Get On Board for the Climate: Hope in the Time of Corona

by Martha Walden

What Now Coalition

The world is on track for record-breaking installations of clean energy infrastructure. Pexels, Creative Commons.

We climate activists have one-track minds. Just about every issue, activity and idea on earth can be boiled down in our brains to the essential component — greenhouse gas emissions. Even in the midst of a pandemic we are thinking about emissions. Of course, we’re not the only people who wonder if the COVID disaster can somehow lead to solutions for the climate emergency.

There has been a lot of buzz about the appearance of blue skies in big cities that have been a hazy gray for decades. The cause of this miracle is simple — a lot less industrial activity, driving and flying. Of course, blue skies are already dimming in places that have opened back up for business. 

But the silver lining is that the abrupt drop in emissions has given scientists an unprecedented opportunity to precisely measure the impact of emissions on air quality and the atmosphere. Some of this data can serve as evidence when arguing for better air quality regulations to aid public health. The link between air pollution and mortality is more evident than ever now. The Coronavirus, for example, can dive deep into the heart and lungs by hitchhiking on fine particulates in the air. Republican Governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, has used the new pollution data to promote policies such as telework and electric vehicles.

Despite the social and economic disruption of the pandemic, and the Republican-controlled Senate doing its best to torpedo clean energy, the world is on track in 2020 for record-breaking installations of wind, sun and battery power. Unfortunately, distributed solar energy installers have lost thousands of jobs in the U.S. However, big utility-scale solar installers are busier than ever. Eighteen new gigawatts of PV are due to come online this year. 

The same goes for wind — particularly huge offshore wind turbines. A lot of new possibilities opened up with the development of the floating type of turbine that can bob far offshore. Although few of these have actually been constructed, there are plans afoot for many more. Humboldt Bay may very well play host to a floating wind farm sometime during this decade that will consist of up to fifteen turbines. Each one has capacity for 12 MW. 

I hope your capacity for optimism hasn’t topped out yet because I have one more piece of good news. The notorious intermittent nature of wind and solar energy might not be such a big problem after all. Turns out that the more intermittent energy the better IF the installations have something called a “power-available signal.” There are so many of these technologically up-to-date installations in the U.K. now that grid operators can seamlessly juggle the energy and keep it flowing to where it needs to go. 

Now I must conclude with a stern reminder that replacing fossil fuels is not a ticket to Utopia. All energy production exacts an environmental price, so please be conscious about how much energy you use.