The simplest, most important supply & demand graph ever

September 1, 2021

Buckle up, everyone. We’re going back to high school economics class for a hot minute to witness a little supply-and-demand MAGIC. Remember watching your teacher draw endless variations of those graphs on the chalkboard (or whiteboard for you fancy millennials)?

teacher drawing graph on chalkboard

Why are we headed back to high school econ? Every once in a while, it’s helpful to zoom out and remind ourselves what all this effort behind wind and solar energy, electric vehicles, global politics, electrification, and more is all driving toward. The end goal of our energy transition is to fully power our world with clean, renewable energy. Put another way, we want to arrive at the point when our supply of clean energy completely matches our demand for energy.


Here’s the takeaway, though, class: we need that glorious day—when the supply curve meets the demand curve—to arrive as soon as possible. In the context of the climate crisis, getting there a decade earlier, for example, makes a world of difference (pun very much intended). 

How do we make this 100% clean energy moment arrive as soon as possible? We need to bend the curves. If we slow down the growth of energy demand (bend the curve down) and speed up the growth of clean energy supply (bend the curve up), the chart does something kinda magical: it makes the 100% clean energy moment arrive much more quickly than you might expect.

supply and demand graph showing energy demand and clean energy supply

Whammo. That’s some econ magic, y’all. So how exactly do we bend those curves? 


Another (more colorful) way to visualize things

In order to answer that important question, let’s look at another visualization of our energy supply and demand—this one with a bit more detail. This chart shows where our energy comes from (on the left), and to what end uses it flows (on the right). The specifics won’t be on the test, but the gist is that supply is on the left and demand is on the right:

Sankey diagram showing the U.S. energy flows
Breaking down America’s energy sources and consumption in 2020. Credit: Visual Capitalist

After you’ve had a minute let this rainbow of colors soak in, we’re ready to answer our key questions: how do we bend those supply and demand curves?


How to bend the supply curve up

How do we accelerate the growth rate of renewable energy? While the chart above is fascinating to look at, it’s also alarming to see the amount of petroleum and natural gas on which we still rely. The important reminder here is that this snapshot in time doesn’t show the growth curve renewables are on over time. They’ve had remarkable growth over the past decade—and they’re just getting started. Here are three key ways to bend the clean, renewable energy supply curve (i.e., accelerate growth) even more:

  1. Set a clean electricity standard: While some state governments have set their own standards (requiring utilities to get a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources), the climate crisis now demands a more aggressive timeline. The federal government could weigh in with a national standard in order to speed up growth of renewable energy, using a variety of carrots and sticks to urge utilities to pick up their pace. In fact, such a standard should be included in the reconciliation bill currently being discussed on Capitol Hill—and it’s likely Congress’ last good chance to implement this critical policy.
  2. Stop subsidizing fossil fuels: Despite what the coal, oil, and gas industries (and their entourage of politicians) would have us think, most Americans would be shocked at how much we prop up fossil fuels versus renewables. We’re talking over $35 billion in direct and consumption subsidies and nearly $700 billion in “implicit” subsidies (the costs to the U.S. government from climate change, air pollution, and infrastructure damage that fossil fuels aren’t paying) every year. If we turned off this spigot and directed even a fraction of that money toward deploying renewable energy, we could bend that growth curve up dramatically.
  3. Electrify everything: Look back at the colorful chart: if more of our end uses on the right (e.g., “Transportation,” “Residential,” “Commercial”) were able to run on electricity instead of on oil and gas, it would drive more growth of renewables (which can generate electricity very cost-effectively) and less production of fossil fuels. What’s that cool word for making things “be able to run on electricity”? Electrification. Think switching from gas-powered cars, trucks, buses, machinery, appliances, and HVAC to electric versions. 

How to bend the demand curve down

Now that we’ve covered how to bend the supply curve up, let’s turn our attention to the less-sexy job of bending the demand curve down—i.e., reducing our demand for energy. Using less (of anything) doesn’t quite capture the American public’s imagination like building massive wind turbines does, but the good news is that reducing demand can be an incredibly cost-efficient way of saving money, lowering emissions, and hastening the arrival of our 100% clean energy moment—all without hampering economic growth (California is a successful example of this). Here are three key ways to bend the demand curve down:

