Big Customers Demand 100 Percent Renewables—and Utilities Look Set to Deliver

Academics argue about its feasibility, but governments and corporations set their sights on a completely renewable future

4 min read
Photo: Hawaiian Electric
Renewables in Paradise: The electric grid on the Hawaiian island of Molokai is expected to run completely on renewable energy in 2020.
Photo: Hawaiian Electric

In June, energy experts were clashingin both tweets and peer-reviewed journals over the feasibility of the United States achieving a 100-percent-renewable power grid in 2050. Many governments, utilities, and big consumers, however, appear unwilling to wait for the engineers’ all clear: An increasing number of jurisdictions and institutions are setting deadlines for a jump to a 100-percent-renewable electricity grid or even beyond, to fossil-fuel-free heating and roadways as well.

The impetus for this all-renewables movement is the increasingly clear danger posed by climate change. Scientists and policy experts warn that global greenhouse gas emissions—currently plateaued at 41 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide per year—must start dropping within just a few years. If they do not, the global warming limit settled upon in the Paris Agreement in 2015 will “become almost unattainable,” according to recent commentary in the journal Nature.

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Practical Power Beaming Gets Real

A century later, Nikola Tesla’s dream comes true

8 min read
This nighttime outdoor image, with city lights in the background, shows a narrow beam of light shining on a circular receiver that is positioned on the top of a pole.

A power-beaming system developed by PowerLight Technologies conveyed hundreds of watts of power during a 2019 demonstration at the Port of Seattle.

PowerLight Technologies

Wires have a lot going for them when it comes to moving electric power around, but they have their drawbacks too. Who, after all, hasn’t tired of having to plug in and unplug their phone and other rechargeable gizmos? It’s a nuisance.

Wires also challenge electric utilities: These companies must take pains to boost the voltage they apply to their transmission cables to very high values to avoid dissipating most of the power along the way. And when it comes to powering public transportation, including electric trains and trams, wires need to be used in tandem with rolling or sliding contacts, which are troublesome to maintain, can spark, and in some settings will generate problematic contaminants.

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