Although some of the U.S. federal government’s policies have now returned to increasing the use of fossil fuels, Texas and other states are speeding ahead on their own to develop renewable energy anyway. And they're making significant strides. The largest percentages of power produced and used by states from renewable sources are in Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, and North and South Dakota. But, Texas produces the largest quantity of power from renewable sources.
Texas has far surpassed its renewable energy production goals set in 1999, and its reset goals of 2005. In fact, the state currently produces more wind-sourced electrical energy than the majority of countries. Outside of Austin, TX, a town called Georgetown, TX has a population of 50,000 and is now powered entirely by renewable energy. The town made the transition in 2012, due to long-term cost considerations, including the fact that wind can offer greater price stability than oil and gas over time.
Georgetown stands as a possible forerunner of the future of renewable use by towns throughout Texas. And, though the town's transformation was to all-wind power, it serves as an exceptional indicator of what is possible in terms of more a mixed profile of renewables use across the entire U.S. and the world.
Progress on other fronts measured in the 2016 report includes:
- Wind power provided 50% of the electricity used in multiple Great Plains states of the U.S., a record high. Their high rate of renewable energy usage in these states that are leading in renewable usage is due to their strong understanding of both the environmental and economic benefits of using renewable sources.
- Iowa, another leader in both wind and solar has vast resources, which it sells to its neighbors in Wisconsin and Illinois. Both of the latter states have policies prioritizing the use of renewable energy sources, which have created a strong regional market for clean energy.
The incomparable scalability of renewables drives energy costs down over time after the initial capital investment has been made. More than 90% of the cost of renewable energy production is in the build and launch of operations to produce energy from renewables. After startup, the fuel is free. As more capacity is developed, the per-unit cost of energy production drops, as with any other scalable product. Solar and wind costs are already dropping, and solar is positioned to become the world's cheapest power source within just a few more years, even lower than coal, per a recent Bloomberg News report.
The total amount of solar energy currently being produced can meet all electrical energy needs for five million homes. To put that in perspective, consider that around 29 states have population totals below five million people. So, enough solar power is now produced in the country to provide for all electrical energy needs of all homes in 29 of the 50 states. That fact marks good progress of solar energy recognition and adoption across the country.
Compensating for Renewable Energy Inconsistency
As mentioned, one complaint against renewable energy sources is that they can be inconsistent in delivery. Depending entirely on solar or wind sourcing places people at risk of insufficient electricity when they need it due to weather conditions. Fortunately, storage technologies have advanced quickly in the past 10 years.
Some states, such as Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania have increased their renewable energy storage capacities with batteries that enable power to be used at night or on rainy days. (Higher capacity batteries also make electric cars and other items more efficient to use, extending their usability for greater periods of time between charges.)