    1. Make our buildings more energy efficient: This report summarizes it best: “Architectural designs, construction practices, and technologies are available today that minimize energy and resource use in buildings and optimize the benefits to people of high performance—cleaner air, more comfortable homes and workspaces, and lower utility bills. And improved building efficiency is a win for city leaders and local planners: every $1 invested in efficiency saves $2 in new power plants and electricity distribution costs.”
    2. Change our most energy-intensive behaviors: Certain individual behaviors require a ton of energy to make happen, and doing less of them would go a long way toward reducing energy demand. Behaviors like reducing food waste, eating less meat, and flying less are both energy- and carbon-intensive—even though all the energy input is sometimes hidden from consumers’ view (“embedded”). 
    3. Electrify everything: Same idea as mentioned above, but for a different reason here: electric motors are simply far more efficient machines than their fossil fuel-powered counterparts. Switching from a gas furnace to a heat pump can reduce a home’s electricity use for heating by 50%; electric vehicle powertrains are 3-6x more efficient than comparable gas-powered powertrains. Electric machines aren’t just better for pollution and the climate crisis—they’re now simply better.


The result

If we’re able to bend the growth curves of both supply and demand, we can accelerate the arrival of a world fully powered by clean, renewable energy. And in case you needed a reminder, speed is of the essence. Every little bit of acceleration matters, as climate scientist Allison Crimmins reminded us just a few weeks ago: “…Every action counts to avoid those [climate] impacts. So every bit of temperature, every tenth of a degree that we can avoid is going to be better. Every single action matters. Every year matters.”


Take Action: Protect Clean Cars + Clean Air

June 29, 2021

Generation180 is joining electric vehicle advocates, climate organizations, and public health experts nationwide to urge the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to restore state leadership on vehicle pollution regulation through the Advanced Clean Car Standards.

Not sure what that means? That’s okay! We’re here to walk you through it. Long story short, the Advanced Clean Cars Program is one of the most effective policies states can pass to accelerate electric vehicle (EV) adoption, but states need permission from the federal government to implement this program. The previous administration rescinded this permission, but now the EPA is considering reinstating it. To ensure that this authority is restored and accelerate EV adoption nationwide, the EPA needs to hear from EV advocates like you!

Submit Comments to Support EV Adoption

So how can you get involved? By helping us tell the EPA that it’s time to get more EVs on the road and restore the clean car standards! Comments are due by July 6th, and we’ve made it easy for you. Simply copy the text below and go to this link to submit your comment. Easy peasy!

Script to copy:

As an American who supports our nation’s transition to clean energy, I know that electric vehicles are an important solution to addressing the climate emergency. Therefore, I’m writing to express my support for the EPA’s restoration of the Clean Air Act waiver for state greenhouse gas pollution and zero-emission vehicle standards for cars and trucks.

The transportation sector is the largest source of climate pollution in the U.S., accounting for nearly one-third of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. The transportation sector also contributes significantly to pollution that negatively impacts public health, and these impacts are felt disproportionately by low-income communities and communities of color.

The previous administration’s decision to undercut state authority to tackle air pollution from vehicles took away a crucial tool for addressing climate and air pollution. It’s imperative that the EPA restore the clean car standards so that states can continue to lead in fighting climate change and transition to a clean energy economy. Enabling states to adopt and implement clean car standards will ensure we are protecting our communities and driving further investment in pollution-free transportation solutions.

Together, we can ensure that the U.S. enjoys zero-emissions vehicles, cleaner air, and a clean energy future for all.

Click here to submit your comment to the EPA by July 6th!


Clean energy isn’t just for the wealthy

January 27, 2021

This article is from the January 27, 2021, issue of Flip the Script, a weekly newsletter moving you from climate stress to clean energy action. Sign up here to get it in your inbox (and share the link with a friend).

There’s a common misconception that electric cars and fancy solar panels are only for the rich. That may have been true a decade ago—but no longer. Technological innovation and the ramp-up in production volume have driven prices down dramatically in recent years. And with better policies and targeted financial support, any of the key solutions available today—from electric vehicles (EVs) and rooftop solar to low-cost energy efficiency—will ultimately help lighten people’s wallets, not tighten them.

It’s an unfortunate reality that households earning the least end up spending a greater proportion of their incomes on energy costs like electricity, heat and fuel. After housing, transportation is the second biggest spending category for the average U.S. family, sucking up more than 15 percent of their incomes.

Outsized energy spending is also a matter of racial equity. Minority communities account for a higher share of low-income households nationwide—and thus also spend a greater percentage of their income on energy. The median energy burden for African-American households is 64 percent greater than for White households, and for Latino households, it’s 24 percent greater. As a result, low-income and minority households have faced a heightened risk of utility shutoffs for non-payment of bills during the COVID-19 pandemic. Geographically, the highest energy burdens among low-income households are in the Southeast and Appalachia, even though these regions have lower average energy rates.

