By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –
Big news on the wind power front. First, it has emerged in the US as the number one renewable energy source, generating more electricity than hydro-electric for the first time. This milestone came in 2016 after 8,727 megawatts (MW) of new wind installations were activated. For all of the twentieth century, hydro-electric had been the largest source of renewable electricity generation. Wind generates 5.5 percent of US electricity today, a percentage that is destined to spiral up from there.
Already, Texas gets 12 percent of its electricity from wind and there’s no end in sight. The industry has created thousands of jobs. Megan Murat writes poignantly about these upwardly mobile West Texas working families suddenly able to send their kids to college and to afford new homes.
Think about it this way: All those things Trump promised American workers during the campaign and then reneged on? Wind really is fulfilling those promises! There are already 100,000 wind energy workers (only 80,000 coal workers), and that number will triple in the next few years. By 2020, in only three years from now, Texas is slated to be the world’s fourth wind power giant after China, the US as a whole, and Germany.
So get this. The companies TenneT and Energienet.dk are planning to create two artificial islands in the North Sea and put enough wind turbines on them to generate 100,000 megawatts of power. High powered transmission lines will then take the electricity to Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, Norway and Belgium. The exchange they are constructing for this purpose will allow these countries to trade electricity more easily.
Not only is wind powering homes, but there is now a move use wind turbines to propel big ships on the high seas. It is estimated that they could cut 10 to 15 percent off the fuel bill for cargo ships. Ironically, Royal Dutch Shell is one of the investors here. Shipping is responsible for as much as 4 percent of greenhouse emissions worldwide, and a single huge container ship can equal the emissions of millions of automobiles. So switching them over to solar and wind power is important to meet our goals of emissions reductions.
In February of 2017, Scottish wind turbines generated enough electricity every day to power 4 million homes. (Suck on that, Donald Trump). Here’s the kicker: Scotland only has 2.5 million homes. So the rest of the electricity went to England. And here’s an irony: The English Tory elite, who are in the back pocket of BP, are actually interfering in the greening of Scotland. Now that Scotland is seriously considering another vote on secession, both Brexit and England’s anti-renewables policies will loom large as considerations.
That’s right. The UK could break up in part because the English upper crust is stuck in the colonial 20th century and can’t let go of the glories of black gold.
Green energy is not only about how we get our electricity and is not only about forestalling climate change. It is altering our world, causing upward mobility in West Texas, causing massive infrastructure cooperation among the North Sea nations, and perhaps even reshaping entire countries.
One thing is sure. Leaders like Donald Trump who are not aboard the Renewable Energy Train are going to be left behind in the backwaters while others do the really big, earthshaking deals.