Renewable Energy Debate

March 15, 2019 – Volume 29, Issue 11
Can alternative sources replace fossil fuels? By Matt Mossman


Can renewable energy meet most U.S. electricity demand by 2030?


Steve Clemmer
Director of Energy Research and Analysis, Union of Concerned Scientists. Written for CQ Researcher, March 2019

Yes, the United States can rely on renewable sources for electricity on that timetable. It won't be easy, but it must be done if we are to virtually eliminate heat-trapping emissions by midcentury, which is what scientists say is needed to limit the worst effects of climate change.

The Union of Concerned Scientists analyzed various scenarios for how the U.S. power sector might achieve deep cuts in emissions over the next decade. Our research makes it clear that we need to significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels — which currently provide more than 60 percent of U.S. electricity — by ramping up renewable energy and other low-carbon sources and increasing overall energy efficiency.

In most of the scenarios we modeled, renewables, including hydropower, could jump from 18 percent of U.S. electricity generation today to 55 percent by 2030. And if most nuclear plants continue to operate, low-carbon energy could provide at least 72 percent of the country's electricity by that date.

Turning this goal into reality is a hefty challenge. To achieve it, federal and state legislators and regulators need to enact strong climate and clean energy policies. These policies should include putting a price on carbon, increasing renewable electricity and energy efficiency standards, providing tax incentives for installing wind and solar systems, and increasing investments in improving electrical infrastructure and in research and development targeting a suite of carbon-free energy solutions.

The entire energy sector must work together to modernize the electricity grid — including increasing transmission capacity and energy storage — so a high amount of renewable generation can be incorporated. Grid operators must embrace renewables, too, using advanced tools and grid planning to maintain reliability.

The good news is we already have the tools to build on recent progress and continue ramping up renewable energy. The cost of wind and solar has fallen by more than 70 percent over the past decade, and continued cost reductions are expected. Several states already have committed to obtaining more than 50 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2030 and achieving 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050. Many other states are actively considering such policies.

But we can't and shouldn't stop there. Renewables can provide at least 80 percent of U.S. electricity by midcentury, bringing significant climate, public and economic benefits. There is no time to lose. We must act now.


Samuel Golding
President and Founder, Community Choice Partners Inc.. Written for CQ Researcher, March 2019

The International Panel on Climate Change has given the world 12 years to save itself. States are passing “100% renewable” bills. The Green New Deal is a broader industrial policy vision the public supports.

State and federal support is necessary but insufficient. The goal is to reconfigure electrical grids and deploy distributed and renewable generation to eliminate fossil fuels entirely — across electricity, transportation, industry, buildings, etc. — while optimizing production and usage patterns and maximizing efficiencies. That process will vary by regional economy and city.

This requires more locally informed, nimble and competent governance than the utility industry offers. State regulatory commissions — designed a century ago to move slowly — consistently mismanage technological progress, distributed energy integration and the evolution of utility business models. Infrastructure and information technology are outdated. Strategic planning and rule-making are siloed. Markets are flawed.

How do we create the local relationships, knowledge, policies, programs and market reforms to deploy appropriate business models and technologies — in that order?

The answer is to engage municipal governments. They have inherent authorities across all sectors, are accountable, stable and business-oriented, understand their communities and plan regionally. Hundreds have “climate action plans” and “100% renewable” goals.

California's experience is encouraging. Over 170 city and county governments have launched 15 “Community Choice Energy” agencies that are self-funded and evolving rapidly while selling competitively priced electricity to 4 million customers.

These agencies are building more than 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy and storage and are creating comprehensive decarbonization plans. They are leveraging municipal authorities and collaborating with each other and with local and regional agencies, legislators, utilities, labor, developers and manufacturers to remove barriers to rooftop solar installations, electric vehicles and other innovations. One agency negotiated the siting of a new electric bus factory, creating local jobs and the nation's first all-electric bus fleet. Another submitted a lease application for California's first offshore wind project. Others are building renewable microgrids for critical facilities and business parks, partnering with utilities and energy companies to replace natural gas power stations. Most of this has occurred since 2016.

This is what rapid, effective decarbonization looks like.

These strategies can be applied everywhere: by public and investor-owned utilities developing new “smart city” partnerships and in restructured states that have or are enabling Community Choice.

We have to act now — locally and everywhere.

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Document APA Citation
Mossman, M. (2019, March 15). Renewable energy debate. CQ researcher, 29, 1-58. Retrieved from
Document ID: cqresrre2019031506
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