We’re living in a time of great change. And when change occurs, the products and services that will be fading out don’t give up the ship.  When photovoltaic power became cheaper than coal a couple of years ago, it was a clear sign that coal, like buggy whips, would be fading from use.  Despite Trump’s efforts to bolster the coal industry, utilities are continuing to shut down coal-fired power plants.  Last year, Scotland closed its last one.

One of the arguments the fading energy source industries has been posing is that renewables fluctuate too much, thus inhibiting having a steady and stable power grid. Their desire to sell their product is understandable, and coal has been the lowest cost power resource for centuries.  But the demand for their product will fade, just as buggy whips are barely even a memory today.

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Three Countries Show

How Close We Are to

a Totally Green Grid


Juan Cole

Truthdig newsletter

Apr 09, 2018

The aspiration for a 100% green electricity grid is no longer a dream. It is regularly being achieved in the real world for weeks or months on end. This development is absolutely crucial, since burning fossil fuels at the rate we are burning them is rapidly changing the climate in ways that seriously harm our quality of life.

In this past March, Portugal not only generated enough electricity from renewables to power the whole country for the whole month, it actually produced extra electricity this way. Portugal is constructing an underwater cable to export green electricity to Morocco, and hopes to strengthen the links of its grid to Spain and France. But the important thing is that Portugal, a country of over 10 million people, may soon regularly avoid burning fossil fuels for making electricity nationally. 100% renewables are becoming normal.

Portugal has an advantage in that some 30% of its electricity comes from hydro. Still, if it had not invested heavily in wind and in re-engineering its national grid, it would not have a chance of getting to 100% renewables. Portugal still has enormous untapped wind and solar potential, too, and the costs of both are falling.

Scotland, with over 5 million people, got 68.1 percent of its electricity from renewables last year. In 2016, the percentage of electricity from renewables was only 54%. Scotland’s renewables percentage is 45% higher than the United Kingdom as a whole. Scotland is now perhaps the world leader in renewables, and has innovated recently in offshore, in-the-sea wind turbines. Much of the advance in green energy, however, has been driven by onshore wind. Britain in general also greatly increased its renewables generation last year, to over 28%, a record.

Costa Rica, a country of nearly 5 million, ran on renewables for 300 days of the past year. It has hydro and geothermal as well as having put in a lot of wind turbines. Costa Rica has a great deal of untapped solar potential, as well. There does not seem much doubt that the country can generate its electricity completely from renewables in the near future (its stated goal is 2021).

When the news broke about the 300-day record, some critics pointed out that Costa Rica still burns a lot of petroleum to fuel cars and trucks. The electricity sector is only one generator of heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas. The transport sector is also key. Costa Rica’s leaders heard the criticism.

The incoming president of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, says he is going to decarbonize the transportation sector, making electric cars and trucks standard in the country. (He is a prominent journalist and novelist, and cleverly represented decarbonization as a national achievement on the scale of the 1948 abolition of the army). India has made a similar pledge, and this goal appears to be shared by more and more environmentally conscious countries.

In general, the world invested more in solar energy than in coal, gas, and nuclear combined last year. The Portuguese, Scottish and Costa Rican advances are not even very dependent on solar, which suggests that a whole new wave of further renewables implementation is around the corner.

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The biggest message I see coming from this report: the trend is clear;  the world is moving, more and more every year, to a totally renewable form of power generation.  And the arguments against it are being proven wrong.

I still hear people saying that they’ll be adding photovoltaic panels to their roof “as soon as they become practical.” Our first Garden Atrium home, designed to be Net Zero, opened in 2002.  Having tiny power bills – or, in many months, no bill at all – seems very “practical.”

Change happens in a kind of bell curve fashion, with more adventurous people, the so-called “Early Adapters” who want to be “the first on their block,” taking the dive into some new technology first. Then, when the change still looks promising, the adapting wave grows, with the “Early Majority.”  That’s when prices come down and new brands appear.  When the majority has adapted, hitting what’s known as “the Tipping Point,” the technology in question becomes the new norm.

Eventually even the “Late Majority” and “Laggards” finally adapt, so they’re not the only ones on the block not to have the new technology.


“I guess it’s time for me to get my own phone

and not go to my neighbor to use theirs.”


At this point, photovoltaic power seems near the “Tipping Point.”

Our politicians – at all levels and from all parties – are being courted and campaign-funded by “Super-PACs” comprised of fading technologies. Industries that have growing demand don’t need to spend money on political favors as much;  their product is simply growing due to demand.  This phenomenon is likely more common in the U.S. than elsewhere because of our laws.  And we’re lagging the rest of the world more and more every year.

The change to renewable power that will reduce or eliminate destructive climate change will be a bottom-up process, relying on each of us to simply live – and drive – with renewable power.

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