If you’re in the habit of looking upwards when you’re outdoors, you may have noticed a surprising number of homes in your neighborhood are featuring solar panels these days. In certain regions, you’ll see vast thrumming wind farms dotting miles of countryside with turbines. Why is everybody going crazy for renewable energy these days?
Rising Environmental Sensitivity
Speaking very broadly, we’re all a lot more environmentally conscious than we were just ten years ago. Individual consumers and homeowners have developed a keen interest in minimizing their environmental impact, and many of them with the financial resources to do so are willing to pay a premium for power that comes from sustainable sources.
This greater awareness of environmental issues has had an impact at an industrial scale, too. Energy companies have realized they have a growing market of customers out there who will pay more for energy harvested from clean, renewable sources. They haven’t been idle in developing the capacity needed to supply this demand.
While the technologies required to harness solar and wind power have gotten a lot more efficient and a lot more affordable, they’re still not quite at a point where they can compete directly with the most common fossil fuels used for power generation (coal, oil, and natural gas). They’ve made impressive strides towards covering the price gap, though.
Many governments around the world have stepped in to help squeeze the gap even narrower. In the United States, there are multiple subsidies, incentives, and tax credits available to both homeowners and energy providers to encourage them to make use of renewable energy. For instance, Illinois solar customers can benefit from tax breaks and incentives to the tune of thousands of dollars. These benefits are often, as designed, enough to tip the economic scales in favor of “green” energy.
Even without the incentive programs described above, many industrial energy providers are turning to renewable sources of their own volition. This is basically a response to a smart reading of trends in the energy industry and to the current volatility of the energy market. The last few years have demonstrated that the cost of energy generated from fossil fuels is fluctuating wildly. Although the cost of renewable energy is currently higher, its long-term trend — a continual downward slope — is a lot easier to work with then the spikes and valleys of the fossil fuel market.
Energy companies are also capable of reading the writing on the wall. They know as well as anyone — better than most people, in fact — that fossil fuel extraction is only going to get more expensive in the future. They also know that the opposite is true when it comes to harvesting renewable energy. Companies that invest in renewable technologies now are essentially “future proofing” their businesses and ensuring that they will be profitable in the distant future.
Whether or not the shift towards renewable power is happening fast enough is a question that’s open for debate. What is undeniable at this point is that the shift is already well underway. It’s not too hard to understand why when you take a moment to look at the dramatic way the energy market has shifted in the past few decades.