Suffolk Closeup: The future of energy is now

COURTESY PHOTO | Massive wind turbines out at sea could be a clean solution to Long Island's energy needs.

COURTESY PHOTO | Massive wind turbines out at sea could be a clean solution to Long Island’s energy needs.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell was speaking the other day with satisfaction about the town’s plan to have 100 percent of its electricity come from renewable energy — safe, clean, green power — by 2020. That’s just four years away.

After the East Hampton Town Board in 2014 unanimously adopted a resolution to have all the town’s electricity come from renewable sources, Mr. Cantwell said: “Making the switch to clean energy is just the right thing to do, both for the environment and for keeping more money in the local economy and creating jobs here.”

At East Hampton Town Hall recently he said: “We’re doing it!”

East Hampton is to meet its 100 percent renewable energy goal through solar energy, from panels on town-owned land and rooftops, and via wind energy from off-shore wind turbines, such as those the company Deepwater Wind is now completing east of the town in the ocean near Block Island.

East Hampton became the first municipality on the East Coast to adopt a 100 percent renewable energy goal, but other governments in the U.S. — among them cities such as San Francisco — have done the same, as have nations around the world.

Every town on Long Island could do it, too. There would be different packages of renewable power, just as there needs to be different packages globally, depending on energy resources, although solar power runs through all.

An energy revolution is underway.

“The World Can Transition to 100 percent Clean, Renewable Energy,” declares the website of The Solutions Project headquartered California. “Together,” it continues, “we can build a stronger economy, healthier families, and a more secure future. 100 percent clean is 100 percent possible. Join us.” The website, the solutionsproject.org, is full of information on current renewable energy programs. Among the articles: “139 Countries Could Be 100 percent Renewable by 2050.”

The Solutions Project, supported by leading U.S. foundations, including the Park Foundation, last month launched “The Fighter Fund, a new grant-making program for community-based groups on the front lines of the fight for clean energy and climate justice.”

And a fight is occurring. “Holding Clean Energy Hostage,” was the title of an article last month by Cathy Kunkel of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and M.V. Ramana of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University in the journal, Reason in Revolt. Companies tied to “traditional” energy — coal, oil, gas and nuclear — the article states, seek to block “renewable energy every step of the way.”

The sun does not send a bill. Neither does the wind. Once the infrastructure for renewable energy is built, energy flows freely, in both meanings of the word. And this threatens the old power order.

But there are new companies, such as Deepwater Wind, making huge advances in renewable energy technologies that the old order can’t put a lid on.

Just last week, for example, a new firm, Insolight, announced development of solar photovoltaic panels with 36 percent efficiency. The most advanced solar panels for use in space have 25 percent efficiency. Several years ago the efficiency of solar panels was measured in single digits. Currently, most are 18 percent to 20 percent, and the SunPower company last year began producing panels with 24 percent “world record” efficiency. With 36 percent efficiency, less space for panels is needed.

Meanwhile, the price of solar panels has gone down dramatically.

Regarding wind, the United Kingdom last month gave the go-ahead for what’s to be the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

This August 7, Scottish wind turbines generated “the total amount of electricity used by every home and business” in Scotland, reported the U.K. newspaper, The Independent.

There are big advances in energy storage, to end criticism of renewable energy being intermittent. “Holy Grail of Energy Policy in Sight as Battery Technology Smashes the Old Order,” was the headline last month in another U.K. newspaper, The Telegraph.

“There’s enough wind and solar to power the world,” said Bill Nye, the “Science Guy,” on CNN last month. And there are other renewable sources including those involving water — tidal power and wave power — as we see daily on Long Island, now being tapped around the world.

East Hampton, by “setting these bold renewable energy goals,” says Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, is “a visionary leader in the fight against climate change and an example of how we can all become part of the solution.”

The round-the-world flight of the solar-powered airplane Solar Impulse, completed in late July, was an historical milestone. Closer to home, the boat Novela skippered by solar pioneer Gary Minnick of Flanders, arriving in Riverhead a week earlier on a journey from Florida, are symbols of a the potentially bright new energy future.

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