The global energy sector is undergoing a seismic shift. The transition away from traditional fossil fuels to renewable energy is in full swing as the fight against climate change continues to gain serious momentum. The International Energy Agency's (IEA) 2020 Outlook points to the highest-ever share of newly built generation capacity for renewables.
According to the energy watchdog, 200 gigawatts of renewable power have been added in the current year, with renewables expected to account for 95% of the net increase in global power capacity through 2025. The agency has projected that installed wind and solar capacity will surpass natural gas and coal in 2023 and 2024, respectively.
That said, every revolution requires leaders at its helm, setting the tone and guiding the way--and the renewable revolution is no different.
The sector is blessed with some of the best brains in energy, including scientists, innovators, and even politicians.
Here are some of the most powerful and influential people driving the clean energy revolution.
#1. Elon Musk Elon Musk is not just one of the most powerful people in renewable energy but also a thought leader and innovator par excellence. He is the brains behind Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA), by far the most recognizable brand in the EV sector. There's little doubt that electric vehicles are the future of mobility, with the U.K. setting a 2030 deadline for the phase-out of ICE vehicles from its roads. Tesla's Model 3 is highly popular, with the company on set to deliver 500,000 vehicles in 2020 and possibly 1 million in 2021.
Tesla joined the S&P 500 on December. 21, with the company boasting a market cap of $658B after a torrid 730% YTD gain by the shares.
Tesla owns SolarCity, one of the leaders in the solar sector. According to UBS Research, last year, Tesla was the leader of the residential solar space, accounting for 14% of all U.S. residential solar installations, thanks to its 2016 acquisition of SolarCity. However, The Sunrun-Vivint Solar merger earlier this year might change the dynamics of residential solar with the duo owning a 16% slice of the market.
#2. Urs Hölzle, Senior Vice President of Technical Infrastructure, Google
In 2017, Google achieved a major milestone by becoming the first Silicon Valley tech heavyweight to power its global operations, including data centers and offices with 100% renewable energy. The man behind the drive is none other than Urs Hölzle, Senior Vice President of Technical Infrastructure at Google.
Google is among a handful of corporations that have committed to creating large-scale, long-term contracts to buy renewable energy directly. Today, the ad giant is the world's largest corporate buyer of renewable power, with commitments reaching 2.6 gigawatts (2,600 megawatts). That's bigger than what many large utilities manage. Last year, Google signed contracts to purchase over 2.7GW of clean energy globally, the biggest clean energy commitment by any company on the planet. That included contracts to purchase 1.9GW of clean energy in six countries. Google employs a unique reverse auction process when signing renewable energy contracts, with developers taking part in a live, public bidding process.
Google's engineers have spent years perfecting its data centers, making them 50% more energy efficient than the industry average. Obviously, processing trillions of Google searches every year and playing more than 400 hours of YouTube videos every minute requires lots of power, and Google has been purchasing renewable energy to lower its carbon footprint and address climate change.
#3. Richard Branson
Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson is primarily known as the founder of Virgin Group, a global conglomerate encompassing over 400 companies in various industries. Mr. Branson has been very vocal about the climate crisis and has made clean energy one of his companies' top priorities through several businesses and philanthropic endeavors.
Following the devastation by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, Branson used his celebrity status and connections to launch the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator, a $1 billion clean energy fund. In August 2018, BMR Energy, a Virgin Group subsidiary, purchased a solar farm in St. Croix and restored it to full capacity, powering nearly 1,600 homes on the island.
Last year, Mr. Branson proposed a "clean energy dividend" to replace the carbon tax model. The carbon tax model is widely used by many governments to curb carbon emissions but is often circumvented by legislation. Under the clean energy dividend, companies will impose a clean energy dividend on the fossil fuel they use with the dividends invested in generating clean energy. By investing in renewables, companies will be able to recoup their investments plus dividends over time.
#4. Andrew Garrad, Former President of Garrad Hassan Andrew Garrad is a clean energy visionary who built one of the world's largest clean energy consultancies, GL Garrad Hassan, from scratch.
Garrad took a keen interest in sustainable energy solutions as a youth, managing to build his first wind turbine at 18 years old. Garrad has been involved in wind energy for more than 30 years, serving as president of the European Wind Energy Association from 2013 to 2014. He has also served as chairman of the British Wind Energy Association. Garrad co-founded Garrad Hassan in 1984 and became President of GL Garrad Hassan after the merger between Garrad Hassan and Germanischer Lloyd (GL) in 2009.
Garrad is widely regarded as a global authority on renewable energy by industry associations, academia, regulators, and sustainable energy enthusiasts. In 2006, he received the European Wind Energy Association's Poul la Cour prize for outstanding achievement in the wind energy field; the equivalent Eolus prize from the Hellenic Wind Energy Association and has twice won the Queen's Award for International Enterprise.
#5. Jennifer Granholm
President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate former two-term Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as his Energy secretary in his bid to tackle climate change.
Granholm fully embraced renewable energy as the governor of a Rust Belt state and has repeatedly pitched climate change solutions. She passes muster with restive green groups, which have been pushing Biden to reject candidates with any kind of ties to the fossil fuel industry. Granholm has championed green energy, arguing that we ought to be "doing everything we possibly can to keep fossil fuel energy in the ground and developing the renewable side."
News of her potential nomination has drawn applause from environmentalists who have pointed out how she led Michigan out of the last recession by investing in clean energy and transportation.
By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com
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