When climate activists talk about combating climate change, they often speak of relying exclusively on renewable energy. This energy comes from natural resources, like the wind, sunlight, and tides, that are not depleted when we capture energy from them. In the last decade, wind and solar power production, in particular, have increased dramatically with American wind energy jumping from 2.1 percent to 7.2 percent of the nation’s electricity and solar energy growing 40-fold since 2009.
Aggressive climate policies call on dramatically increasing the share of renewable energy but they often fail to describe what this would mean for the average American. The reality is that it is impossible to reach 100% renewable energy without radically transforming our economy and dangerously weakening our power grid.
We’ve already seen what this push for renewable energy does to a power grid: California has been facing an energy shortfall and looming blackouts (after experiencing them just last year and not fixing the issue) because lawmakers have pushed to rely more heavily on renewable energy. But not only does renewable energy make the power grid harder to manage, it also causes energy shortfalls when the energy isn’t actively being produced (the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, as happens every night). California was able to import energy from neighboring states when facing shortfalls but last year, they faced rolling blackouts during a heatwave that swept across the Western states because they had insufficient energy and their neighbors didn’t have enough excess to share.
Germany, too, provides a cautionary tale: the country has been at the forefront of clean energy implementation since being heralded as the “World’s First Major Renewable Energy Economy” back in 2009. In the first half of 2020, 48.7 percent of Germany’s power was produced by renewables. But this push for renewable energy led to skyrocketing energy prices for consumers, with prices rising by 50 percent in the 10 years between 2006 and 2017.
Now the Biden administration is hoping to lead an overhaul of our economy in the name of climate change. They recently released a blueprint that calls to increase our solar power from 4 percent of the nation’s electricity to 40 percent by 2035 and pushes for a wide variety of other aggressive climate policies.
Renewable energy has an important role to play in our energy future, but policymakers must be careful to not push it beyond its current capabilities. Until we have the necessary battery technology to store renewable energy to use when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, we must be careful to not rely too heavily on these energy sources.