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green@work : Magazine : Between Blue & Yellow : Fall 2004

Between Blue and Yellow
The Next Best Thing

by Katie Sosnowchik

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 wouldn’t 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 billion—about one-sixth of total global investment in power generation equipment—was 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 today’s 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 communication—technology 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 don’t. 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.


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