CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa– On the first day of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training founder Al Gore gave his slide show, an updated version of the one used in the film An Inconvenient Truth. It’s the third time I’ve seen him perform in person, and there were differences in emphasis, but the big message of day one came from the panel on renewables and policy.
“Go solar,” said Warren McKenna, president of Farmers Electric Cooperative, Kalona.
In significant ways, these two words sum up what’s needed to meet world energy needs, replace fossil fuels, and move civilization toward sustainability.
In an hour, sun shining on Earth provides enough energy to meet our collective needs for a year. Whether we realize it or not, fossil fuels represent ancient sunlight stored for millennia in the ground. According to multiple speakers yesterday, most of proven reserves of fossil fuels cannot be burned if we seek to retain Earth’s livability.
What makes solar an attractive solution to the climate crisis is the cost of installation is plummeting. At the point solar electricity generation reaches grid parity it will be an easy financial argument to make that fossil fuels should stay in the ground in favor of the less expensive alternative.
Companies such as Berkshire Hathaway Energy (BHE) already like solar, wind and other renewable energy generating capacity.
BHE accounts for six percent of U.S. wind electricity generating capacity and seven percent of solar according to Warren Buffet’s 2014 letter to shareholders.
“When BHE completes certain renewables projects that are underway, the company’s renewables portfolio will have cost $15 billion,” Buffet wrote. “In addition, we have conventional projects in the works that will also cost many billions. We relish making such commitments as long as they promise reasonable returns–and, on that front, we put a large amount of trust in future regulation.”
Solar is not without it’s problems. Natural resources must be exploited to make photo-voltaic panels, and the issue of conflict minerals continuously gets pushed aside. There are manufacturing, labor and transportation issues with solar. Problems notwithstanding, the argument for solar boils down to do we want a future, or not?
What we know is dumping 110 million tons of CO2 pollution into the atmosphere every day is not sustainable, and already we are seeing the impact of global warming and related climate change damage the lives of tens of millions of people.
There are no simple answers to solving the climate crisis. As industry demonstrates the viability of renewable energy, the only thing holding us back is a lack of political will to take unavoidable steps to mitigate the causes of global warming.
The economic argument provided by declining solar electricity generating costs will be a potent weapon in the political fight.