Atlanta, GA—Wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources now make up just about 13 percent of the nation’s electricity supply, but transitioning to 100 percent clean energy in the South is both necessary and feasible, academic experts and clean energy advocates said at a lunch panel held at Georgia Tech on Wednesday.
“We can and we must transition to 100% clean renewable energy,” said Jennette Gayer, director of Environment Georgia. “Nationally and globally the move to 100% renewable is taking off with major businesses like Google and cities like San Diego setting 100% goals but this is the first 100% renewables discussion in Georgia.”
Gayer and Dr. Marilyn Brown a Georgia Tech Brook Byers public policy professor co-hosted the event and were joined on the panel by Dr. Bert Bras a Brook Byers mechanical engineering professor and Anthony Coker a Georgia Tech Chemical Engineer and Vice President of Utility Market Development with Hannah Solar.
“The notion of a world powered entirely by renewable energy is not an exercise in folly embraced by sects of environmental extremists; even using current technology, it is a viable possibility,” said Dr. Marilyn Brown. “Ultimately, humankind doesn’t have many other viable options that don’t involve our offspring having to manage accelerating climate change or massive amounts of hazardous nuclear waste. But we have a long way to go. The U.S. electricity sector today is only 13% renewable and in the South it is only 8% renewable.”
Attendees received a copy of Environment Georgia’s new white paper, We Have the Power: 100 Percent Renewable Energy for a Clean, Thriving America. The report reviews all seven detailed studies on clean energy systems conducted to date and finds that there are no insurmountable technological or economic barriers to tapping the country’s vast potential to achieve 100 percent renewable energy. The paper cites the rapidly falling costs of both wind and solar, and notes that the growth in solar has outstripped even clean energy advocates’ expectations.
“Last year Georgia ranked 8th among states for new solar electric capacity installed and there is no question that ultimately we could electrify the entire state with solar, wind and hydro, Georgia has great solar potential” said Anthony Coker, VP with Hannah Solar. “The real challenges we face are on the policy side since there is nothing holding us back technically, but there are policies in Georgia that hold us back.”
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the United States has the technical potential to meet its current electricity needs more than 100 times over with solar energy and more than 10 times over with wind energy.
“The transportation sector provides serious challenges but also opportunities,” said Dr. Bert Bras. “We are moving away from the traditional combustion engine in the garage, now we have electric cars that are plugged in and part of a whole household of smart electric appliances that communicate with the electric grid.”
In Paris in December 2015, the nations of the world made a historic commitment to protect our climate, pledging efforts “to limit [global] temperature increase to 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels.” Advocates said a transition to 100 percent clean energy was critical to fulfilling the Paris climate agreement.
“We can have healthier and more economically vibrant communities right now, and a livable future for our kids,” said Gayer. “But to get there, we need to transform the way we produce and consume energy. The good news is that 100 percent renewable is 100 percent possible.”