reduction Act to support manufacturing of electric heat pumps — a crucial tool for replacing gas heating in our homes and businesses. Details here from Wired’s Matt Simon. In addition to slashing climate pollution from gas boilers, heat pumps can help protect us from volatile natural gas prices. Speaking of which, if you’re a Southern California Gas customer worried about gas prices rising sharply again this winter, you can sign up to get text message warnings from SoCalGas , The Times’ Karen Garcia reports.

Will a quietly approved new law help California build out the power grid as fast as we need to support millions of electric cars, heat pumps and stoves? Senate Bill 410, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month, hadn’t sounded like that big of a deal to me. But this deep dive by Canary Media’s Jeff St. John makes a compelling case that the law could go a long way.


Workers put the finishing touches on solar panels covering the Narmada canal near Ahmadabad, India.

The Gila River Indian Community is moving ahead with the first U.S. project to cover part of an irrigation canal with solar panels. There are still high costs and technical barriers to overcome before solar on canals can become a significant piece of the push for 100% clean energy. But this first-of-its-kind project is a big step forward , the Arizona Mirror’s Shondiin Silversmith writes. In another example of an innovative project to limit environmental damage from renewable energy, California now has its second small solar-plus-storage plant featuring used electric car batteries , as Kavya Balaraman reports for Utility Dave.

The Bill Gates-backed company making plans for a small nuclear power plant in Wyoming insists the cancellation of a similar nuclear project in Idaho does not portend its doom. WyoFile’s Dustin Bleizeffer explained what makes TerraPower’s “small modular reactor” proposal different from the one that failed in Idaho , while also talking with critics who see nothing but trouble for the Gates-funded startup. Here in Southern California, meanwhile, dismantling of the shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant is more than 60% complete , per the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Rob Nikolewski. But the iconic San Onofre domes — which you may have seen driving between L.A. and San Diego, just off the 5 Freeway — probably won’t start coming down until 2026.

Portugal just ran on 100% clean energy for six days in a row. Yes, it’s possible. Canary Media’s Julian Spector⁩ explains how .


Last week’s brief closure of a portion of the 10 Freeway through downtown Los Angeles set off a panic. Now why can’t the freeway system’s role in fueling the climate crisis do the same? My colleague Ryan Fonseca wrote about the need to invest in public transit good enough that people will want to stop driving on traffic-clogged, polluting highways. The Times’ editorial board weighed in as well, writing about the surprising speed with which public agencies were able to repair the 10 last week. “There are countless other transit, pedestrian and safe-streets projects that deserve a similar sense of urgency,” the editorial board wrote .

Can Southern California’s mountain towns survive climate change? That’s the question posed in this harrowing story by my colleagues Grace Toohey, Summer Lin and Nathan Solis, about the unprecedented winter storms that wreaked havoc in the San Bernardino Mountains earlier this year — the kind of storms getting worse with more fossil fuel pollution. In another reminder of the dangers, Grace also wrote about a new report finding that heavy winter rains caused a landslide that destroyed eight homes in the Los Angeles County city of Rolling Hills Estates. Farther north, a stretch of California’s iconic Highway 1 remains closed 10 months after it was battered by winter storms , The Times’ Thomas Curwen reports.

The Eel River is on track to become California’s longest free-flowing waterway, as Pacific Gas & Electric formalizes a plan to tear down two dams to clear the way for salmon passage. Mary Callahan has the story for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, writing that PG&E’s plan “fulfills long-held dreams of conservationists and fishery groups to see the cold, clear headwaters of the Eel River, part of the Mendocino National Forest, reopened to migrating fish and to restore natural river flows.”


A "Finding Nemo"-themed water play area at the Disneyland Resort's Paradise Pier Hotel.

There’s nowhere we can go to escape the realities of climate change — not even Disneyland.

“The next generation’s theme parks will need to minimize the walking space between attractions. That space will need to be filled with shady trees and cooling landscaping, not cheap concrete and tarmac,” theme park expert Robert Niles writes for the Orange County Register . “Waiting, dining and shopping areas will need to be indoors, or at least covered and cooled.”

Niles’ column is a high-level look at what Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood and other theme parks might need to do to stay safe and comfortable for customers as the planet heats up and weather gets more extreme.

“Bad weather is the design challenge that will determine the industry’s future,” Niles writes.

