As a rule, energy transitions don’t happen quickly. It took some 200 years for coal to supplant wood as the world’s leading source of energy. The rise of oil wasn’t that much faster. After the first oil rush, in Pennsylvania in 1859, more than a century passed before crude topped coal. The age of renewable energy, by comparison, is coming on with lightning speed.
Sources of energy like solar panels that seemed like anachronistic tree-hugger technology less than a decade ago have become key parts of baseload electricity generation. Wind turbines now produce more power in the U.S. than the entire country used in 1950. Electric vehicles account for 5% of new-car sales, a tipping point that in other countries has led to 25% adoption within four years. Renewables are now the largest source of power generation in Europe, and they expanded their share of global power generation to 29% in 2020 from 20% in 2010.