Renewable Energy Now! is dedicated to providing research, education, information, networking, and advocacy on renewable energy and related areas, such as renewable energy storage, energy & climate policy. REN!’s goal is provide these services where are they are most needed and most suited to REN!’s capabilities, for example in improving the foundational scientific and technological knowledge of the professional renewable energy community, including both the commercial and advocacy sectors, both private and nonprofit.
REN! was founded by theoretical physicist and long-time renewable energy researcher, educator, and advocate, Dr. Ben Luce, who also serves as REN!’s Director and lead course instructor. REN! is also advised by an Advisory Board, who are highly active leaders in the renewable energy sector in their own right and active in REN!’s activities. REN!s broader activities are carried out the REN! Network, which consists of a network of renewable energy leaders and workers organized by REN!.
REN! is in the process of establishing formal non-profit and for-profit subdivisions to house its various functions. We welcome and gratefully accept donations but please be advised that these are not yet tax-deductible.
Although REN! is strongly focused on facilitating a (complete) renewable energy transition, we recognize that all aspects of sustainability are crucially important to the future of life on our planet, and we encourage those working in the renewable energy sector to closely coordinate and integrate their activities with those working with other sustainable technologies and practices, and environmental restoration, preservation, and protection.
Within the renewable energy sector, we place special focus on encouraging participants to take both a very comprehensive and ethical approach in their activities. This includes a conscious focus on Truly Responsible Renewable Energy Development, which means much more than just getting renewable energy and such installed. It means development that is:
- Environmentally sensitive: Just because it’s a renewable energy project doesn’t mean its appropriate for a given site or bioregion. There are many factors to take into account when pursuing development, and fortunately, due to the enormous size of renewable energy resources, particularly solar power, there is a great deal of inherent flexibility in renewable energy development. This means that many factors can in fact be taken into account in decision making without unreasonably limiting the amount of generation ultimately realized. We also emphasize that the more responsibly and sensitively done the development, the more it will be publicly accepted, and hence the more further (and hopefully equally responsible) development can occur. The role of advocates of renewable energy is therefore no longer just to promote renewable energy, but to guide development as well. Finally, we stress that this can be technically challenging to do, and sometimes requires difficult and unpopular choices. This then underlines the need for both well educated and deeply ethical renewable energy advocates and developers. Ethical developers are those that work proactively with communities, and strive to develop projects that are truly compatible with local social and environmental concerns. The attitude is well expressed in this article about planning a 100% (or nearly) RE transition for Canada.
- Economically sensible development: Just because it’s a renewable energy project doesn’t mean its economically well conceived, or equally competitive with other potential renewable energy projects.
- Socially Responsible: Just because it’s a renewable energy project doesn’t mean its impacts on those living nearby are reasonably balanced with its benefit, or as appropriate as some other potential project.
- Ethical Business Practices: Just because it’s renewable energy development doesn’t mean that those pursuing it are doing so in an ethical manner. Like any evolving, highly competitive industry, and possibly even more so due to the urgency of addressing climate change and the forces arrayed against renewable energy, the renewable energy industry is highly vulnerable to hype, misinformation, and other forms of unethical business practice. Both renewable energy workers and advocates should therefore strive consciously and vigorously to maintain the highest of ethical standards in all their work. We know of many examples already where best practices can be seen to pay off well the long run, and many where unethical development practices have harmed public support.
Full Recognition of Potential Benefits:
There are deeper sides to renewable energy as well that we seek to emphasize, beyond just the systems themselves and the development issues mentioned above: There are various important potential synergies and deeper aspects of renewables that should be kept in mind and/or pursued. Several examples are:
- Home-sited PV systems, although not as economical on simple cost-per-unit-energy basis than utility-scale PV projects, home-sited PV does not require natural land areas to be developed, and it reduces grid energy demand right at load, leading to avoided costs of transmission and distribution as well as generation upgrades. A recent, highly detailed study shows in fact that the higher cost of rooftop systems is more than offset by these advantages. Home-sited installation also often contributes more to the local economy as well to the extent that their installation and maintenance creates local jobs, and local industry provides a hedge against domination by large corporate monopolies over energy generation. In the long run, hyper local installation also contributes to the build up of distributed microgrids that can be expected to provide a great deal of energy security against widespread grid outages.
- Renewable energy systems sited on farms, be they moderate size PV projects or large wind projects, can provide farmers with a valuable economic hedge against fluctuations in weather and also food markets. And there is a growing list of examples (for example here) demonstrating that there can be a deep synergy between renewable energy and particular forms of agriculture, leading to a new field known as “Agrivoltaics.”
- There is much more to a passive solar home for example than just lower energy use and heating/cooling bills: Such structures provide aesthetically beautiful and healthy living environments that accommodate plant growth and other benefits.
The Solar Yardstick
Beyond even the deeper benefits of renewable energy discussed above, there is also a very fundamental difference between the paradigms of renewable energy and fossil fuel energy sources, and a special potential for renewable energy in particular to help humanity re-establish a true harmony with the natural world:
- Fossil fuel sources, and to some extent even nuclear power, can be characterized as essentially finite energy resources, with essentially infinite power (power being the rate at which energy is utilized – see our course on Basic Energy Science for details!): The world will eventually run low on fossil fuel resources, and even readily available (high grade ore) nuclear fuel sources. And even while these conventional energy resources last, as they are increasingly used up, their extraction will incur ever greater environmental and economic impacts, as we have already seen for example with the ground water impacts of gas fracking and mountaintop removal mining for coal. At the same time, the ease and speed with which readily obtainable fossil fuels can be obtained, and the enormous power that can be obtained quickly from nuclear resources (the most extreme example being that of a nuclear weapon detonation), has also led to our taking access to extraordinary levels of power supply for granted. This easy access to enormous (quasi-infinite) power levels, that is, as opposed to infinite energy resources, has led us to be extravagantly wasteful of energy, and has also facilitated pollution, warfare, and many other ills. The worst example is a nuclear weapon, whose enormous power enables inconceivably large destructive.
- By contrast, renewable energy sources are intrinsically infinite energy resources with finite power, that is, precisely the inverse of fossil and nuclear sources. To live within a renewable energy powered civilization means to live within a certain power budget, which intrinsically requires responsible and prudent utilization of the power naturally available. This is not to say that we must run our civilization at an extremely low level power level relative to today’s level, as some opponents of renewable energy are wont to claim. But it does imply that we must at least be relatively prudent and mindful to live within a certain power budget. Or viewed more deeply, relying on renewable energy resources encourages us in a deep sense to live in harmony with what nature provides on a sustainable, ongoing basis, just as the (solar powered) biosphere within which we live does, instead of just consuming more and more with no regard to the long-term consequences. And finally, renewable energy sources are also somewhat less prone to exacerbating problems such as pollution and warfare. We call the idea of setting our civilization’s power usage on the level of solar power we naturally receive and can sustainably develop as the “Solar Yardstick“.
In any case, we encourage proponents of renewable energy to take a deep view towards their endeavors in the renewable energy field, in multiple respects, and help ensure, or least increase the chances, that the future of both humanity and planet Earth will be bright.