As a big Disneyland fan, I hope that is a challenge someone accepts.

This column is the latest edition of Boiling Point, an email newsletter about climate change and the environment in California and the American West. You can sign up for Boiling Point here . And for more climate and environment news, follow @Sammy_Roth on X.

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climate change and renewable energy essay

Sammy Roth is the climate columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He writes the weekly Boiling Point newsletter and focuses on clean energy solutions. He previously reported for the Desert Sun and USA Today, where he covered renewable energy and public lands. He grew up in Westwood and would very much like to see the Dodgers win the World Series again.

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A Package of Bold Laws Puts Michigan on a Fast Track to Renewable Energy

Included in the new legislation is a requirement that the state generate all of its electricity from wind, solar and other carbon-free sources by 2040.

A wind turbine is framed against a blue sky, with seven more turbines in the background.

By Coral Davenport

Coral Davenport spent time in Michigan in March, reporting on the state’s climate and energy policies.

The Michigan Senate gave final approval on Wednesday to a bundle of clean energy bills, transforming a state at the center of industrial America into a leader in the fight against climate change.

The legislation, which passed both chambers of the Statehouse with narrow Democratic majorities, represents a turnaround for a state that had long blocked policies to curb pollution from the factories that have underpinned its economy for generations.

It is based on a 58-page “MI Healthy Climate” plan proposed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat with a growing national profile who has promoted progressive measures on labor, gay rights, guns and the environment.

The centerpiece of the new climate package, which Governor Whitmer is expected to sign into law later this month, would require the state to generate all of its electricity from wind, solar and other carbon-free sources by 2040, eliminating the climate-warming pollution generated by coal and gas-fired power plants.

The legislation would also tighten energy efficiency requirements for electric utilities, allow more residents to enroll in a rooftop solar energy program and streamline permits for new wind and solar power.

“With passage of these game-changing bills, Michigan will become a national leader on clean energy,” the governor said. “People want to know that they can start a family, career, or business in a state that will provide them strong economic opportunities and fight for their children’s future.”

Support for the legislation, which once would have been unthinkable in such an industrialized state, has grown as Michigan has experienced the economic toll of climate change , Governor Whitmer said. She pointed to increased flooding in Detroit, the spread of toxic algae in the Great Lakes and the decline of the state’s cherry and other fruit crops.

In 2022, coal and natural gas each supplied roughly a third of Michigan’s electricity, while nuclear power generated 22 percent, according to data compiled by the Energy Information Administration . Renewable sources of energy, chiefly wind power generated along the Lake Huron coastline, made up about 12 percent of the state’s power mix.

More than half of states already have laws or regulations requiring utilities to switch to clean electricity, but only a handful require the transition to happen at the rapid pace set by the Michigan legislation. For example, under its new law, Michigan would transition to zero-emission climate-friendly electricity sources even faster than California , which for decades has been at the vanguard of state climate action. There is no federal clean power mandate.

“The 100 percent clean electricity standard is just pathbreaking for the Midwest industrial heartland,” said Dallas Burtraw, an energy policy analyst at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan research organization. “This puts Michigan at the top tier of states in pursuing the clean energy transformation, and that’s just a short list of a half-dozen states.”

Policy analysts say that aggressive state action is essential if the United States is to meet President Biden’s target of cutting the nation’s emissions in half by 2030 and eliminating them by 2050, which scientists say all major economies must do to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

While Mr. Biden last year signed a landmark climate law and has proposed regulations to clean up pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes, those policies alone are not expected to meet his targets. That would require additional action from states.

Republicans joined with major Michigan business groups to condemn the new legislation.

“This extreme, impulsive strategy thrown together by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislative Democrats will set Michigan on a disastrous economic course, stifling growth in our communities,” said Aric Nesbitt, the Republican leader in the State Senate. “Radical ideological approaches to energy policy typically result in having to correct course and revert back to traditional fuels and nuclear power that will make sure peoples’ lights come on when they flip the switch.”

Michael Johnston, a lobbyist for the Michigan Manufacturers Association, which represents Ford, General Motors, Stellantis, Dow Chemical and more than 1,000 other companies, said his members opposed the law because they feared the rapid transition would drive up energy costs and threaten the reliability of electricity supply.

“We are the manufacturing state, and energy is a primary cost input for anything we make,” he said. “And if the price of energy rises above what Michigan-located companies can pay, the less likely we can build products here.”

