Meeting the climate change challenge means tripling by 2030 the already accelerating global increase in renewable development. This is far less an engineering question than a political one. The IEA (International Energy Agency) reports the largest yearly increase in global renewable capacity additions, soaring in 2023 by 107 gigawatts to more than 440 gigawatts (GW). This is more than the entire installed power capacity of Germany and Spain combined.

Solar, in particular, is increasingly cheaper, more efficient, and capable of meeting the 2030 deadline. Fifty countries set recent monthly solar generation records, with China leading in solar generation growth, followed by the European Union, the United States, and India. The UK consulting group Ember found wind and solar in the first half of 2023 increased their share of the global electricity supply to 14.3% from 12.8% in 2022.

There is more that must be done, but technically and economically, it is within our grasp to do this. IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) has detailed what must be done by tracking progress of key energy system components and investments needed to achieve the 1.5°C scenario and avoid the increasingly catastrophic consequences of climate change.

Achieving IRENA’s 1.5°C scenario means renewables in the global energy mix would increase from 16% in 2020 to 77% by 2050. IRENA finds that a cumulative $150 trillion investment is needed to meet the 1.5°C target by 2050. This requires over $5 trillion in investment annually. Global investment across all energy transition technologies was at a record high of $1.3 trillion in 2022. Therefore, annual investment must more than quadruple to $5 trillion annually to remain on the 1.5°C pathway.

It’s crucial to understand that this is a call for productive investment, not a cost. Investment that will create an estimated 43 million jobs by 2050, according to IRENA. $5 trillion in annual renewable investment will not only create jobs and strengthen communities but also crucially displace greenhouse gas emissions and the enormous ecological and social costs of carbon-related pollution. This amounts to a $7 trillion annual expense shifted from fossil polluters to the public and the ecosphere. This is based on the latest EPA estimate for the costs of carbon pollution at $190 a metric ton of carbon dioxide from the annual global fossil fuel emissions of 37 gigatons (billion tons) of carbon dioxide emissions. Thus, the renewable transformation by slashing carbon pollution will more than pay for itself.

The economic advantages of renewables will drive a non-linear and accelerating increase in global renewable investment. Market forces will take command as renewables dominate global markets based on ever decreasing capital costs and zero fuel costs. Price and profit will drive the renewable energy transformation. Renewables and efficiency will increasingly represent the high-profit centers of the 21st century.

Amory Lovins, with a fifty year track record on accurately predicting the rise of efficiency and renewables, points out that by 2030, renewables will represent 50% of global energy use and will continue to increase. Lovins indicates clearly that even the more difficult sectors like aviation are already beginning an electric and biofuel transition.

CATL, world leading battery manufacturer, has developed a new sodium ion battery to replace lithium in many EV applications, and new lithium technology with quick 10 minute charging and 248 mile range, and high efficiency battery systems to power regional aircraft carrying 9 passengers for 250 miles.

With renewables zero fuel costs, fossil fuels and nuclear energy already cannot compete in most global markets. Fossil fuels in the ground and fossil fuel infrastructure will increasingly become stranded assets.

My experience as a solar developer is illustrative. In a few years, I went from building ground mounts using 350 kw single sided panels to now 550 kw dual sided panels of same dimensions and price that can also capture reflected light off the ground. This is a minimum of 57% improved output per panel without considering the 10 to 20% reflected light solar output.

It’s important to understand that 100% solar energy can be provided from a very small percentage of farm land (about 1%) using dual-use agriculture solar over pasture and crop land. This will allow farmers to produce both food and energy. Agricultural dual use solar combined with Form Energy iron- air storage batteries can meet our energy needs. But solar, of course, is installed on roofs, over the ubiquitous parking lots in U.S. towns and cities, on brownfields, and along and above highways and rail lines.

Fossil fuel subsidies or productive renewable investments

Thus, much of what happens to the future well being of all life on our planet rests essentially on political and related economic choices by politicians, investors, bankers, and corporations. Several questions must be addressed:

  • Will we continue to subsidize fossil fuel energy as a favorite tool of politicians to keep the price of fossil fuels artificially low and therefore discourage renewable development? The IEA found in 2022, global subsidies for fossil fuel consumption exceeded USD 1 trillion for the first time, double that of 2021, driven by rising international fuel prices created by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Instead of investing in productive renewables, $1 trillion was spent on fuel subsidies.

  • Will we continue to allow fossil fuels to disgorge carbon with no or little cost consequences for the fossil fuel polluters? The EPC has valued the consequences of carbon dioxide pollution to the economy and the biosphere as $190 per metic ton of carbon dioxide emissions. With 37 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide release this amount to a further 7 trillion dollar subsidy. The $7 trillion in unpaid fossil fuel unpaid pollution consequences is a fundamental example of market failure and regulatory failure. If we instead make the polluters pay, this should be sufficient to easily finance the renewable transformation. This $7 trillion yearly expense can become the basis for productive investment, not a cost.

  • Will renewable energy users become energy owners? The distributed nature of renewables and their inherent zero fuel cost operation make solar, in particular, the basis for making energy users not just customers but owners of the renewable energy systems they use. In the U.S., for example, builders of solar energy systems receive 30 to 70% ITC (investment tax credit) that can be turned into cash for those without a tax appetite and accelerated MACRS depreciation. Combined with SBA loans, this will facilitate bank finance with 10% capital down or less. A cooperative, municipal, or association can own the system that provides their energy. The price to build and operate the system is included in the price for the power paid by the end users, covering construction costs, operations and maintenance, insurance, decommissioning, and operating profit to be shared by all energy users. Low cost solar with zero fuel costs opens the opportunity to have energy users of all income levels gain an equity ownership share. Solar will become not just a tool for the rich, but the basis for community equity and a seat at the table deciding the nature of the renewable energy transformation.

