The trend of cities pledging to get to 100% renewable energy has been gathering momentum for a while, drawing both support and criticism. But are pledges like Orlando’s to become a 100% renewable city by 2050 misleading? Or are they a sign of an industry in the face of change?
A op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal last week, offers to expose such pledges as misleading and dismisses them as childish.
The Author – Charles McConnell of Rice University’s Energy and Environment Initiative – touches on none of the complexities inherent when you talk about a city becoming 100% renewable. Instead, he argues that “Although activists herald these pledges as major environmental accomplishments, they’re more of a marketing gimmick.”
So, are they?
Firstly, no one claims that there is a way to designate “guilt free” electrons, as the author calls them. Electrons are electrons. There are no good and bad ones. When they are generated and fed into the grid, electrons cannot be distinguished or tracked – no matter their origin – they all become part of the mix.
Hence, physically speaking, no city fulfil their pledge to run on 100% renewables. No country, city, business, or individual can, unless the grid it is connected to is fed by 100% renewable energy.
But honestly, that is not the point. No one is trying to deny physics, and no one believes there is an actual market in “good) electrons”.
When a city gets credit for contributing to the generation of renewable energy, and if it buys enough renewable energy to cover its consumption, it can claim to be “running 100% on renewable energy”.
Clean energy credits are not the most elegant solution. And in an actual market economy, consumers could choose their own electricity sources directly, which would make tracking easy. But the utility sector is not a market economy.
Clean energy credits are the best consumers can currently do to channel their money to renewable energy. And the renewable energy those credits support is very real.
So, when a city is “run on 100 %renewable energy,” it might not be a reality in terms of physics, but in terms of accounting it definitely is.