For many years, it seemed that energy pundits were proposing that the inflection point for renewable energy was just around the corner -- that the day would soon come when solar panels covered our rooftops and electric vehicles spanned our roadways. That day isn't here yet, but having made great strides in reducing costs, the alternative energy industry nowadays occupies a prominent position in the nation's energy landscape.
Granted, fossil fuels still play the primary role, but the growing enthusiasm for alternative energy suggests that oil and gas will continue losing ground to green energy sources. Unconvinced? Let's take a look at some of the more interesting news from the industry.
1. The global appetite for ethanol is growing
Breaking the previous record of 1.2 billion gallons set in 2011, the United States exported 1.4 billion gallons of fuel ethanol in 2017, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The majority of demand came from Brazil, where ethanol exports increased for the fourth consecutive year, reaching 450 million gallons in 2017 and accounting for approximately one-third of all U.S. fuel ethanol exports.
2. We may no longer have Paris, but we have Minneapolis and 64 other cities in the U.S.
The nation's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord notwithstanding, politicians across the United States are expressing their commitment to renewable energy. In late April, for example, Minneapolis became the 65th city to announce its intent to transition to 100% clean energy, aspiring to complete the transition by 2030. According to the Sierra Club, five cities, including Aspen, Colorado, and Burlington, Vermont, have already achieved their goal of transitioning to 100% renewable energy.
In addition to the numerous American cities demonstrating enthusiasm for solar, wind, and other renewable sources, nine counties and one state (Hawaii) have committed to 100% clean energy.
3. Keeping current with electric vehicles
Odds are you don't find yourself sitting in traffic next to an electric vehicle (EV) very frequently, but that may soon change. According to a recent report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, global sales from EVs are expected to grow from 1.1 million in 2017 to 11 million in 2025, rising to 30 million in 2025. Furthermore, the forecast states: "By 2040, 55% of all new car sales and 33% of the global fleet will be electric."
Although Tesla is often the first mentioned when talk around the water cooler turns to EVs, plenty of traditional automakers are charged up about them as well. For example, General Motors announced last October its intent to launch at least 20 new all-electric vehicles by 2023 as it drives toward a future where it intends to solely produce zero-emission, all-electric vehicles. Volkswagen AG, moreover, also aspires to satisfy the growing demand for EVs; the company plans on offering customers electric versions of all the models in its portfolio by 2030.
4. New kid on the block...chain
Blockchain technology may have its roots in the financial sector, but numerous other industries -- including renewable energy -- are finding uses for the decentralized platform technology. Privately held Conjule, for example, uses a blockchain platform to enable the peer-to-peer trading of excess energy generated by homeowners' solar panels. On a larger scale, utilities are also finding uses for blockchain-based solutions from energy trading to EV charging. Navigant Research estimates that total utility spending on various blockchain-based platforms is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2026.
5. Blowing away the competition
Coca-Cola and Burlington Northern Santa Fe may be two of Warren Buffett's most well-known investments, but the Oracle of Omaha also represents one of renewable energy's greatest advocates. MidAmerican Energy Company, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, has the long-term goal of providing 100% renewable energy to its customers.
Illustrating its prominence in the renewable energy sector, MidAmerican claims on its website that "no other U.S. rate-regulated utility owns more wind-powered generation capacity." And the energy company shows no signs of slowing down its commitment: MidAmerican is currently constructing the 2,000 megawatt Wind XI project, which is expected to be completed in late 2019.
The modern-day uses for clean energy have become a lot more varied than the ancient Egyptians, who relied on the wind to propel their boats along the Nile. Although the recognition among investors that clean energy investments are compelling choices is fairly recent, it's probable that these opportunities will continue to grow as alternative energy sources occupy a greater portion of our energy landscape.