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Renewables Are Winning, But The Fight Just Got Harder: 2016 In Energy

Most countries, cities, and companies now agree: We need a carbon-free economy and it will actually be cheaper to get there. There’s only one problem . . .

2016 saw the world of energy moving in two opposing directions. On one hand, we have Donald Trump doubling down on fossil fuels and pulling back from climate commitments. On the other, technologies like solar panels, smart meters and home batteries are shifting the system away from dirtier, centralized power generation. The question for 2017: will Trump or technology be more important for energy?

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Trump’s election means a retrenchment of an agenda around fossil fuels. Trump has promised to return jobs to the coal mining industry, approve projects like the KXL pipeline, and to kill the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. He’s appointed former Texas Governor Rick Perry (who is on the board of the company trying to build the Dakota Access Pipeline) as Energy Secretary, Exxon’s CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, and began what looks like a witch-hunt for climate-focused officials.

But this year there were plenty of reasons to be cheerful about the future of energy. The economy continued to decarbonize. Solar and wind power boomed, driven by cheaper prices and ever-more-efficient technology (they should survive Trump, whatever he does). In many parts of the world, renewables are on track to reach price parity with fossil fuels within a few years. And there are new ways to generate, store and even share energy now becoming possible, promising a more flexible, consumer-focused market than we have today.

[Photo: Flickr user Steve Nelson

1. Burning Even Today’s Existing Fossil Fuel Reserves Would Blow The World’s Carbon Budget
It’s simple but scary math.

2. Energy Efficiency Is Key To Taking On Climate Change—Here Are The Numbers That Matter
Energy efficiency needs to account for one-third of all emissions reductions by 2040.

3. Corporate America Is Buying More Clean Energy Than Power Utilities
Want to get solar and wind power off the ground? It might be smarter to turn to Apple or Google rather than the power company.

[Photo: Walter Stein/Getty Images]

4. This Very, Very Detailed Chart Shows How All The Energy In The U.S. Is Used
Take a master’s level course in improving your energy literacy, down to the half a percent of our energy that we use to fly military jets.

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5. These GIFs Show America’s Remarkable Renewable Energy Explosion
Even the Trump administration’s fossil-fuel-powered cabinet appointees may have trouble stopping this momentum.

6. This Massive Waste-To-Energy Plant Will Be The Largest In The World
Stretching nearly a mile across and complete with a visitor’s center, the new incinerator will tackle China’s growing trash problem.

7. Britain Says It Will Ditch Coal Power By 2025
After a year in which solar generated more power than coal for six months, the country has realized a transition to clean energy won’t be so hard.

8. Renewable Energy Might Have Enough Momentum To Survive A Trump Administration
The energy industry has already shifted—and it may not want to go backwards.

9. The Blockchain Energy System Is Going To Be Great For Consumers
Make your own power, sell your own power—at prices you decide.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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