Clean energy investment record raises hopes of phasing out fossil fuels

Clean energy made great strides last year as a record $367 billion was invested globally in the industry, despite drops in fossil fuel prices, according to a press release from Clean Energy Canada. (Gerry Machen/Creative Commons)

Clean energy made great strides last year as a record $367 billion was invested globally in the industry, despite drops in fossil fuel prices, according to a press release from Clean Energy Canada.

The record-setting investments come after the United Nations climate change talks held in Paris late in 2015, where world leaders agreed to limit fossil fuel consumption in order to prevent detrimental increases in average global temperatures.

Fossil fuels, including oil, gas and coal, are nonrenewable resources that have caused global climate change and many human health issues. Clean energy, on the other hand, is energy that can be replenished in a relatively short period of time, according to the Institute for Energy Research, and includes renewable wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and biofuel energy.

“We need to be transitioning off of fossil fuels,” Shanna Killen, a spokesperson for Clean Energy Canada, said. “We know oil and gas are not lasting, and the environment can only take so much before it’s too late.”

Although the price of oil has decreased, the prices of wind and solar have dropped as well. Over the last eight years, the cost of wind power fell by 61 percent and the cost of solar power by 82 percent, according to the press release.

“I think clean energy is becoming more price competitive,” Rich Miller, director of the Office of Environmental Policy at the University of Connecticut, said. “Not only has the price of solar dropped, there are incentives for renewable energy developments. Renewable energy is less expensive with incentives.”

In Connecticut alone, such incentives include various rebates, tax exemptions, credits and grants which encourage home and business owners to adopt clean energy options, according to Energize CT.

President Obama’s 2009 Recovery Act, geared toward improving the country’s economy and future, has led to $31 billion in clean energy investments nationwide, according to U.S. Department of Energy.

“There’s huge leaps in the efficiency of clean energy technology,” Killen said. “There is a lot more happening with climate and that’s driving down the cost.”

Despite the growth of clean energy, Miller said large parts of the country are still economically dependent on fossil fuels, especially states in the Midwest, where coal is the cheapest option.

“In the northeast and far west, we don’t have any dependence on coal,” Miller said. “We have paid the price and we’re already using cleaner energy that is more expensive.”

Recently Connecticut began closing its last coal-fired power plant for a newer natural gas facility. Although natural gas is still a fossil fuel, Miller believes it is a bridge in moving from fossil fuels to clean energy.

There are many problems with completely phasing-in clean energy, Miller said, including the existing electrical grid system throughout the country.

 Clean energy generation, unlike that of fossil fuels, needs to be close to consumers because energy is lost when transported through a grid for use by people. The current energy grid in the country is set up to transport electricity long distances from fossil fuel-fired power plants.

“Where you have a large wind turbine, you have to get power where it can be used, and there is some loss in power on a large electrical grid,” Miller said. “The power has to be closer to consumers, and we have to become less dependent on our national grid.”

Part of the reason why clean energy investments have increased is because clean energy is local and less susceptible to large-scale failure, Killen said. Although there are benefits, many see clean energy as an unreliable because, for example, sun and wind energy aren’t always constant.

“Solar and wind power are incremental. They need large battery storage,” Miller said. “The thing about burning fossil fuels is that you can do it around the clock. We need to be able to store renewable energy in a battery.”

Despite advances made in renewable energy, climate change is already happening. Burning fossil fuels for energy causes heat-capturing carbon dioxide to build up in the atmosphere, warming the earth and affecting climates and weather patterns.

Investing in clean energy, Miller said, is a way of making sure climate change doesn’t progress along the same grim trajectory that scientists have predicted. Countries such as the United States, China, Japan and India have been some of the main contributors to climate change through their use of fossil fuels, however they are also the targets of most of the clean energy investments made in the last decade.

Here at UConn, clean energy advancement is progressing as well, Miller said. Currently UConn uses two solar arrays and plans to equip a new building, called the Next Generation Residence Hall, with solar panels.


Diler Haji is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.