  • Will political leaders, both democratic and otherwise, embrace programs and policies to minimize climate temperature rise? The November meeting between Presidents Biden and Xi opened the door once again for the US and China, the two leading polluters and the world’s leading economies, to take affirmative steps together to lead in effectively deal with the climate crisis. This can make all the difference. It’s also crucial to note that if Donald Trump returns to power in 2025, it will be an enormous setback for global efforts to deal effectively with climate change.

Beyond being a threat to American democracy, Trump apparently will do all he can to disrupt renewable development and support maximum expansion of fossil fuels, roll back regulations, and oppose international support for developing countries to pursue a renewable transition. Trump’s administration as president was marked by much incompetence and internal resistance. Plans for a second Trump term include the recruitment of Trump loyalists to fill all senior government civil service positions to do whatever is needed to accomplish Trump’s goals. A second Trump presidency may be more self-destructive in climate terms than the first.

Politically, in many parts of the world, governors and mayors have taken leadership on climate action, supporting state and local laws, for example, to move to 100% renewables by a certain date. Michigan, for instance, passed bills in November 2023 for a 100% clean electricity standard by 2040 with 50% renewables by 2030. In MA and NY utilities are pursuing efforts in 2023 to improve interconnection and transmission access to facilitate 100% renewables.

On the other hand, the British Prime Minister recently announced a delay on the ban on the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035. In response, Lisa Brankin, Chair of Ford UK, said, “Our business needs three things from the UK government: ambition, commitment, and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.” Ford had already spent millions to get ready and become a leader for the 2030 transformation.

There are enormous and powerful economic and social forces behind a global renewable energy turn. On a global scale, what counts is the global aggregate of displacing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy efficiency.

The eight deadly sins of analyzing the energy transition

Beyond fossil fuel subsidies, there is a powerful bias that has consistently underestimated and speed of the renewable energy and efficiency revolution and embraces climate pessimism. RMI, founded by Amory Lovins, points out eight key errors.

  1. Linear thinking: technical transformation does not necessarily slow and linear straight lines. Cell phones, for example, went rapidly from nowhere with their introduction in 1994, selling by the tens of thousands, to everywhere, 5.6 billion in 2023. The growth pattern follows a logistic or s curve characterized by slow initial growth, then rapid acceleration, and finally slowing down. The growth of energy technologies like solar, wind, batteries, heat pumps, and green hydrogen fits the S-shaped growth patterns of the past.

  2. Lagging and not-leading indicators: the fact that fossil fuels provide over 80 percent of primary energy is a lagging indicator similar to counting the number of horses in 1900 to prove that autos have no future. What matters is leading indicators. Renewables already dominate new power generation markets. By 2030, EVs will have over two-thirds of car sales.

  3. Turning points: as we reach peak oil and decreasing demand, there will be a lack of new investment and stranded assets. The price of oil will fall, but the costs of production will not in a world where cheap and easily attainable fossil fuels have been exhausted. Equities take the stairs up, but the elevator down.

  4. Hardest to solve does not hold back the rising tide of change. 70% of fossil fuel demand is in sectors already being challenged by renewables in road transport, electric generation, and low-temperature heat. Intense entrepreneurial activity is already underway in harder sectors like air transport.

  5. Static technologies, business models, and societal perceptions. There is often a social and political disconnect between what is acceptable and what is possible. Shifting the so-called Overton window is both necessary and possible. Today’s solutions are not necessarily the proper response to tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities. The exponential growth of solar is a prime example.

  6. The sole driver of renewables is more than halting climate change. Solar and renewables, by their nature and broad economic and ecological aspects, will become globally dominant. Climate necessity will drive this process to move at a quicker pace.

  7. Understating energy efficiency: for example, in 2022, energy efficiency saved three times as much primary energy as the growth of solar and wind. Moving from fossil fuels to solar and wind uses around 60% less primary energy. Shifting from oil to electricity in transport uses and from thermal boilers to heat pumps.

  8. Lost in complexity: complex and often outdated models are 2 or 3 years old, and ignoring learning curves in times of rapid change from experience often leads us into dramatic errors. Judgement focused on risks and opportunities is often much more useful than mathematical models based on assumptions that attempt to quantify the unquantifiable, for example, using discount rates as the rationale for not responding to climate disasters before catastrophe unfolds.


Individually and collectively, our decisions and actions to accelerate the transition to renewable energy and high efficiency will pay enormous ecological, economic, and social dividends. 2023 has made the stakes of inaction on climate change abundantly clear. 2023 to 2030 is the time for global climate action for the benefit of all of us.


1 Pilar Sanchez Molina , 2023.Growth of solar, wind cuts emissions in global electricity sector. PV Magazine. October 10, 2023.
2 Irena, 2021. Renewable Energy Jobs Reach 12 Million Globally. Oct. 21, 2021.
3 Sam Butler & Kingsmill Bond,2”023. The Eight Deadly Sins of Analyzing the Energy Transition. RMI.Oct 13, 2023.
4 Climate Central, 2023. State Solar and Wind Boom to Bring U.S. Toward Climate Targets. Nov. 1, 2023.