Imagine if the development
of a single technology could help improve global air and water quality
and help mitigate the disastrous effects of global climate change.
Imagine if that same technology could create a new industry and
thus new jobs, especially in developing countries, helping to elevate
thousands above the poverty conditions in which they now live. Imagine
if that new technology could also help make the world safer and
more stable. Finally, imagine if the primary raw materials needed
to operate this new technology were infinite and, best of all, free.
Just imagine . . . if such a technology existed, who wouldnt
wholeheartedly embrace it as the next best thing to sliced bread?
Actually, the technology described here does exist today and is
available in the form of clean renewable energy, most especially
that powered by the sun and wind. And though today it represents
just a minute portion of the energy used worldwide, the recognition
and support it is receiving from all corners of the globe will not
keep it at those numbers for long. In fact, according to a new study
from the Worldwatch Institute, solar power generation has more than
tripled globally in the past five years, and wind power generation
has nearly quadrupled. In 2003, an estimated $20.3 billionabout
one-sixth of total global investment in power generation equipmentwas
invested in new renewables. Within the next decade, this is expected
to approach $85 billion annually.
Renewable energy is on a roll.
The growth rates of some renewables are closer to those of computers
than the single-digit growth rates of todays energy economies,
describes Janet Sawin, author of the Worldwatch study. Some
people dismiss this rapid growth rate in an industry they consider
tiny, but this thinking is short-sighted and mirrors the attitude
of IBM toward Microsoft in the early 1980s, she says. Indeed,
comparisons also could be drawn to the resistance some people had
against fax machines, personal computers or wireless communicationtechnology
we would be hard pressed to do without today.
Those who argue against renewable energy and for a status quo energy
industry grounded in fossil fuel use cite the huge investments that
are required to develop these new technologies, their corresponding
infrastructure and to bring costs down. But in a world facing accelerating
global energy demand and rising concerns about energy supplies and
environmental impacts, do we really have any choice?
Thousands of residents in Florida say we dont. Since Florida
Power & Light rolled out its Sunshine Energy program in February
of this year, nearly 6,000 residents have signed up for it, readily
agreeing to pay the additional $9.75 a month for 1,000 kilowatt
hours of renewable energy. That success rate earned the program
the distinction as the fastest-growing alternative energy program
in the Southeast. In terms of customer participation, the program
is second in the Southeast, and is on track to be among the top
10 in the nation, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Many say that long-term systemic change is only possible with big
picture thinking at the highest level. I would argue that recent
events of a global nature are prompting that kind of thinking on
the grassroots level. Six thousands residents in Florida have proven
just that, as have thousands in other states like California, Tennessee,
Texas, Oregon and Washington. Think globally, act locally,
is the mantra of our times. I believe the way to change the world
is to begin with our own little slice of it.