What Is The Future Of Renewable Energy?

From electric cars to micro solar panels, the renewable energy revolution is truly underway


A growing energy demand, coupled with a desperate need to reduce CO2 emissions, has the world at a critical juncture. With a huge segment of the human population not having access to electricity - more than 600 million in sub-Saharan Africa and 300 million in India alone — the challenge of bringing energy to these areas is only exacerbated by the necessity for cleanliness. By 2050, the world is expected to be using 50% more energy than it does today, an unsustainable expansion at the current rate of emission and one that will only be achieved through renewable, innovative energy solutions.

In December 2015, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg - along with the likes of Jack Ma, Richard Branson and a host of other business leaders - came together to form the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, an organization committed to sustainable change. The Microsoft founder and world’s richest man has long professed his commitment to creating clean energy solutions and helping them to market. The venture is not simply one of philanthropy, though, with incredible potential for profit underpinning the clear environmental factors. Bringing energy to the one billion people worldwide without it could see huge return for any of the myriad of investors backing the solutions.

‘I am optimistic that we can invent the tools we need to generate clean, affordable, reliable energy that will help the poorest improve their lives and also stop climate change,’ Gates says on his blog. ‘I hope even more governments and investors will join us.’ And it is this argument that needs to be championed if clean energy is to be effectively and quickly implemented; once it becomes viewed as a profitable venture, rather than a philanthropic endeavour, more resources can be appropriated and the process can be accelerated in line with governmental policy. Gates equated the impending renewable energy revolution as a ‘miracle’ on the same scale as the Internet or the micro-chip computer, and he hopes investors will see it the same way.

And developments in the area are as diverse as they are exciting. Researchers at MIT last month revealed light, thin solar cells that could one day power products like smartphones and watches. Proof of concept and application will take time, but the cells are so tiny that their potential uses could be without limitation if they can be effectively brought to market. Solar power is a far more flexible technology than wind power, and will play a large role in the push for cities across the world to go clean in line with the Paris Agreement, which comes into effect in 2020.

San Diego - by a unanimous City Council vote - vowed last year to move entirely to renewable energy within the next two decades. Officials said they would shift ‘half of the city’s fleet to electric vehicles by 2020 and recycle 98% of the methane produced by sewage and water treatment plants,’ according to the New York Times. Environmental groups have hailed the move and the commitment to change is refreshing, and San Diego looks set to be the first US city to fall in line with the Paris Agreement.

Electric vehicles have the power to shave a city’s carbon output dramatically, and 2016 is set to be a huge year in their development; Elon Musk’s moment of truth with Tesla is arriving. The serial entrepreneur has generated incredible interest in his electric cars thanks to an eye for style and a product many view as an inevitable development. Born as a potential solution for climate change - for transportation emissions are one of the key contributors - the company is set to dramatically increase its presence on the road in 2016 with the Model 3. The new $35,000 sedan promises to run for at least 200 miles on a single charge and is around the average cost of a new car in the US. Not planning to go on sale until the end of the year, Model 3 could propel Tesla into the mainstream and Musk’s push toward sustainable roads may properly commence.

The future of renewable energy is dependent on three areas; technological advancements and investment must be supplemented by policy. The Paris Agreement was a huge step and came at a time when advancements have never been more marketable. Electric cars, innovative solutions to powering cities and public backing by some of the world’s most influential business leaders will hopefully conflate, and the next two decades should see serious change. With any luck, Bill Gates’ predictions regarding the scale of the clean energy revolution will come to fruition, and Tesla’s fleet of energy-responsible vehicles will be just the beginning. 

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