Fourteen researchers from the University of Utah, BYU and the University of Idaho published a comprehensive renewable energy report showing that the Beehive State has the potential to be a world leader in renewable energy production, storage, and manufacturing.
It pulls research from more than 300 studies, technical reports, and articles to provide a summary of how renewable energy is reforming the world and looking at how laws and regulations can be updated to allow Utah to benefit from advances in renewable energy.
Ben Abbott, Assistant professor of Ecosystem Ecology at BYU stated, “The rising cost of fossil fuels and the emergence of cheaper renewable energies is one of the main reasons that the energy landscape is changing. Renewables have been making huge advances both in their performance and their cost. It now is cheaper to produce power with solar and wind than any other energy source. It’s the cheapest electricity that’s ever been available to humankind — much cheaper than coal and even cheaper than natural gas.”
Due to advancements in technology, the obstacles of having non-sunny, non-windy days are no longer an issue when it comes to wind and solar energy because of five common approaches that are performing higher and operating cheaper. These approaches consist of expanding electricity transmission, increasing flexibility of supply and demand, building excess generation capacity to limit dips in renewable resources, deploying distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar and household batteries, and electrifying other economic sectors such as transportation, heating, and manufacturing. These have proven to be reliable and economically viable approaches.
Abbott states that even though this report shows the evidence and data supports a transition to renewable energy, we should not take jobs away from those who depend on the fossil fuel industry for their livelihoods. He states, “We need to really take a minute and thank the dedicated workers who have provided energy for our state and for our country,” he adds that his own father was a roughneck who worked in oil and gas extraction in New Mexico and states, “We need their expertise.”
He includes in the report that one approach to the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy would be to take a coal or gas plant that in in early retirement and turn it into a plant that would generate wind and solar energy. It costs less and would create jobs and liquidity in the economy. Specifically, Abbott talked about a law that allows cities in Utah to opt into 100% renewable agreements with Rocky Mountain Power. Additionally, he states Utah is an “all-of-the-above” energy state, meaning that the state supports and encourages multiple avenues of energy development. The problem with this, Abbott said, is that it creates an unfair playing field for renewables since fossil fuel producers aren’t paying the full price of the energy, they produce due to externalities like pollution caused by fossil fuels.
“The market-based way of fixing this would be to implement some kind of fee and dividend system for air pollution and carbon pollution, but the other way to do it would be to create a renewable portfolio standard at the state level,” Abbott said. “The market advantage is already there — renewables are winning, not only in the United States but around the world. We’ve just got to get our act together and start the revolution here.”
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