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100% Renewable Energy: The new normal?

04/24/2015 10:30 am ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015
Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

It's not always easy to find examples of what's working in the fight against climate change, but a shining one is the growing global movement for 100% renewable energy.

The most optimistic predictions for the UN COP21 climate negotiations in Paris at the end of this year center on an "80 by 50" scenario -- a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 80% from 2005 levels by 2050. In my opinion, that scenario is less a call-to-action than a call-to-arms. Previous global negotiations have shown that as long as there is any percentage of fossil-fuel energy left on the table, countries will fight for access to it, and productive discussions will come to an end. So we need to change the narrative. Instead of a call-to-arms, we need a doctrine of "mutually assured survival" -- a doctrine in which all commit to the goal of 100% renewable energy.

Since 2013, renewable energies have been winning the race against fossil resources: the world is now adding more capacity for renewable power each year than for coal, natural gas, and oil combined. The question is no longer if the world will transition to sustainable energy, but how long it will take. And there's no going back.

This transition is being driven largely by local governments.

A growing numbers of cities, communities and regions are proving that meeting 100% of our energy demand with renewable energy is viable. As urban areas are responsible for 70-75% of energy related CO2 emissions and 40-50% of global GHG emissions, this is an encouraging trend. My city -- Vancouver, Canada -- recently voted in favor of a target of 100% renewable energy.

100% RE Is Already a Reality Today

Other cities and states -- from Hawaii and Georgetown, Texas, in the USA to Coffs Harbour in Australia -- have already shown that making the transition to 100% renewable energy is a political, not technical, decision. The necessary technology and knowledge exists.

In Germany, in a network of 140 100% RE regions, 80 communities and municipalities have already reached their goal. One of them is the Rhein-Hunsrück District. As of early 2012, the District, which has around 100,000 inhabitants, officially began producing more than 100% of its electricity needs. In early 2014, it is estimated that Rhein-Hunsrück already produced more than 230% of its total electricity needs, exporting the surplus to the regional and national grid, or re-directing it to meet other energy demands.

The city of Greensburg (Kansas, USA) powers all local homes and businesses with 100% renewable energy, 100% of the time. The story of Greensburg is one of tragedy to triumph: a tornado destroyed or damaged 95% of the town's homes and businesses on May 4, 2007. The community -- with a strong leader in Mayor Bob Dixon -- turned disaster into opportunity and created a vision to rebuild Greensburg as a sustainable community.

Building efficiency and local wind, complemented by small solar installations and biogas, are the cornerstones of their master plan. The town has gathered a diverse group of experts to make their vision a reality.

Similarly, local governments across Japan are seeking to supply their regions with 100% renewable energy. The Great East Japan earthquake, the subsequent tsunami and the disaster at the Fukushima-daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011, encouraged the people of Fukushima to reassess their energy system and to revitalize industry in the shattered region. This led to a vision of transition to renewable energy. Fukushima prefecture now has an official commitment to cover 100% of primary-energy demand in Fukushima with renewable resources by 2040.

Joining them are another 13 cities or regions that have registered a 100% renewable-energy target in the carbonn Climate Registry:

· Province of Siena (Italy)
· Copenhagen (Denmark)
· Kristianstad and Oslo (Norway)
· Malmö, Saffle and Stockholm (Sweden)
· Cincinnati, Grand Rapids, Hillsboro, Palmerston North, San Francisco and Santa Cruz County (USA)

The 100% RE Network

This energy transformation is already unstoppable but will go at the pace we need when we can ensure it's "people centered" and "community driven." The Global 100% RE Alliance has provided a set of guidelines for governments to help ensure that this transformation will indeed serve the needs of the people and facilitate "the required system change." Based on these guidelines, ICLEI and the Global 100% RE Alliance have launched a new 100% RE network for local governments, to strengthen understanding within local governments on what 100% RE means and how to reach it fairly.

Whether the goal is to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases; to increase energy safety, security and energy independence; or to alleviate energy poverty, the solution is 100% clean renewable energy. We spent 10 years arguing over whether climate change was happening and then we spent another 10 years arguing over what we should do if it is happening; now we're getting down to the who and when. The 100% RE network gives us the opportunity to be the "who" by signing on. I would encourage all cities to make the "when" today.

Andrea Reimer is a Director on the Metro Vancouver Board of Directors. She is also the Vice Chair of Metro Vancouver Climate Action Committee, and a Councilor with the City of Vancouver.

This post is part of a Huffington Post What's Working series on the environment. The series is putting a spotlight on initiatives and solutions that are actually making a difference -- whether in the battle against climate change, or tackling pollution or other environmental challenges. To see all the posts in the series, read here.