Many of the best and brightest minds across the globe have put their heads together to find the answer to what is perhaps the most pressing question facing humanity today: How can we ensure affordable access to electricity for all through sustainable means?
The Open Working Group of the General Assembly of the United Nations has proposed sustainable development goals or SDGs to recognize the importance of our natural environment. SDG 7 strives to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” These different dimensions aren’t mutually exclusive, rather, they overlap.
There’s a clarity of purpose behind this push. The idea isn’t just to generate as much energy as possible without realizing the consequences that such rampant industrialization will have on the health of our planet.
That’s actually what has been going on for decades. In our relentless pursuit for growth, we’ve relied far too heavily on unclean sources of energy production such as coal and fossil fuel-powered generation plants.
Many scientists fear that the decades of emissions and environmental damage caused by these generation plants have irreparably damaged the health of our planet. A shift to more sustainable methods of power generation is the need of the hour.
Sustainable doesn’t always mean affordable. Newer technologies may not be as widespread so the cost of production can often be much higher than conventional power plants.
This can often deter both countries from investing in sustainable sources and consumers from opting for more sustainable and equitable energy suppliers.
Nevertheless, a lot of work has been done over the past couple of decades to bring sustainable and affordable power within the reach of the masses.
What is the cheapest form of renewable energy?
Solar energy is the cheapest form of renewable energy. This was proclaimed in the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2020. The 464-page document states that solar is the cheapest form of electricity for utility companies to build.
The cost per megawatt to build solar plants has dropped below fossil fuels globally for the first time. This was been made possible due to policies favoring solar power generation including easier access to financing.
The report shows that solar power is between 20-50% cheaper today than what the IEA had estimated in 2019’s outlook. “For projects with low-cost financing that tap high-quality resources, solar PV is now the cheapest source of electricity in history,” it added.
New utility-scale solar power projects cost between $30-60/MWh in Europe and the United States while the cost ranges from $20-40/MWh in China and India. These are the lowest figures achieved so far and they’re only projected to decline further in the future.
Solar power has always held great promise to be utilized as one of the primary sources of renewable energy. The panel and battery technologies required for the effective conservation of solar panels have greatly advanced as well.
Their efficiency is at the highest it has ever been while prices have also reduced, enabling the average homeowner to make the shift to solar as well without having to make a significant investment upfront.
What is the cheapest source of energy?
For the longest time, coal has been the cheapest form of energy. Burning coal to produce electricity can also be incredibly harmful to the environment.
Renewable energy sources are now able to account for a much larger share of the power section. These low-carbon alternatives are capable of producing the same amount of power at a lower cost.
Solar and onshore wind turbines are now the cheapest sources of energy. The declines in wind turbine prices have significantly reduced the prices for onshore wind. The global weighted average cost of electricity of new onshore wind farms in 2019 was USD 0.053/kWh.
For the most competitive projects, the costs were as low as USD 0.030/kWh without any financial support.
What makes it so difficult to find affordable, sustainable power sources?
Solar, wind, hydro, and biomass are the most common forms of sustainable power sources. While each happens to be renewable, they may not be necessarily sustainable. For them to be classified as such, they much meet environmental, social, and economic sustainability objectives.
A positive energy balance is required even with a renewable source for it to become a sustainable source. If the production of a renewable energy technology takes up more energy than it would produce in its lifetime, it’s not sustainable since it’s a net consumer of energy.
Similarly, mining for materials used to manufacture wind turbines can be equally as polluting as mining for coal. Complete ecosystems are submerged in many cases just to build hydropower dams. The social and economic sustainability objectives are an entirely separate matter.
The difficulty appears in trying to strike a balance. Sustainability and affordability need to be balanced with the means of production. Only then can these power sources be considered truly sustainable.
What are examples of sustainable energy?
Wind farms utilize turbines to capture the energy of wind flow which is then converted into electricity. Utility-scale farms can be set up to supplement grid energy requirements. Single-wind turbines can also be used to meet demand on a smaller scale.
The radiant energy from sunlight is captured and converted into electricity. It’s one of the cleanest and essentially limitless forms of renewable energy. Direct sunlight is converted by photovoltaic systems into electricity through solar cells.
This is a highly versatile example of sustainable energy. Massive projects like the Hoover dam utilize the movement of water to generate electricity on a large scale. The technology can also be used on a much smaller scale, with underwater turbines on streams and small rivers achieving the same objective.
The organic matter that comes from recently living plants and organisms is called Biomass. It can be utilized to create bioenergy. Biomass can be used in many different ways to generate electricity, either through burning or the harnessing of methane gas produced during the natural decomposition of organic materials.
While not used as widely as the other kinds of renewable energy, geothermal holds potential for energy supply. The geothermal heat is trapped beneath the earth’s crust since the formation of the planet billions of years ago. Large amounts of this heat often escape naturally in the form of volcanic eruptions. This heat can be captured and geothermal energy can be produced through it.
How can we promote affordable and clean energy?
Telling people about the damage that fossil fuels and conventional methods of energy generation have caused to our planet is an effective way of promoting affordable and clean energy.
The planet is warming up, the ice caps are melting, and entire ecosystems are on the verge of extinction. Events are already in motion that can’t be reversed. As a species, we must ponder over the state of the planet that we’ll leave behind for future generations.
Governments in many countries are now actively incentivizing their citizens to adopt clean energy. For example, homeowners with a solar generation setup can sell the excess energy produced back to the grid, thereby reducing their total energy bills.
Through the provision of further incentives and awareness campaigns, affordable and clean energy can be promoted more effectively.
Other ways to help the environment
One of the easiest ways to help the environment is to ensure that the money you keep in the bank isn’t used to fund fossil fuel projects that harm the planet.
Did you know that the four biggest banks in America lend over $240 billion of their customers’ money to fossil fuel projects annually?
Open a cash management account with Aspiration had had complete peace of mind that your money won’t be used to fund such projects. Aspiration remains 100% committed to clean money.
Aspiration also enables you to reforest while you shop by working with leading reforestation partners across the globe. A tree is planted every time you swipe your card, allowing you to support a significant carbon offset effort.