I went door to door for 100 percent renewable energy in Pennsylvania. Here’s what I learned.

By Ben Sonnega
Go Solar Campaign, Associate, Environment America

Why the clean energy revolution puts power in the hands of the individual

An Environment America canvasser speaks to a Pennsylvania resident about 100 percent renewable energy. Photo: Suzannah Hoover Photography.

As a clean energy advocate, it’s clear to me that the energy revolution is charging forward. According to the International Energy Agency’s Renewables 2019 report, “Renewable power capacity is set to expand by 50 percent between 2019 and 2024, led by solar PV.” 

Over the last decade, renewable energy technologies have grown at a faster clip than many experts predicted. According to the Energy Information Agency (EIA), the U.S. produced 17 times the amount of solar energy in 2018 than was predicted by the agency just six years previously. But what does the average person think about the possibility of a future powered by renewable energy? 

When you step back and consider the immense benefits that renewable energy offers, you can understand why it’s booming. For example, rooftop solar is appealing to individuals and small communities because it saves consumers money, in addition to providing environmental and health benefits. It also improves grid resiliency, meaning communities are less vulnerable to blackouts in other parts of the state. 

This October, I had the chance to go door-to-door for four days with PennEnvironment in Radnor, Penn. to talk to residents about renewable energy. Specifically, I was talking to them about HB 1425 and SB 630 -- bills that would commit the state to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2050. 

What I learned from talking to folks there made me hopeful for the future of renewable energy, and reinforced just how important face-to-face conversations are. Mostly, people were supportive of renewable energy, an indication that whether or not they are tracking EIA data and price trends per watt for solar and wind, they have an overall positive sense of renewables. 

In many of the conversations I had, people brought up local renewable energy initiatives and projects they had heard about from friends or read in local news outlets. They had questions about how we will ultimately get to 100 percent renewable energy, but seemed confident that it can be done. 

Even two years ago, this optimism about clean renewable energy probably wouldn’t have been there. I was still in school, writing papers about the most ambitious renewable portfolio standards (RPS) in the U.S., none of which were for 100 percent. Bold commitments by states and cities have shown the country that powering our homes and communities with 100 percent clean energy isn’t just a lofty aspiration, but a necessary goal to strive for if we want to avoid the worst effects of climate change. 

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 83 percent of Americans say increasing use of renewable energy sources is a top or important priority for the country. With renewables growing rapidly, we can continue harnessing and building upon that vast public support. We know that we are capable of exceeding projections and hitting goals ahead of time, but if we also know we need to keep calling on our elected officials to aim higher. Otherwise, we won’t get there as fast as we need, given that experts say we need to dramatically change the way we power our lives in the next decade to slow climate change.

Cities and states are the laboratories of our democracy, and renewable energy offers individuals and local officials a chance to take action that will help their communities address climate change, clean up their air and water, and make their grid more resilient. Renewable energy sources, energy efficiency measures and microgrid technology literally put the power back in the hands of the people, and it is the people that must continue to drive this transition.

We are at a turning point in history, and it’s as important as ever to get involved and make our voices heard. Whether it’s getting out and canvassing door-to-door like I did, going to a local town council meeting, or actually installing solar panels on your roof, this movement can and should be driven by people like you and me. Ambitious commitments from our state and federal government will push the clean energy revolution forward, but first they need to hear from us. 

So get up, get out and go ask your neighbor what they’re doing to get your community to 100 percent renewable energy.