We’ve just exceeded a historic inflection point. 2016 was the year solar and renewable energy became cheaper than coal. The Oscar-winning actor and environmentalist has spent the past three years asking a wide variety of people around the world about climate change. His collection of interviews in the film—ranging from President Obama and the Pope through to Elon Musk and Piers Sellars—cover the science, impacts, vested interests, politics and possible solutions. The Fisher Stevens-directed documentary will make its television debut on National Geographic's channel in 171 countries and 45 languages on Sunday, Oct. 30.
The idea behind this historic premiere is to educate as many people around the world about climate change and to also bring the topic to the forefront before the Nov. 8. election where a number of candidates seeking public office—including a certain orange-hued Republican—denies that climate change is even real. Before The Flood depicts how Earth is changing due to rising temperatures and how individuals and society-at-large can help preserve our precious environment. DiCaprio travels around the world to interview a number of world leaders and experts about climate change, including President Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry, U.N. Secretary-General Ki-Moon, Pope Francis, Elon Musk as well as top NASA researchers, forest conservationists, scientists, community leaders and other environmental activists.
Carbon Brief was invited to the European premiere of Before the Flood last weekend. Before the screening in London began, DiCaprio took to the stage to introduce the film. He said:
"Before The Flood is the product of an incredible three-year journey that took place with my co-creator and director Fisher Stevens. We went to every corner of the globe to document the devastating impacts of climate change and questioned humanity's ability to reverse what maybe the most catastrophic problem mankind has ever faced. There was a lot to take on. All that we witnessed on this journey shows us that our world's climate is incredibly interconnected and that it is at urgent breaking point.
"I've been incredibly moved by so many climate change documentaries in the past, but I never felt that I saw one that articulated the science clearly to the public. I think people grasp it, but it seems something distant, far off, intangible and almost otherworldly. An individual doesn't feel like they can make an impact. The journey for me was to try and make a modern-day film about climate change. I've been studying this issue for the past 15 years, I've been watching it very closely. What's incredibly terrifying is that things are happening way ahead of the scientific projections, 15 or 20 years ago.
"We wanted to create a film that gave people a sense of urgency, that made them understand what particular things are going to solve this problem. We bring up the issue of a carbon tax, for example, which I haven't seen in a lot of documentaries. Basically, sway a capitalist economy to try to invest in renewables, to bring less money and subsidies out of oil companies. These are the things that are really going to make a massive difference. It's gone beyond, as we talk about in the film, simple, individual actions. We need to use our vote ... We cannot afford to have political leaders out there that do not believe in modern science or the scientific method or empirical truths … We cannot afford to waste time having people in power that choose to believe in the 2 percent of the scientific community that is basically bought off by lobbyists and oil companies. They are living in the stone ages. They are living in the dark ages. We need to live in the future."
Just last week, Las Vegas announced it has reached its goal of powering the city governement entirely with renewable energy, meeting a goal the city has been working toward for nearly a decade. The goal was reached with the launch of Boulder Solar 1, a 100-megawatt solar plant located just outside the city. Las Vegas began its renewable energy project in 2008, reducing electricity usage through sustainability programs and installing solar panels on city buildings. Las Vegas will also receive power from Hoover Dam for the first time in its history, starting at the end of 2017.
The city has reduced its electricity usage by more than 30 percent due to these initiatives. Estimates place the city's yearly energy savings at approximately $5 million. Las Vegas is now the largest U.S. city to be powered entirely by renewable energy. The second largest city, Burlington, Vermont, achieved this status in 2014.
India has just announced that solar is now cheaper than coal, and it’s on a fast track to having a hefty supply of it. This is notable, as solar and renewable energy sources are extremely important for reducing air pollution. Especially in poorer, developing nations, this switch from non-renewables to renewables is absolutely crucial. With that switch comes the need to assess costs. Money is always a determining factor. Is it more beneficial to build a solar grid that’s more expensive than building and maintaining a coal-fired power plant? But now, this question may not be necessary, as capital costs are down a staggering 60% in the past four years, and they could continue to decrease even further. The Deutsche Bank has even concluded that solar could overthrow coal by 2020.
Solar prices dropped to a record-low in January to 4.34 rupees a kilowatt-hour (KWh). Current coal prices average around 3-5 rupees/KWh. With these stats, and a growing interest in solar, India expects to deploy around 100 Gigawatts of renewable power by 2022. To put that into perspective, one GW of solar can power up to 750,000 homes and is equivalent to two coal-fired power plants. India’s energy minister Piyush Goyal remarked during the country’s 15-point action plan that “there are challenges to 24/7 power,” but that “we have been able to come up with a solar-based long term vision that is not subsidy based.”
The analysts note this trend is due to the country’s seasonal cycle. Since there is less demand for energy in the Spring and Summer months, the country can rely on solar generated power to help meet its demand. The UK’s solar power generation has eclipsed coal for a whole month in May 2016, and for a whole quarter from June through September. The government has also been showing signs of slowing the support for solar. December of last year, the UK cut several subsidies for solar power. It decreased subsidies to householders installing rooftop solar panels by 65%. It has also cut into a second subsidy scheme known as the renewables obligation. It is estimated that this could wipe out 18,700 jobs in the solar industry.
Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy, France is a young, little municipality established just January of this year. The 93.76 km2 (36.20 mile2) town of 3,400 residents will celebrate its anniversary under street lights powered by an inventive technology program. This Wednesday, French Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal opened a kilometer-long solar panel road called Wattway in Tourouvre-au-Perche. The 2,800 square meters (3,348 square yards) of solar panels cost about $5.2 million and took five years to produce. In order to withstand traffic, the panels are coated with a clear silicon resin, and they were tested at four carparks across the country before installation.
France is working with Colas, the solar road’s manufacturer, on the possibility of installing these panels along another 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of French road. Before that could happen, however, Colas would need to figure out how costs could be lowered for mass production. Of course, some might argue that those tests needn’t be as expensive as these solar panel roads, but when it comes to the potential of ushering in a future of efficient and clean energy, what cost is too high? This is a question that is currently the focus of most climate change conversations.
And the industry shows no signs of slowing. International investment in renewable energy reached $286 billion last year—solar power alone accounted for the largest channel for investments at $161 billion, more than 56% of total new investment in renewable power and fuels. On the hiring front, the number of jobs in the sector rose to about 8.1 million. Improvements in technology were also key in the steady rise of renewable energy. Tesla, for example, started shipping its Powerwall lithium-ion home batteries in 2015, with plans to produce a commercial-grade battery called the Powerpack for businesses to be able to store up to 100 kilowatt hours of power. The report called for a phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies as they distort the true costs of energy and encourage wasteful spending and increased emissions. We still have a long way to go before we completely shed our dependence on fossil fuels, but the world seems to be turning a corner.
But global investment in renewable energy still lags far behind levels needed to avoid potentially catastrophic global warming, according to the United Nations. Global renewable investment last year was $286 billion, or 25% of the $1 trillion goal set by nations at the Paris climate change accord. Barriers to investment are mostly political rather than economic: Contracts are not standardized, regulatory uncertainty remains, and financial institutions have not created an asset class with a public, standardized track record that will reassure mainstream investors.
25% of the world’s power from renewables
In India, Solar is now Cheaper than Coal
2016 was year that Solar is Cheaper than Coal
The UK is generating more energy from Solar > Coal
Largest North American Coal Plant being replaced by Solar Farms
Coal will never recover
Netherlands to ban all gas & diesel cars by 2025
Scotland generating 106% from Wind Energy
Costa Circa running on Renewables for > 2 months
Google to run 100% on renewable energy
Las Vegas meets goal of 100% powered by renewables
Solar Roads being deployed in France
Solar Roof Tiles
Opening of Gigafactory
In December, the World Economic Forum reported that solar and wind energy is now the same price or cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in more than 30 countries.
“As prices for solar and wind power continue their precipitous fall, two-thirds of all nations will reach the point known as “grid parity” within a few years, even without subsidies,” they added. This is one of the most important developments in the history of humanity, and this year marked a number of major milestones for renewable energy.
Here’s 10 data points (stories) I’ve hand-picked to hammer home the historic nature of this 2016 achievement.
a) 25% of the World’s Power Comes From Renewables: REN21, a global renewable energy policy network, published a report showing that a quarter of the world’s power now comes from renewable energy. International investment in renewable energy reached $286 billion last year (with solar accounting for over $160b of this), and it’s accelerating.
b) In India, Solar is Now Cheaper Than Coal: An amazing milestone indeed, and India is now on track to deploy >100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022.
c) The UK is Generating More Energy From Solar Than Coal: For the first time in history, this year the U.K. has produced an estimated 6,964 GWh of electricity from solar cells, 10% higher than the 6,342 GWh generated by coal.
d) Coal Plants Being Replaced by Solar Farms: The Nanticoke Generating Station in Ontario, once North America's largest coal plant, will be turned into a solar farm.
e) Coal Will Never Recover: The coal industry, once the backbone of U.S. energy, is fading fast on account of renewables like solar and wind. Official and expert reports now state that it will never recover (e.g. coal power generation in Texas is down from 39% in early 2015 to 24.8% in May 2016).
f) Scotland Generated 106% Energy from Wind: This year, high winds boosted renewable energy output to provide 106% of Scotland’s electricity needs for a day.
g) Costa Rica Ran on Renewables for 2+ Months: The country ran on 100% renewable energy for 76 days.
h) Google to Run 100% on Renewable Energy: Google has announced its entire global business will be powered by renewable energy in 2017.
i) Las Vegas Meets Goal of 100% Power by Renewables: Las Vegas is now the largest city in the country to run entirely on renewable energy.
j) Tesla’s Gigafactory: Tesla’s $5 billion structure in Nevada will produce 500,000 lithium ion batteries annually and Tesla’s Model III vehicle. It is now over 30 percent complete… the 10 million square foot structure is set to be done by 2020. Musk projected that a total of 100 Gigafactories could provide enough storage capacity to run the entire planet on renewables.
The days of fossil fuels may finally be numbered.