Global warming is a global issue. Recognizing this fact, the international community, starting with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro 1992, has tried to find a comprehensive global solution. Continuing through the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, the Paris Agreement in 2015 and the recently completed (2021) COP26 (the 26th UN Climate Change Conference) in Glasgow, there have been progress. However, the progress seems so far to be more of a deeper understanding of the problem and in setting ambitious targets than reaching a comprehensive solution with all nations committing to firm and specific actions to reduce emissions.
The problem not only remains but keeps growing. Carbon emissions continue to rise and accumulate in the atmosphere. Temperatures are inching up. Some countries have been successful reducing their emissions but taken together the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide are increasing.
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Achieving “zero carbon emissions” (see footnote) without compromising safety and reliability, while keeping costs affordable, is not a trivial task. Countries that have succeeded or have come close are countries with a dominant portion of hydro power, for example Norway, Island, Costa Rica, Brazil, Canada. Also, countries like France and Sweden, with a mix of nuclear and hydro have achieved over ninety percent of zero emissions.
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In 2017 natural gas fired power plants generated 32 % of the electricity in the United States. Coal fired power plants delivered about 30 % of all power, while nuclear delivered about 20 %. Nearly 20 % came from renewable energy sources, out of which 47 % came from hydro power plants and about 37 % came from wind turbines.
Eight years earlier, 2009, when the shale-gas revolution had started to take off, coal was the number one source, 44 % of all electric generation. Natural gas represented 23 % of the generation and nuclear was at 20 %. Renewable generation, basically hydro and wind, produced 10.5 % of the electric power. (EIA data).
Natural gas has replaced coal as the primary source of power generation. Nuclear is basically unchanged at 20 %, while renewables with the growth of wind and solar generation, has doubled and represents about the same proportion of the power generation as nuclear.
In an industry that traditionally changes slow it is a big shift that has happened fast.
The German Energiewende is the largest undertaking in the world to transition to renewable energy. Rightfully it is getting a lot of attention. There already many lessons to be learnt of what to do and also some of what not to do.
Smaller in magnitude but also well worth paying attention to are two American versions of Energiewende. One is a state, Hawaii, and the other is a city, Fort Collins, Colorado.