In many ways, 2020 was a breakout year for renewables. Nationwide lockdowns minimized traffic, lowered the demand for gas, and cut electricity use across the country. At the same time, solar power, wind, and other renewable energy sources stole the spotlight and experienced an upward trend in global growth.
Now, analysts and innovators are watching key trends to determine what the next few years will look like in terms of clean energy and carbon emissions.
1. Biden Suspends Oil and Gas Leasing
President Joe Biden has pledged to transition away from fossil fuels and promote renewable energy. Within his first few weeks in office, Biden ordered a 60-day suspension of leases for fossil fuel development and oil drilling on public lands.
Now, he’s calling for a rigorous review of existing practices to mitigate the climate crisis and hopefully spark clean energy investment in 2021.
2. More Corporations Make Energy Goals
Companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple have been leading the charge for renewables for years. Now, more corporations are following suit by creating sustainable energy goals.
Additionally, many are accomplishing carbon neutrality or net-zero emissions by replacing gas, coal, and oil with renewable energy. This green alternative allows corporations to power their facilities and earn a good reputation among their peers and customers.
3. Countries Commit to Carbon Neutrality
Many countries, including Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom, have pledged to reach 100% carbon neutrality by 2050. Others, like China, are committed to reaching this goal before 2060. Doing so would require at least a partial switch to renewables to offset carbon emissions and minimize air pollution.
4. Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data Grow
The Internet of Things and big data are constantly growing. In many ways, this technology can minimize waste and conserve resources, such as paper. However, most technologies — like computers and Wi-Fi routers — also require energy. Now, companies are searching for more sustainable ways to keep the world connected.
As renewables become more affordable and conventional energy prices rise, other alternatives will inevitably come into play.
5. Power Grids Become More Unreliable
Overwhelmed and unreliable power grids are also prompting a quicker transition to renewable energy. Many regions frequently experience widespread outages due to weather, natural disasters, and high demand.
Renewables offer an excellent alternative to conventional power grids because many can still function in inclement weather and even grid outages if they have backup batteries.
6. COVID-19 Renews Focus on Air Quality
Last year, the world learned that aerosolized coronavirus can hang in the air for up to three hours. This fact alone has motivated thousands of businesses to upgrade to HEPA filters and stronger ventilation systems.
With a renewed focus on air quality, many are also beginning to question the safety of outdoor air. Luckily, renewables promise a cleaner atmosphere and easier breathing, making it an easy choice for millions of people.
7. Spain’s Renewable Energy Sector Grows
In 2019, Spain installed 4.7 gigawatts of solar capacity and reclaimed the title of Europe’s largest solar market. Most new installations consisted of large-scale arrays. However, Spain’s sunny climate and rapid solar energy returns are encouraging more people to purchase residential panels. This trend will likely become even more popular in the coming years.
8. Battery Storage Capacity Increases
Years ago, renewables were unable to adequately store energy, which is problematic if they are to replace fossil fuel energy. Now, however, advances in lithium-ion battery chemistry have made energy storage possible. California is already building a storage facility. As battery prices continue to drop, more states will likely construct these storage facilities as well.
9. Biofuel Will Rebound
The coronavirus took a major toll on transport biofuel production. With lockdown measures in place, people simply weren’t flying as much as before. This setback slowed the widespread adoption of biofuel, but it didn’t completely stop it, either. If COVID-19 cases fall, biofuel will likely rebound to 2019 levels, which is good news for renewables and the planet.
10. U.S. Plans to Add More Renewable Infrastructure
Thanks to 2020 and the chaos it caused in the oil and gas industry, the U.S. is looking to add more renewable infrastructure in 2021. Overall, developers are planning for 39.7 gigawatts of new electricity generation capacity, 70% of which will consist of solar and wind. Meanwhile, only 16% of new infrastructure will include plans for natural gas capacities.
2021 and Beyond
When it comes to embracing renewable energy, 2021 is only the beginning. In the coming years, fossil fuels will become more expensive, less reliable, and alarmingly unsustainable. As more people become aware of the problems surrounding oil and gas, we’ll see even more quickly growing interest in solar, wind, and other renewables.
Jane is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co and an environmental writer covering green technology, sustainability and environmental news.