Why 100%Renewable Energy
This page is for those who have read the Phase I Cranston feasibility study and potential road-map and are looking to learn more about the justifications for moving the State of Rhode Island towards 100% Renewable Energy by 2030.
Modern society is built on a complex system of energy distribution, powered primarily by fossil fuels. The system provides light in our homes, schools and workplaces and fuel for our transportation systems. When discovered in the 1850's, oil and coal helped America lead in the industrial revolution, and grow into the world's largest economy. Unfortunately, fossil fuels have some significant drawbacks.
1. They are easily expendable. Fossil fuels, like coal, oil, and natural gas take millions of years to form in order to become usable energy sources. Current fossil fuels are remnants of the dinosaur era and are quite literally compressed fossil and plant remains which have broken down over millennia under the right amount of heat and pressure to create geological formations that turned into petroleum, natural gas, and coal reserves.
Because fossil fuels take millions of years to develop, it is impossible to replace them. It is predicted that we only have 53 years left of oil, 54 years of natural gas, and 110 years left of coal (Singh, 2015). Once our reserves deplete, we never get them back.
2. Fossil fuel emissions are the chief contributor to global warming.
Fossil fuels are a major contributor to the current climate crisis. When fuels are burned, they emit carbon molecules into the atmosphere which amplifies the greenhouse effect, and throws off balance a number of important and complex planetary systems. The International Panel on Climate Change recently reported that the global mean temperature has increased by an average of one degree Celsius. Global mean temperature is an average of all temperatures, including extremes experienced around the world, from the equator to the North Pole. A one degree increase is already impacting the size of storms, increasing humidity, increasing flooding, increasing the length of droughts, influencing migrations, changing seasonal blossoming patterns, and expanding the regions where dangerous viruses are typically located. In sum, a one degree change is modifying the risk profile globally, making it harder to anticipate how to build, where to build, where to invest, and how to plan for the future of industries that make up local economies.
Scientific reports and economists have stated that we must abandon the current fossil fuel reserves and embrace the challenge to transition to a cleaner energy future now, and not later. The wide array of biological habitats found around the world are at risk. Many species cannot evolve fast enough to match the rapid speed of global change. Our global ecosystems are becoming more homogenous each day. We can not afford to exploit the rest of the known fossil fuel reserves.
If we want to see a future world where we all have a consistent and safe supply of fuel sources to meet the ever-increasing demand for energy, we must invest in long-term solutions for the future. We need a sustainable energy solution, a renewable energy solution.
3. The era of sustainable energy options is here.
Sustainable energy is defined as an energy system that is able to meet the needs of the people today, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (Lemaire, 2010). There are many ways to create improved energy systems without using fossil fuels with viable options in the market today. Some options include solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, anaerobic biodigesters, biomass, nuclear, and hydropower, and more. No option is perfect, and some are not preferred for the future (i.e. nuclear and large scale hydro due to their other drawbacks), but the fact is we have the ability to pivot away from fossil fuels with commercially viable options today. Battery technologies are also improving to make long-term options of short-produced energy extendable. New investments are also considering how to improve the efficiency of buildings so the amount of energy required overall is lower from the start.
4. Negative health impacts associated with fossil fuels reduces. Fossil Fuel emissions have been linked to a multitude of negative health effects, including, but not limited to breathing problems, heart attacks, neurological damage, cancer and even premature death. In addition to these unnecessary health risks, the cost of treating those suffering from these ailments is exorbitant.
5. Cleaner drinking water. Another major impact that results from fossil fuels use involves water. Fossil fuel plants use water in their process of generating power and process of fracking requires the extensive use of water in order to collect natural gas. Eliminating these two processes would allow for water sources to be used for other critical needs, such as agriculture and drinking water. The good news here is that while fossil fuels may cause a multitude of negative health and environmental issues, renewable energy is far safer and when developed and deployed correctly cause very little in the way of negative health or environmental problems.
