Mark Andrew, a former Hennepin County Board Chair and former chair of the Minnesota DFL Party, is the owner of GreenMark, a leading environmental marketing agency. GreenMark, the originator of the Minnesota Twins/Pentair Rain Water Recycle partnership, is currently finalizing the state's largest solar energy installation while delivering sustainable results on behalf of leading brands, nonprofits, public agencies and the public.

The surge of solar, but is it enough?

Posted by: Mark Andrew Updated: July 23, 2014 - 8:41 AM

I’m on my back porch and the sun is burning low in the West.

I see that flaming orb differently than I used to. Today, it shines bright on the horizon of hope for clean energy generation. While still a small player by conventional industry standards its prominence surges as the price of solar continues to fall.

Clean energy from the sun is a good news story as an environmental stand-alone. But it’s also a finance story that is enjoying newfound cred as an economic play. Because solar is becoming affordable. That’s critical for small and large investors that want to do right by the world but who also expect a competitive return on their capital.

In 2012, the world invested around $100 billion in solar projects, most of them in small kilowatt systems--astonishingly, almost a million of them. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that across the entire renewable energy sector there were $269 billion in new projects in 2012. In Minnesota a brisk solar market and new state laws will drive an increase in solar installations of something like 2,500% in the next 5 years.

Those are big numbers, but are we at a tipping point in renewable acceptance?

It’s hard to say which tipping point is approaching--irreversible, permanent climate trends or a harmonic convergence of human ingenuity and market forces that scale up clean energy at an unprecedented rate.

Our own State performance on energy suggests we have a reason for optimism. A story last week in the New York Times extols the virtues of Minnesota’s forward thinking approach to energy efficiency and recently, clean energy.

The state is credited with working with Utilities to reign in carbon emissions with a mix of mandates and incentives that is making Minnesota one the most advanced on Climate Change strategies. Utilities must produce nearly 28% of their energy from renewable sources by 2025, and the state’s carbon reduction target for 2050 is 80%.

But the rapid escalation of climate change and recent research portending radical lifestyle impacts gives one the feeling that we are moving too slow.

The just-released annual report, "State of the Climate in 2013," draws on the work of 425 scientists in 57 countries. Their findings are published as a peer-reviewed paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society and it provides a sobering, shocking view of what the world is to face in coming years.

Another recent Report with a prestigious Republican and business pedigree, gives an alarming forecast about the next 100 years being characterized by many days too hot to safely be outside and profound productivity reductions in the agricultural heartland. These business leaders foresee a trillions-of-dollars catastrophe.

The common theme of these two reports is that, while clean energy strides are being made here and around the world, they may be too little too late.

Virtually every report and study that has been issued has called for dramatic action on a mass scale if we are to avoid climate catastrophe. The questions are, do we really have what it takes to make the changes, and even if we do, will it be too late?

Satchel Paige humorously said, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you”.  Is that "something" our past disregard for a sane global policy on energy? Is a century of profligate sloth and 30 years of collective denial what is catching up to us?  

The next few years will likely determine which tipping point we are at.

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