Why Green Only Accounts for 6% of Electricity in the U.S.

A recent post over on the HBR Blog Network on the supposed decline of green energy did a good job when it noted that renewable energy production in the US has doubled in the past 4 years, and did a better job when it noted that it’s possible to get to almost 50% in a mere five years if a concerted effort is made (as Portugal went from 17% to 45% renewable in 5 years, and Germany generates over 25% of its electricity using renewable sources, to the point that it can generate up to 50% of its peak electricity needs on a good day), but fell short when it came to explain why the U.S. isn’t doing better.

Since I’m a cranky contrarian, I’ll tell you why. Because, collectively, the US, as with many other developed economies, is revelling in the seven deadly sins.

  • Lust
    We want the bigger TV. We want the margarita ville machine. We want the power hogs. So we have to crank up the energy production on the infrastructure we have in place as it takes time to build new infrastructure. And the need for more energy is only amplified by our
  • Envy
    for what our neighbours have. This is clear from the fact that the average American household debt is $117,951 and the average Canadian household debt is $112,329. We keep wanting more, and it requires energy, and we look the other way as production on the current infrastructure is cranked up to meet our demand.
  • Gluttony
    We want the temperature at a constant 21C. 23C? Better blast the air on full. Temperature drop to 19C? Crank up the electric furnace. The energy usage per person in North America is 4 times that of the global average! We absorb capacity as fast as we can add it and want more! And since we already have the infrastructure in place to burn coal and oil, it’s easier to just crank up the furnace even more.
  • Sloth
    Change the thermostat with a smart, programmable thermostat that won’t crank the heat until it drops to 17C or the air until it gets to 24C? That would require work! Walk around and open the windows or close them to manually regulate energy usage? That would also require work! Make sure we turn off the electronics when not using them? Why? When it comes to even doing the little things, we can’t be bothered.
    And then, we have the same problems in our plants and warehouses. Simple things, like timers and motion sensors to turn off lights, excess heat or cooling, etc. don’t get put in place and energy is wasted. Buildings aren’t properly insulated and heating or cooling will leak out almost as fast as the heat or cold air is produced.
    This is the real reason the pace of renewable expansion is being held back. Corporations, which exist for the sole purpose of generating profit for shareholders, are greedy, and investing in renewables takes a lot of up front investment. And while the math demonstrates considerable payoff over the long term, now that we barely think beyond the next quarter, no one wants to wait for the long term payoff anymore. Corporate shareholders want their return now, and taxing the current infrastructure is the quickest way to make a quick buck. Plus, the oil companies want their profits and the coal companies want their profits and the natural gas companies want their profits and, guess what, many shareholders of energy companies also hold shares in oil companies and coal companies and natural gas companies …
  • Wrath
    When the activists demand we do better, instead of taking a good, long look at ourselves, and the energy grid that was built as we passively looked the other way, we get angry that their protest slowed traffic and caused us to be late for work, because …
  • Pride
    We’re too proud to admit we’re wrong, that we haven’t been doing anything about it, and that we need to stand up and say I can make a difference, and, more importantly, I can force my nation to make a difference by spending my dollars on, and casting my votes for, green energy. We could be at 60% renewable energy on the grid by the end of the decade. But for that to happen, we have to really, really, really want it.