Not all doom and gloom…

By Max Mace, Communications team intern
Following last year’s seismic global changes and despite the uncertainty that lies ahead, it’s not all doom and gloom particularly when it comes to clean energy.

First things first.  Yes, President Trump - the man who once claimed that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese - in his first week of office signed an executive order supporting the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines.

And yes, he has picked climate change sceptic Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and Rick Perry to head up the Department of Energy, a man who stated during the 2011 presidential primaries that he would abolish it if he got the chance.

There’s no denying that it’s a hugely uncertain time, particularly when 2016 became earth’s hottest year on record.  

Here in the UK, the Department for Energy and Climate Change has been replaced by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; the future of the Green Investment Bank is in doubt; and Brexit has left us in a state of confusion over what EU energy policies we will maintain.

But hope is a precious commodity and there is nevertheless much to celebrate.  Most notably, there was the ratification last year of the historic Paris Agreement.  This was groundbreaking.  

It’s the first time that this many countries, 197 in total, have come together and agreed to take practical action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and strive to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

One of Obama’s last acts as President was to add $500 million to the Green Climate Fund in an attempt to protect the Paris Agreement.  And, in the first week of January, China’s national energy agency pledged to spend at least $360 billion on renewable energy by 2020 and now boasts the world’s biggest solar farm in the shape of a colossal 850 MW solar plant in Qinghai province.

Perhaps the most heartening news for 2017 is that renewable energy costs are continuing to fall sharply with the possibility that, in sunny places, solar may cost less than half the price of fossil fuel within a decade.  

Even in Britain, according to this recent article by Chris Goodall in The Guardian, the government now sees solar PV delivering electricity at less than 2% more than a new gas-fired power station in 2020.  

The article goes on to make the point that the cost of wind power also continues to drop.  For wind turbines installed in the North Sea, technology costs have fallen to prices that were not anticipated for another decade, whilst onshore wind in prime US locations is now two-thirds the cost of the cheapest new gas-fired power stations.  

This momentum should continue to snowball as in many countries clean energy no longer needs government subsidies and developing countries are now outstripping developed countries when it comes to investment in renewable energy.

Then there are exciting new innovations such as Tesla’s solar roofs, which CEO Elon Musk claims will cost less than an ordinary roof, and the rapid progress that is being made in the electric car market and energy storage batteries.

We have a long way to go to making the full transition to a low-carbon world but there are signs that we’re on the right path and 2017 may yet be the year that spells the end of the fossil fuel era.