6. The grid is inefficient, but it can become smart. A problem that goes hand and hand with our use of fossil fuels is the way that our electricity is currently distributed, through a networked system commonly referred to as the electrical grid. The current electrical grid consists of extremely large energy generating stations, or power plants, dispersed throughout the country connected to a series of substations and transformers. Once generated, electricity is sent from the plant through electrical wires to homes, offices, hospitals, schools, and more. The current model is a one-way street: energy flows from the power plants to the energy users. The system comes with a multitude of issues, most notably how inefficient it is. The second rule of thermodynamics states that any time energy changes form, some of it will be lost as heat (All About, 2002). Whenever electricity is being created, no matter how it is being done, it is impossible for it to be 100% efficient. However, electricity provided by fossils fuels tend to only be about 33% efficient, losing ⅔ of the potential energy. Much of that loss stems from the fact that after the electricity is produced, it has to travel a large distance to power homes and businesses, losing more energy the further it has to go (Metcalfe, 2017). In addition, these systems aren’t designed to store any sort of extra energy in an emergency. A smart grid seeks to help solve some of these issues. The idea of a smart grid is to break down the outdated one-way model, intertwining the idea of producer and consumer. This system originates from the idea that energy production and consumption can be created simultaneously by everyone in a local area (U.S. Department of Energy, 2017).
When Cranston moves to a 100% renewable energy grid, residents and businesses may have solar panels on their roofs, vertical wind turbines, possibly some small hydro power, geothermal systems, efficient building systems and more. All of these systems should be designed to connect to the Cranston grid. When they overproduce electricity, these systems would become producers, putting energy back into the grid directly. The electricity would not be pulled in from an out of state power plant; it can be all produced and consumed locally. If too much is produced, it can be stored and saved for an emergency or distribution. It would allow for the town and the state to become energy independent, and self-sustainable, as well as use the data collected through building analytics to improve the overall operations of the buildings themselves.
7. New jobs in new future-forward fields would come to Rhode Island One of the most notable economic benefits to investing in sustainable energy are the amount of jobs created by the industry. An article by the Washington Post found that the US coal industry is home to only about 76,000 jobs. Car dealerships, museums, radio stations, casinos, travel agencies, breweries and wineries all individually exceed this job total (Ingraham, 2017). Meanwhile the solar power industry currently employs over 260,000 Americans, almost three and a half times as many jobs as the coal industry. Meanwhile, the wind power industry has over 100,000 jobs, and an article by NREL published that wind power technician was the fastest growing job in the country (Richardson, 2018). According to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, $1,000 invested in solar produces 14 jobs, compared to coal and natural gas which only produces 5-7 jobs (Renewable Energy Corporation, 2018). This has to do with the fact that renewable resources are more labor intensive, they require human installation, and technicians to maintain them, resulting in more jobs per dollar spent (Richardson, 2018).
8. We could stimulate the economy. There are many economic benefits to renewable energy beyond job creation. Investment benefits the economy as a whole. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), reported that if shares in renewable energy were to double by the year 2030, the global GDP could raise by about 1.1%, which is equal to $1.3 trillion (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2016). Another report released by the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University found that the 23 largest wind farms in Illinois will bring an influx of almost $6 billion over their lifetime to the local economies (Kasper, 2018). It doesn’t end there, the Union of Concerned Scientists did an analysis on the economic results of implementing a national standard of 25% renewable energy by the year 2025. It resulted in “$263.4 billion in new capital investment for RE [Renewable Energy] technologies, $13.5 billion in new landowner income from biomass production and/or wind land lease payments, and $11.5 billion in new property tax revenue for local communities” (Union of Concerned Scientist, 2017). Lower Energy Cost Renewable energy generation has the ability to save significant money. A company by the name Mosaic has estimated that, on average, a home that installs solar panels saves around $67,000 over the life of the panels (Renewable Energy Corporation, 2018). This could equate to roughly $2,700 every year for homeowners. Those who invest in solar energy in 2020 will also benefit from an incentive program that creates additional benefit for Ocean Staters exclusively.
For all of these reasons and more, we would like to see Cranston and Rhode Island shift to 100% sustainable energy by or as close to 2030 as possible. We believe we can hit these two targets with community support: the first is to transition the grid to 100% renewable electricity reliance by 2030, and then invest in shifting towards 100% heating and transportation reliance on renewable energy soon after.