Why does the renewable revolution keep roaring ahead faster than even the experts expect? The reasons are diverse and worth highlighting. It reflects a global aversion to fossil fuel use and a realization that independent of the massive harm they inflict on humans and the planet, fossil fuels are a finite energy source that must be replaced. It reflects energy research and development funding from governments as well as policies to make renewable energy more competitive, like renewable energy tax credits and subsidies, feed-in tariffs, and competitive auctions. It reflects the efforts of entrepreneurs and researchers who have dedicated their careers to making renewable energy technologies better and cheaper. And above all, it reflects positive feedback loops that should continue to drive down the costs of renewable energy.
Fossil fuels are resources. A lump of coal or a barrel of oil can’t really be innovated into a superior form. As such, the fundamental economics of resources like oil or timber, or wheat can’t materially improve over time. Ultimately, a log is a log, and a lump of coal is a lump of coal.
In contrast, sources of renewable energy like solar and wind are technologies. Unlike resources, technologies have learning curves. We can get better at making technologies over time. This means deploying more of them makes them cheaper. Think of how much cheaper certain consumer technologies have gotten over the years, from T.V.s to computer monitors to light bulbs.
"As Technologies like renewable energy get cheaper, more companies adopt them, and that bleeds into the political sphere and beyond."
As technologies like renewable energy get cheaper, more companies adopt them, and that bleeds into the political sphere and beyond. Robinson Meyer, a climate writer at The Atlantic, calls this process “the green vortex.”
Meyer writes that the green vortex has already gotten some results, including the aforementioned price declines of solar and wind energy. Another one is the global electric vehicle (E.V.) revolution. According to a Bloomberg analysis of E.V. adoption rates around the world, when a country sees 5% of its new car sales powered only by electricity, technological preferences flip, and mass E.V. adoption ensues. The most recent country to surpass that threshold was the United States, where Bloomberg projects a quarter of new car sales could be electric by 2025. Combined with existing plans for major automakers like Volkswagen, Ford, and BMW to overhaul their fleets in favor of electric vehicles, it appears an E.V. green vortex is accelerating around the world.
In short, this year’s supply chain crisis might disrupt the progress of the green vortex a little bit, but these positive trends are here to stay.