Existing barriers

Adopting clean energy solutions—including EVs, renewable energy, and energy efficiency measures—can help families everywhere reduce their energy bills and take action to fight the climate crisis. Unfortunately, certain groups have been deliberately misinformed by the pro-fossil-fuel lobby. Starting in 2016, the Fueling U.S. Forward campaign, funded by the Koch Brothers, effectively sought to dissuade low-income and minority consumers from buying EVs and investing in clean energy by falsely claiming that these solutions are “only for rich people” and would drive up energy bills for everyday Americans. As environmental justice leader Eddie Bautista has noted, rapidly falling costs associated with clean energy have actually made the shift away from fossil fuels more affordable for everyone.

The median energy burden for African-American households is 64 percent greater than for White households, and for Latino households, it’s 24 percent greater.

While clean energy could be a game changer for families struggling to cover their energy bills, it won’t happen without help. Low-income households face serious barriers to accessing key technologies like rooftop solar, including a lack of qualifying credit scores. Also, because these families disproportionately rent rather than own their homes, landlords may not be incentivized to make energy improvements because they’re often not the ones paying the energy bills. While a growing market for used EVs is making the technology more accessible to many, their higher sticker price is still a barrier for many would-be buyers (despite their cheaper cost of ownership over time). That’s why it’s important for states and auto-makers to offer rebates at the time of purchase for folks who may not have access to incentives such as federal or state tax credits.

Removing barriers

The possibilities abound—if only we’re brave enough to see them. In North Carolina, the rural utility Roanoke Electric helps low- and middle-income customers get into EVs by offering a discount on members’ power bills if they drive electric. The flat rate of $50 for electricity each month (ideal for EV owners who drive < 50 miles each day) is well below the nearly $185 a month it would cost to keep a comparable gas-powered car going for that same distance. “This pilot program allows us to fulfill our mission and keep rates affordable…in a respectful and environmentally responsible way,” notes the co-op’s president and CEO.

Solar installations and energy efficiency can similarly lower energy bills for low-income households, while also bringing improved indoor air quality and safety. To make these technologies affordable to the households that need them the most, utility providers and communities can work together to remove the financial barriers and accelerate the clean energy revolution. Some places are already showing the way. For example, the District of Columbia’s Solar for All program aims to bring the benefits of solar energy to 100,000 low-to-moderate income families in the city. In Colorado, the Colorado Energy Office offers cost-effective low-income solar options for residents who spend more than 4 percent of their household income on energy costs.

Better energy efficiency can also reduce the energy burden for many families. Low-income housing tends to be far less energy efficient than average construction, so even relatively low-cost moves like switching out incandescent bulbs with LEDs and installing better home insulation and windows can help, regardless of climate, heating fuel, or energy price factors. By one estimate, if low-income housing was as efficient as the average U.S. home, customers’ energy costs would decrease by about one-third.

The issues surrounding energy affordability are complicated, and there’s no single solution. But this much is clear: the transition to electric mobility and renewables and greater investment in energy efficiency will be a win-win for families everywhere. As the Climate Reality Project notes, “Low-income families are suffering disproportionately under the current energy landscape.” Accelerating the shift to clean energy will help them reduce their bills while involving them in the all-hand-on-deck action needed to fight the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

Special thanks to Climate Reality for their excellent blog post on this topic. Also: stay tuned for an upcoming toolkit tackling one barrier to increased EV access: installing chargers at multi-unit dwellings.


An opportunity to invest in a better future

May 20, 2020

On most (quarantine) days, it might feel a smidge perverse to think of the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity. Our economy is going to hell, we’re losing jobs in droves, and we can’t even go enjoy a good restaurant meal. But in our shattered state, we also have a chance to rebuild—healthier, more resilient, and more equitable than before. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—and a responsibility—to move our country forward to a healthier future rather than backward to a status quo ridden with critical underlying conditions (read: climate crisis, inequities, broken healthcare system…). This cartoon (from illustrator Brenna Quinlan) captures the moment well:

Screen Shot 2020-05-14 at 3.05.21 PM

Putting stimulus funding toward clean energy is a critical way our government can capitalize on this opportunity and move us forward.

