With the impact of climate change becoming ever more apparent, it's pretty clear that something has to change fast when it comes to our relationship with fossil fuels.
Luckily, there do seem to be dramatic shifts underway in how energy is both produced and consumed. Here are some hopeful signs that the energy sector is finally growing up.
Even laggards are investing big in clean energy
Most of us have gotten pretty used to Google making big green energy announcements, and Apple has also been leading the way in building new renewables infrastructure. But direct investment in clean energy generation is rapidly becoming the norm, not the exception, where large corporations are concerned—from Microsoft's decision to buy a 110MW wind farm's entire output to Duke Energy finally starting to take renewables seriously, even laggards are beginning to make some serious investments. And that means the leaders will have to do more to stay out in front.
Green entrepreneurs are becoming household names
It's no secret that there are moneyed interests who are deeply invested in the fossil-fuel driven status quo. Given that money talks in our political system, that has meant that there are significant forces seeking to slow a transition to a low carbon economy. There is, however, a new breed of entrepreneur, who's money is not tied to oil and coal, and who is willing to stand up for a new model of energy. From Dale Vince picking fights with utilities through Elon Musk's increasing influence, these folks can provide a useful counterbalance to the old guard's climate skepticism.
Utilities are rethinking their business models
Perhaps the surest sign yet that things are changing is that utilities are getting decidedly nervous. Sure, some are circling the wagons and seeking to disrupt subsidies for renewables. Others, however, are actively seeking to innovate. One of Germany's largest utilities, for example, has just decided to entirely restructure its future business model—positioning itself less as a producer of power, and more as an enabler of renewables and other decentralized forms of power generation.
Clean energy is getting cheaper
Whether it's solar prices falling dramatically or green energy providers actually undercutting major utilities , the economics of renewables are nothing like they used to be. As technology improves, this should only get better—not to mention if we finally get serious about putting a realistic price on carbon.
Everyone is getting involved
Perhaps one of the most exciting things about the current changes in the energy market is that this is no longer about energy companies alone. With battery storage and smart grids, citizen-owned energy production all becoming more viable, the linear model of production and consumption is headed out the window. The new paradigm suggests we can all play a part as consumers, as producers, as storers and conservers of energy, and as engaged energy citizens making the best use of the resources we have available to us. That's evident in the work of eLab, an initiative set up by the Rocky Mountain Institute which brings together utilities, municipalities and private companies to explore how to rapidly accelerate change in the electricity sector. I suspect there will be many more such collaborations to come.