California Continues To Lead U.S. In Green Technology

Breaking Energy was honored to be included in the recent North American Student Energy Summit held in New York City. Author and environmental activist Bill Hewitt and Breaking Energy’s Managing Editor Jared Anderson helped out with the Role of Media in Energy interactive breakout session in which students formulated blog posts about an important energy issue.

Students were asked to write about the following question: “Have there been any recent political and social developments that indicate significant movement towards fully decarbonized and denuclearized economies globally in the foreseeable future?” We selected the following post for publication on Breaking Energy:

“If properly harnessed, there is enough sunlight that falls on the Earth in just one hour to meet the world energy demands for a whole year,” explained Dr. Mark Jacobson, founder of The Solutions Project, to an audience of over 300 students at the first ever North American Student Energy Summit (NASES) held in New York City. Innovators and energy leaders like Jacobson, whose Solutions Project aims to power the United States on 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, along with policy makers and journalists, took the stage to present their work in the energy sector and answer challenging questions from the cross-disciplinary body of students in attendance.

As the subject of renewable energy makes its way into college curricula and news headlines –  and as we witness rising tides and an increasing number of storms – it has become more and more apparent that we live in a world of environmental thresholds. More than ever before, students are motivated to act to reduce the level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and prevent further environmental destruction.

NASES, which was held on June 19-20,, 2014 at the United Nations and Columbia University, was one of four Regional Student Energy Summits taking place simultaneously around the world in Africa, Latin America, North America and Europe. The inaugural events, organized by nonprofit group Student Energy, aimed to connect approximately 1,200 students around the globe and inspire them to tackle the energy issues facing their nations. The issues are vast and entrenched, but the speakers at NASES were optimistic, they urged the young audience to steer the movement away from fossil fuels, as Carbon War Room COO, Peter Boyd, simply summarized it: “Go efficient and go renewable.”

Efficiency has been a driving force across all sectors during our lifetimes. In the U.S., policies now require all federal agencies to purchase only Energy Star and Federal Energy Management Program-designated products and for all new agency buildings to be constructed with LEED Gold standards in mind, setting a powerful example. On the social scale, the rise in popularity of the collaborative consumption movement has enabled the international success of sharing economy giants such as Airbnb and ZipCar, encouraging the maximized use of existing resources rather than wasteful acquisition of new products. Even the energy sector is learning lessons from sharing: a company called Sunrun leases out solar panels to homeowners in 11 states, providing users the benefit of lower energy bills and a clean source of electricity, without the often high initial installation costs.

The global community is implementing clean, renewable energy into existing and new infrastructure at unprecedented levels. “With every passing month, renewables become the most economical option in an ever greater number of places. Clean energy markets are scaling fast, with government incentives, economies of scale, and decreased production costs all factoring into the accelerating momentum for the industry,” noted Nick Blitterswyk, CEO of Urban Green Energy (UGE), a worldwide distributed renewable energy company.

The green energy sector has shown consistent growth in U.S., with 74% of electricity installations in the first quarter of 2014 being solar, and the first offshore wind farm approved this year off the coast of Massachusetts, the world’s second largest energy consumer is making great strides towards lowering carbon emissions and fulfilling the new EPA requirements of cutting carbon emissions by 30 percent of 2005 levels by 2030.

Although China has caused major unease with the proliferation of coal power plants, the government of the leading energy consumer has invested heavily in renewable energy ($54 billion in investments in renewables in 2013 compared to U.S. investment of $36.7 billion) and is leading the world in installed wind power. In Europe, Germany has set a goal to produce 35 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and 100 percent by 2050 and just this month for the first time, was able to meet 50 percent of the country’s energy demand with solar.

Some islands are also at the forefront of the carbon-free, nuclear-free movement. Floreana island in the Galapagos and El Hierro in the Canary islands have already transitioned to 100 percent renewable energy and many other island nations plan to follow in their footsteps. These and other advancements towards a global divestment in carbon and nuclear technologies will be discussed at the upcoming September UN Climate Summit in New York, in preparation for the 2015 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, where countries are expected to make strong commitments towards a low carbon future.

The students at NASES appear ready and willing to take on the speakers’ challenges. A glimpse into the United Nations Sustainable Energy Innovation Jam breakout session, shows they are well prepared. With only 90 seconds to pitch an innovative energy idea to a panel of experts from Sustainable Energy For All, including Blitterswyk of UGE and other experts, attendees presented diverse projects with high potential for improving our energy future. From the “low hanging fruit” of converting organic waste to energy in an urban metropolis such as New York City, a solution offered by John Ortolano of Columbia University and Earl Co of NYU, to the prospect of using satellite technology to assess viability of greenroof construction on urban buildings, proposed by Columbia graduate Alan Burchell, the ideas were applauded by the judges for their creativity and feasibility. “The technology is already in place,” said Co, “we just need policy to put it into action.”