In a recent TED talk, former Vice President Al Gore laid out the case for optimism on climate change, and the root cause for the optimism turns out to be clean energy. Here are a few key points well worth highlighting. Of course, if you work in the cleantech industry, you already know much of this. Still, it's worth repeating and spreading to a broader audience, as many people are not aware of the extent to which (and how rapidly) cleantech is scaling up.
- Gore points out that "we are spewing 110 million tons of heat-trapping global warming pollution into [the atmosphere] every 24 hours," "free of charge" no less, and that the "heart of the problem" is that "we still rely on dirty, carbon-based fuels for 85% of all the energy that our world burns every year."
- Gore quotes Bank of England Governor Mark Carney that "The vast majority of [carbon] reserves are unburnable." Gore calls it "subprime carbon" and compares it to disastrous subprime mortgages.
- The good news is that we can change this situation through massive clean energy scaling, which is underway right now.
- For instance, Gore notes that we beat projections made back in 2000 for worldwide wind capacity in 2015 by a factor of 14.5 times. Even better, "we see an exponentional curve for wind installations...we see the cost coming down dramatically."
- "More good news: energy storage from batteries particularly is now beginning to take off because the cost has been coming down very dramatically to solve the intermittancy problem."
- "With solar, the news is even more exciting! The best projections 14 years ago were that we would install one gigawatt per year by 2010. When 2010 came around, we beat that mark by 17 times over. Last year, we beat it by 58 times over. This year, we're on track to beat it 68 times over."
- "The exponential curve on solar is even steeper and more dramatic. When I came to this stage 10 years ago, this is where it was. We have seen a revolutionary breakthrough in the emergence of these exponential curves."
- "We are seeing an explosion of new investment. Starting in 2010, investments globally in renewable electricity generation surpassed fossils. The gap has been growing ever since. The projections for the future are even more dramatic, even though fossil energy is now still subsidized at a rate 40 times larger than renewables."
- "Last year -- if you look at all of the investment in new electricity generation in the United States, almost three-quarters was from renewable energy, mostly wind and solar," while coal-fired power plants are being canceled left and right.
So, yes, we face a huge challenge related to climate change, but the bottom line is that we can solve it by continuing to do what's already well underway: scaling up solar, wind and other clean energy sources dramatically.