Mr. Johnston predicted that opposition from manufacturers to the new laws could help turn the state, which voted for Donald J. Trump in 2016 but for Mr. Biden in 2020, back toward the Republican Party.

A recent New York Times poll shows that Mr. Trump, a Republican who is running to retake the White House next year, is leading Mr. Biden in Michigan, a crucial 2024 battleground state.

“When the ballot box comes around, manufacturers in particular will remember these votes,” Mr. Johnston said.

Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, said it was unclear how Michigan voters would view the clean energy legislation during next year’s election.

“This is such a major shift after a couple of decades of very limited progress on moving toward clean energy in this battleground state, and it sets up a really interesting electoral test on whether a major pivot to clean energy pays political dividends,” Mr. Rabe said.

State Senator Sam Singh, a Democrat and lead sponsor of the legislation, said that he expected Mr. Biden’s climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act, to ensure that the costs of Michigan’s energy transition were borne not by Michigan businesses and residents, but by the federal government. The law provides $370 billion in federal clean energy spending, including tax incentives for electric utilities that switch to clean energy.

“There’s a unique opportunity for us to pull down federal dollars through the I.R.A. that has never been available before,” he said. “That became a guiding force for us, to ensure that we were able to best position ourselves. We wanted to make sure the goals we’re putting forward can be achievable.”

DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, the state’s two largest electric utilities, have remained publicly neutral.

That’s in part because Democrats changed the original legislation, written by Mr. Singh, that would have required the companies to generate 100 percent of their electricity from clean sources by 2035 rather than 2040.

In other concessions to electric utilities, Democrats also amended the final legislation to allow utilities to continue to burn natural gas, as long as 90 percent of the planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution produced by the gas was captured and stored, rather than released into the atmosphere. That nascent technology is not currently in wide use.

Environmentalists said that while they disliked those changes, they still saw the legislation as a victory.

“While there are things that I certainly would have added or changed, this bill package is a bold plan that shows Michigan is serious about climate change and puts it in a strong leadership position nationally,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

An earlier version of a picture caption with this article stated incorrectly the location of the Ford River Rouge complex. It is in Dearborn, Mich., not River Rouge. 

How we handle corrections

Coral Davenport covers energy and environmental policy for the climate desk from Washington. She was part of a Times team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished public service journalism in 2020, and part of a Times team that received Columbia University’s John B. Oakes award for distinguished environmental journalism in 2018. More about Coral Davenport

Learn More About Climate Change

Have questions about climate change? Our F.A.Q. will tackle your climate questions, big and small .

Carbon-free electricity has never been more plentiful, but it hasn’t yet been enough to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. We looked at how electricity generation has changed over time to help you understand today’s global picture .

Singapore is rethinking its sweltering urban areas to dampen the effects of climate change. Can it be a model for other cities ?

New data reveals stark disparities in how different U.S. households contribute to climate change. See your neighborhood’s climate impact .

Did you know the ♻ symbol doesn’t mean something is actually recyclable ? Read on about how we got here, and what can be done.

Overuse of America’s groundwater  in a changing climate is draining and damaging aquifers nationwide, a New York Times data investigation revealed.

Half the world could soon face dangerous heat. We measured the daily toll it is already taking .


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    Renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, or hydropower can bring multiple environmental benefits and tackle the problems of climate change and pollution in several ways. Solar power is the ultimate source of renewable energy available for use in both domestic and commercial buildings.

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    In the last 100 years, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased, causing the Earth to warm by an average of 0.6 degrees celsius, largely a result of burning fossil fuels for energy, transportation, and land use changes increased for food production.

  26. Renewable Energy Essay Essay Example For FREE

    Renewable energy often relies on the weather of its source of power. Hydro generators need rain to fill dams to supply flowing water. Wind turbines need wind to turn the blades, solar collectors need clear skies and sunshine to collect heat and make electricity. When these sources are unavailable so is the capacity to make energy from them.

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    In conclusion, renewable energy is the alternative to the climate change crises because it does not produce greenhouse gas emissions and pollute the air as is the case with the fossil fuels. It is considered a greenhouse gas neutral since its combustion releases no more carbon dioxide than was absorbed during growth period of the organic material.

  28. Solving climate change will have side effects. Get over it

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  29. What a U.S.-China Climate Deal Means for COP28

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