Renewable Parity

The topic of parity between renewables and fossil fuels has come up fairly regularly in the various sustainability activities in which I've participated. Relatively small, isolated markets like Hawaii passed that threshold some time ago. The focus on cost is understandable but it misses two important issues that are touched on in this article:
First, it appears that the volatility of fossil fuel prices and supplies will only continue to increase. Exposure to that risk isn't good for anyone's bottom line. Second, it is hard to get your head around the implications of solar and wind behaving as technologies. TVs might be a good example. We paid $1,200 for a mid-range 42" plasma TV in 2007. The most similar model I could find on Fry's is listed for $196 and uses less power. For solar, it means the last price you heard is probably high by at least 10%. The remote geography of wind and large-scale solar has hidden this transition from most of us, but it is happening nonetheless. The most intriguing statement comes at the end of the article, from scientist David Fridley:
Yes, we can have a renewable world, but it’s not really going to look like the world we have today,” says Fridley. “It could be a better world to live in, it could be a much worse world to live in, depending on many of the decisions we make in the next decade or two.
I'd revise this slightly to say we will have a renewable world, and fairly soon, but it will be very different. Batteries tend to disappoint and breakthroughs in other forms of energy storage and next-generation nuclear are decades away from being ready for large-scale deployment (assuming government research expenditures continue near current levels). In the meantime, we may have to live within the power envelope that can be provided by wind and solar, only relying on fossil fuels when the dips threaten life safety. During those dips, your building will be your power plant. Only organizations that have invested in highly efficient facilities with on-site generation will be able to ensure continuous operations. They will also need a deep understanding of how and why they use energy. It takes years to construct or renovate buildings. It takes even longer to change organizational behavior. Those investments need to occur soon if they are to be ready to respond to this challenge when it arises.

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