By investing in industries like wind, solar, electric transportation, and others, we can emerge from this crisis closer to unlocking the clean air, healthier communities, stable domestic energy sources, and massive job- and value-creation that clean energy offers. To be clear: the transition to clean energy is already underway; we now have a chance to accelerate it—in a game-changing way. So let’s tell our representatives how we want our money invested.

If this thinking resonates with you, you’re not alone: most of the American public is already on board. In an April poll, two-thirds of voters supported giving stimulus funding to renewable energy companies, while less than half supported bailouts for the oil and gas industry. Accelerating the clean energy transition in this moment isn’t a technical or PR problem—it’s a political one.

To emerge from this pandemic crisis stronger than when we started, we need to focus on “building civilization back in a hardier and more resilient form,” as climate advocate Bill McKibben recently put it. Isn’t that part of the American ethos? So—why can’t a clean energy economy be the next great chapter in our country’s history?

Originally published in the 5/20/20 edition of our Flip the Script newsletter.


Urge Lawmakers to Support the Virginia Clean Economy Act

March 3, 2020

Guest post by Elizabeth Doerr and Cheryl Burke—school board members for Richmond Public Schools.

As mothers and school board members for Richmond Public schools (RPS), the welfare of children and our community is always on our minds. Every day we are working to maintain a climate in our schools that keeps our children safe and provides the resources they need to thrive in the future. Outside of our school buildings, we are facing a climate crisis that is threatening our global climate and our ability to provide our children the resources they need to thrive in the future.

We have a tremendous opportunity right now in Virginia to tackle climate change in a meaningful way. The Virginia Clean Economy Act is a comprehensive energy bill being presently considered by the General Assembly. This bill lays out a clear plan with enforceable benchmarks to get Virginia to a 100% clean energy standard by 2050. We are calling on you take action by speaking up for this landmark legislation that can help all of us, especially our youth, secure a brighter, healthier future. Together, we can achieve the bold vision of 100% clean energy that has already been outlined by Governor Northam.

Richmond Public Schools superintendent, school board members, and students
Elizabeth Doerr and Cheryl Burke with the teacher and students who advocated for solar at RPS celebrating the solar project completion.

How Solar Is Benefitting Richmond

Our school community has gained so much by joining in this transition to a carbon-neutral future. RPS currently has bragging rights to the biggest solar installation on a school district in Virginia.  With nearly 3 megawatts of solar installed on ten school rooftops, our impact is equivalent to the carbon emissions of 496 homes’ electricity use each year.

Going solar not only helped our district be better stewards of the planet, but also of the community’s tax dollars. Through a power purchase agreement with Secure Futures Solar, the solar project had no upfront cost to the district. In fact, we will be saving $2 million in electricity costs over the next 20 years. This project also came with a supporting grant from the Community Foundation of Richmond that enabled us to purchase additional energy monitoring devices and to fund a Sustainability Coordinator to work full time with RPS staff on going green.

A group of motivated elementary students and teachers came to the school board with a request to go solar on their schools. We are extremely proud that we found a way to say yes to them. Our solar panels signal to our students that we are looking out for their futures both inside and outside of the classroom. The technology is now being utilized by students at all different levels.

All eighth grade science teachers throughout the district received a professional development training and materials to help them incorporate solar energy lessons in the classroom. One high school class used the real-time data generated on the rooftops to participate in a collaborative research project with the Science Museum of Richmond, Secure Futures Solar, and students from Augusta County.

Expanding Access to the Rest of Virginia

Many other districts are ‘seeing the light’ and catching on to how solar can benefit their schools. According to nonprofit Generation180, the number of K-12 schools in Virginia that have gone solar has tripled since 2017. Other school districts are making plans to go solar and reap the same financial and education benefits we have received.  However, their plans are now on hold due to utility roadblocks that can only be removed with new legislation passed by the General Assembly.

The Virginia Clean Economy Act (SB 851/HB 1526) would not only remove those barriers to solar, but it will create numerous benefits for all Virginians. The bill’s plan for moving us to 100% clean energy will spur economic growth, create thousands of in-state jobs, reduce electric bills with energy efficiency, and mitigate the impacts of climate change that we are already facing now.

We hope you will all join us now in contacting your state legislators to ask for their support of the Virginia Clean Economy Act.  This is our last chance to speak up before the General Assembly session ends on March 7.

Our children and future generations are counting on us.

Use Generation180’s tool to contact your legislator and voice your support for this crucial clean energy policy.


Primary blog photo credit: Secure Futures, LLC