I began paying attention to state energy portfolios in high school. A physics teacher received a grant to start an initiative that would engage female students in S.T.E.M. subjects. I was taking environmental science at the time, but all my friends were in physics. They recruited me to this new renewable energy club. We did research on different types of renewable energy — wind, solar, geothermal and hydro. We built small-scale turbines. Unfortunately, while wind energy is a great source of clean energy in the Midwest (I’m from Illinois), our school was next to a hospital with a rooftop helicopter pad, which meant nothing could be taller than our building (hence, making it hard to utilize turbines). For that and several other reasons, solar became our next best option.
We learned the science behind AC and DC electricity as we built a solar panel that would light up a display case in the science hallway. Once we understood the technology and engineering, we pitched the school board on allowing us to apply for (another) grant to pay for enough solar panels to power the entire science hallway.
As the climate and clean energy advocate for Environment Florida, one specific memory from that time is particularly relevant to my current work. During our club’s meetings, our teacher brought in his two most recent electricity bills. We jumped with excitement to see that, at 2 percent, “renewable energy sources” were now their own category on the pie chart of how our grid was powered!
In 2019, renewable energy generated 8 percent of electricity in Illinois. Although most of that was wind power, I’d seen that even in a sometimes cloudy state of Illinois, solar could be a contributor. With that in mind, I came to Florida with high hopes for solar — after all, it is the Sunshine State. Imagine my disbelief when I learned that Florida generates less than 4 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Clearly, more needs to be done to make use of this clean renewable energy source.
Over the last 2 years, I’ve worked with college students, other advocates, community members, and elected officials to promote stronger commitments to renewable energy across the state. In speaking with Floridians about a future that runs on 100 percent renewable energy, I consistently get the same question: Is it achievable?
Not only is it achievable, but it’s also absolutely necessary. Experts agree that in order to combat the worst impacts of climate change, we need to transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable sources when it comes to the way we produce and consume energy. So far, 11 cities in Florida have committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy but the state lacks any renewable energy goal or benchmarks.
In our recent report, We Have the Power, we highlight how researchers are in broad agreement that an energy system powered by renewable sources is within reach. In fact, Florida has sufficient solar potential to meet current electricity needs 22 times over.
The report details the key elements needed to turn that promise into a reality. It will require building out renewable energy, modernizing the grid, reducing and managing energy use, and replacing direct uses of fossil fuels with electricity to take advantage of clean technologies.
Renewable technology is getting cheaper and more efficient every year. We have the strategies to build an energy system powered by clean energy that will slash our greenhouse gas emissions and help protect the planet. It’s important we act now to protect Florida’s environment for generations to come.
When I was in high school, I tried to imagine what a future powered by 100 percent clean and renewable energy would look like. Now I work to make that vision a reality.