What's Next for Technology and Renewable Energy?

Ahead of the start of weeklong global climate change protests that began on Sept. 20, Amazon, Google, AT&T and other technology companies pledged unprecedented new commitments to renewable energy.

by / September 22, 2019

A weeklong global climate change strike began on Sept. 20, 2019, with millions of young protestors participating.

CBS News reported: “The protests have been organized by young people around the world who are part of the "Fridays for Future" campaign, which has seen students walk out of their schools on Fridays to demand their political leaders take urgent action to address climate change.”

These “climate strike walkouts” details are captured in detail at the website: https://globalclimatestrike.net/

Here’s the headline message when you arrive at the portal: “This week will be historic. In over 150 countries, people are stepping up to support young climate strikers and demand an end to the age of fossil fuels. The climate crisis won’t wait, so neither will we. …”

Vox offered numerous climate strike pictures from around the planet, showing large crowds of protestors in dozens of countries.  

Big Tech Goes All-in for Renewable Energy

And yet, despite criticism regarding a lack of action from employees and students, Amazon, Google and many other technology companies are leading the way in new commitments to renewable energy.

TheVerge.com reported: “Amazon’s plan to fight climate change, called ‘The Climate Pledge,’ promises to reach the Paris climate agreement’s most ambitious emissions-cutting targets ten years early, setting the company up to be carbon-neutral by 2040. Bezos also laid out other goals, like for Amazon to use 80 percent renewable energy by 2024 and to run on renewables alone by 2030.”

Meanwhile, AT&T also announced new renewable energy purchases: “Today, as part of Climate Week NYC 2019, AT&T announced that our renewable energy purchases will surpass 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of clean energy capacity with the addition of new Virtual Power Purchase Agreements (VPPAs) with Invenergy and Duke Energy Renewables. The new deals will support new wind and solar projects, and help solidify AT&T’s position as one of the largest corporate purchasers of renewable energy in the U.S.

Not to be outdone, Google announced 18 new renewable energy deals: “Google today announced its largest package of renewable energy deals yet. Worth a total of 1,600-megawatts, the package includes 18 deals in the U.S., Chile and Europe. This brings Google’s current set of wind and solar agreements to about 5,500 megawatts (MW) and the company’s number of total renewables projects it’s involved in to 52. Google argues that these new projects it announced today will drive about $2 billion in investments in new energy infrastructure.

In the U.S., Google says it’ll purchase a total of 720 MW from solar farms in North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. In Chile, it’s buying an additional 125 MW to power its data center there. For reasons only known to Google PR, the company will only announce details of its plans for Europe tomorrow, at an event in Finland, where Google CEO Sundar Pichai will be present.”

Engadget.com called these Google actions a “record-breaking investment in renewable energy.”

TheVerge.com reported that: “Google’s purchase includes a 1,600-megawatt package of wind and solar agreements and 18 new energy deals, increasing the company’s agreements by 40 percent, according to Google. More than $2 billion will go to building out new infrastructure across the United States, Europe, and Chile as well. This purchase is ‘equivalent to the capacity of a million solar rooftops,’ Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai said in a blog post Thursday.”

CNBC reported that renewable energy is now a compelling alternative, as it costs less than fossil fuels.

  • “Investments in clean energy technology are increasing, which means that such new sources of fuel are becoming more cost efficient, said Michael Milken, chairman of think tank Milken Institute.
  • ‘The state that has the lowest cost energy, Texas, is the state in the United States that has the largest amount of wind power,’ said Milken.
  • Renewable energy sources from hydropower and solar energy to wind are now taking off in a big way, defying critics in the U.S. who just a decade ago were skeptical about those new energy sources, he pointed out.”

Recent Technology Breakthroughs

Recently, there have been some significant technological breakthroughs in renewable energy as well. IEEE offers a report stating that liquid air could store renewable energy and cut food industry emissions.

“Keeping food cold is an energy-gobbling endeavor. Refrigerated food warehouses and factories consume immense amounts of energy, and this cooling demand is expected to increase as the climate warms while global incomes and food consumption rise. A team of researchers and companies in Europe are now developing a cryogenic energy storage system that could reduce carbon emissions from the food sector while providing a convenient way to store wind and solar power. …”

This story from Space.com tells how a new device can make renewable energy from the cold night sky.

Here's an excerpt: “A new thermoelectric device can generate electricity for an LED light bulb even during the blackest night, according to a report by researchers.

The secret is using a phenomenon known as radiative cooling, which happens when surfaces on the ground radiate heat into the atmosphere. This process can make a surface cooler than the air surrounding it, which explains why frost forms on grass even if the air temperature is above freezing. …”

Bloomberg offers this feature report on how solar and wind power are so cheap that they are outgrowing subsidies.

Challenges Ahead: Contradictory Messages

And yet, despite all of this new investment and aggressive action by top tech companies, huge challenges remain.

This PBS piece describes why transitioning to only renewable energy will be difficult for the USA.

Miles O’Brien says: “If you look at the slice of the pie right now that is renewables in the United States, it's about 17 percent. A little more than 7 percent of that is hydro, dams. There's no new rivers to dam up.

A little more than 6 percent of that is wind. A little more than 1 percent is solar. In order to get rid of all the fossil fuel production, which is about 63 percent of the pie, by 2050, one of the big things you have to solve is the issue of storage, the intermittency of wind power and solar.

When the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing, you're not generating electricity. We like to have our lights on 24/7/365. So that's a big issue that needs to be addressed.

And it raises questions about, where does nuclear power fit in the mix?”

And despite the major new actions by top tech companies, some naysayers claim that not enough is being done. Gizmodo says Amazon’s plan is full of gaping holes.

Nature.com reports:

“Greta Thunberg sat in front of the Swedish parliament in Stockholm last August for the first ever ‘school strike for climate’. One year on, the teenage activist’s Fridays for Future campaign has grown into a global movement involving people of all ages and backgrounds, including many scientists and scholars.

As government and business leaders flock to New York City for the United Nations Climate Summit next week, millions of people in hundreds of cities worldwide are expected to take to the streets today to demand stronger action on climate change. Commitments made so far by nations to the 2015 Paris agreement are unlikely to keep the rise in average global temperature below 1.5C.

Nature spoke with scientists striking in cities around the world about their motives and expectations. …”

(Note: You can read more on those comments at the link provided.)

Final Thoughts

The National Governors Association (NGA) has an exceptionally strong emphasis on energy conservation — e.g., Energy Policy Learning Network, the energy roadmap, Global Energy Solutions Summit and energy-related announcements every few weeks.

It is clear that major tech companies are taking important actions to lead the renewable energy charge around the world. They are making significant investments and commitments in new projects to address global renewable energy needs and address protestor demands.

Will it be enough? It depends on who you ask.

Nevertheless, while many scientists say no, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told reporters: “You can invent your way out of any box – and that’s what we humans need to do right now," he said. "I believe we’re going to do it. I’m sure we’re going to do it."

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