The International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that current global market share of clean energy supply (i.e., renewable energy other than large hydropower, biomass, and nuclear) is approximately 1%. The IEA best-case scenario forecasts clean energy technologies may reach nearly 20% global market share by 2030. If efforts to promote and deploy renewable energy technologies are twice as successful as the most optimistic authoritative forecast, approximately 60% to 99% of energy supply will still be generated with conventional energy technologies having substantial environmental and social risks.
Conventional energy technologies carry with them significant environmental, social, and economic risks (e.g., coal mine accidents, oil spills, nuclear safety, etc.). In fact, the more devastating conventional energy disasters have been due, not to failures of technology, but to failure to deploy known safeguards. Improved environmental and social control of conventional energy technologies will “internalize” the environmental and social costs associated with conventional energy while improving the real world lives of those living near conventional energy facilities, plus make renewable energy technologies more cost competitive.
While scaling up renewable energy ought to remain the top energy priority, how are we to deal with the environmental consequences of the vast preponderance of energy supply that will remain for the foreseeable future? What innovative methods can be used to deploy environmental and social safeguards for conventional energy technologies?