Could renewable energy soon be reaching a tipping point?

Solar powerA giant Swiss investment  bank thinks so. As the good folks at Think Progress point out in this story, the bank, UBS, has issued a new report in which it concludes that Europe may soon be approaching the point at which “large-scale, centralized electricity generation from fossil fuels could be a thing of the past.”

The reason for this incredibly hopeful prospect is pretty straightforward: “a three pronged assault from solar power, battery technology, and electric vehicles…will render obsolete traditional power generation by large utilities that rely on coal or natural gas.” Talk about a great response to the problem of coal ash production!

Meanwhile, here in the states, activists and entrepreneurs continue to make important inroads in advancing the cause of renewables despite the stubborn resistance of giant fossil fuel companies and the politicians and right-wing “think tanks” on their payrolls. A classic and hopeful example was in my email inbox this morning from the state chapter of the Sierra Club:

“Clean Energy For Raleigh” kicks-off program to fast track solar and energy efficiency for homeowners and businesses

RALEIGH – Clean Energy For Raleigh (CE4R), a ground-breaking community-based program that makes the adoption of solar power and energy efficiency upgrades cheaper and easier, has made its way to Raleigh.

“This model blows away the three biggest barriers to adopting clean energy – cost, red-tape, and inaction,” said Chelsea Barnes, the CE4R community coordinator and a volunteer with the NC Sierra Club Capital Group, the program’s sponsor.

“Over the past year in Asheville, this program has resulted in 74 solar contracts and 20 energy efficiency contracts. That’s remarkable – not just for cutting pollution and saving people money but also for fast-tracking the clean energy economy,” said Barnes.

The CE4R campaign will provide free home energy audits on a first-come, first-served basis to everyone who qualifies for the program, as well as citywide discounted pricing on solar for those who decide to take that step. “A thorough energy audit normally costs between $200-$300 and shows the building owner what they can do to increase efficiency, building performance, and air quality.”

CE4R enlists community volunteers and neighborhood leaders to help spread the word about the program. The program has already chosen reputable, local clean energy companies through a competitive selection process and scheduled free educational events on September 22, October 14, and November 16 for the public to learn about the technologies, meet the installers and finance partners, ask questions, and get the details about tax incentives and utility rebates.

“The first step is for people to visit our website at www.cleanenergyfor.us/clean-energy-for-raleigh and fill out the assessment form to enroll in the program. There is no cost or obligation when you enroll,” said Barnes.

The enrollment period for the free energy audit and discounted solar pricing runs from September 3 to November 14, 2014.

The CE4R solar installers include Yes! Solar Solutions and Southern Energy Management. Energy Savers of NC will provide expert installation of residential energy-saving measures such as duct-sealing and insulation. Energy Investment Partners will work with commercial participants to select and implement energy conservation investments.

The program is sponsored by the NC Sierra Club Capital Group, part of the largest, oldest, and most effective environmental organization in the country. Please contact Chelsea Barnes for more information or to volunteer with the campaign.

Chelsea Barnes
CE4R Community Coordinator
Co-Chair, Sierra Club Capital Group



  1. Alex

    August 26, 2014 at 9:49 am

    It’s a complete pipe dream to think that renewables can replace fossil fuels in the next 15 or 20 years with current technologies. One of the leading authorities had this to say:

    “Walter Youngquist, PhD, Emeritus Chair of the Department of Geology at the University of Oregon at Portland, stated the following in his article “Spending Our Great Inheritance; Then What,” in The Social Contract:
    “Ethanol is a net energy loss – it takes 70 percent more energy to produce than is obtained from the product itself. Other biomass resources show, at best, very low net energy recovery…
    The two most popularly suggested energy alternatives, wind and solar, suffer because they’re undependable, intermittent sources of energy, and the end product is electricity. We have no way to store large amounts of electricity for use when wind and sunshine are not with us. Geothermal and tidal energy are insignificant energy sources in total but can be locally important. Nuclear energy can be a large power source if the safety aspects can be guaranteed (and this may be possible) — but again, the end product is electricity. There is no battery pack even remotely in sight that would supply the energy needed to effectively power bulldozers, heavy agricultural equipment such as tractors and combines, or 18-wheelers hauling freight cross-country.
    Can electricity be used to obtain hydrogen as a fuel from water? It can, but hydrogen is difficult to store and dangerous to handle. And there is no energy system now visualized to replace kerosene jet fuel, which propels a Boeing 747 about 600 miles an hour nonstop on the 14-hour trip from New York to Capetown (currently the longest plane flight). We continue to seek the holy grail of energy – fusion – but containing the heat of the sun at 10 million degrees Centigrade is still only a far-off hope.”

  2. Alan

    August 26, 2014 at 10:34 am

    Well ALEC,

    I don’t think anyone is advocating the entire replacement of fossil fuels in the next 15-20 years. Solar is undependable? Not so, solar panels have been in use for decades, it’s not exactly a new technology. Nowhere in this post was anything stated about bulldozers or tractors, or aircraft??? What’s the relevance?
    There is no such thing as guaranteed safety with nuclear, Fukushima being the latest example of that.

  3. gregflynn

    August 26, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    As to be expected “Alex” provides a strawman argument with text out of context and without attribution. Nobody’s claiming renewables will replace fossil fuels in the next 15 or 20 years. Here’s a link to the full 2005 article: Spending Our Great Inheritance; Then What? by Walter Youngquist

    Oil production will not decline abruptly. We are simply about to run out of the cheap oil we have enjoyed. This gives us time to develop as many alternatives as possible and to think about changing consumption patterns and lifestyles (such as increased use of mass transit), to arrange for a “soft landing,” in the post-petroleum era. However, with the peak of world oil production now clearly in sight, the time to begin to make adjustments is now.

    Younquist’s premise is that sometime in the next 100 years there will be a steep decline in fossil fuel resources, that current renewables will not readily fill the gap, and that renewables can help postpone the gap to buy some time for solutions we should be working on now.

  4. Heather Rayburn

    August 26, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Thank you so much for highlighting this program. We’ve had great success with it in Buncombe County. I’d like to direct you to one of our recent blog posts that describes “net metering” in NC and its importance in bringing solar to the tipping point:

    “Here’s the bottom-line: net metering makes the economics of solar work in North Carolina. It’s big news that a utility in such an extremely conservative and coal-dominated state like Mississippi has agreed to back off the net metering attack and expand solar. And yet, in our own state, Duke Power (a company that turned a $2.3 billion profit in 2013) continues to try to squash solar in N.C. by attacking net metering with their lobbying efforts.”

    A call to action to save net metering

  5. Alex

    August 26, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Articles like the one above “Greg” always paint a more optimistic picture for renewables than the actual results. Even with all of the hoopla on wind and solar, they are a mere pittance of our total energy needs on a daily basis. The war on coal has reduced a very cost effective and abundant source of our overall electric production. Natural gas, though cleaner and less costly, has supply problems and creates many environmental concerns.Coupled with the unrest in the Middle East and lack of domestic drilling, we are setting ourselves up for major shortages. To think that renewables can bridge this gap in the short run is just foolish optimism in my opinion. I totally support renewables but the country neither has the will nor the capital to do this quickly enough.

  6. BenjaminG

    August 26, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    Renewables are ready. Many middle class families can upgrade their home’s energy efficiency and install solar panels to meet their energy needs and even to power an electric car. Yes, it’s a sizable investment, but one that pays off in reduced bills, increased equity and comfort, and lower pollution. People pay tens of thousands for a new kitchen or a new car – if they chose they can switch to clean energy.

    It’s true we will not be a fossil fuel free society in 15-20 years, but the longest journey starts with a single step.

    Coal imposes huge costs on society from pollution: lung disease, heart disease, cancer, and, yes, global warming. We benefit greatly every time an old coal plant is shut down and replaced with efficiency and clean energy.

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