Environment America Blog

A renewable energy road trip

By Graham Marema
Clean Water Network, Digital Organizer

How the energy landscape is changing across America

My family on our road trip out west

My family in Grand Teton National Park, summer of 2008. I’m the redhead in the middle with the very stylish sunglasses (whatever happened to those?)

Picture: Graham Marema

Growing up, my family loved road trips. During the summer, we’d pile coloring books, camping gear and our little rat terrier Abby into our old, gray van and head off across the country. Our longest trip was the summer when I was eleven. We drove all the way from our hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. to Washington state -- making stops in every state park we encountered.

A little over a decade later, I still love taking road trips. On my latest one, I took a weekend trip from Denver to Santa Fe, N.M. To get there, I drove through the plains from Colorado to New Mexico, and I realized something about the landscape looked different than it did when my family drove to Washington that summer. If you’ve been road tripping across the U.S. in the past few years, you may have noticed it too.

From sea to shining sea, wind turbines have become a common sight, turning the windy plains of our country into fields of clean, renewable energy. On this trip to Santa Fe, it made me wonder: Exactly how many turbines have appeared in fields across the U.S.?

The answer is a lot. A new report by Frontier Group and Environment America Research & Policy Center shows that wind power has tripled in the U.S. over the past decade. And wind power isn’t the only clean energy resource on the rise. In the same period of time, solar power has grown 40-fold and energy storage has increased 18 times over.

Technologies that used to seem like something out of a sci-fi novel have become commonplace. A decade ago, it would have been a novel sight if my family had passed an electric vehicle on the road. But there were more than 361,000 electric vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2018 alone. In fact, last year, the millionth electric vehicle was sold in the U.S.

We’re even using the energy we produce more proficiently. The report shows that efficiency programs across the country saved more than twice as much energy in 2017 as in 2009. In 2017, energy efficiency programs saved enough electricity to power more than 2.5 million homes.

America’s energy landscape is changing, and this progress should give us confidence that we can take it to the next level with 100 percent renewable energy. By leaning into this momentum and making bold policies and commitments to use these incredible clean energy technologies, we can power our society sustainably, for the betterment of our communities and our planet.

A lot has changed since I took that road trip with my family over a decade ago. I don’t use coloring books quite as often, and I’ve grown a couple inches. I live in Colorado now, not Tennessee, and my parents replaced the old van with a bright blue Prius. And since that road trip, our society has made real strides toward powering itself renewably and sustainably.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that I still love road trips. I just like them even more when I get to pass wind turbines and see firsthand the energy revolution taking place in our country.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Me gazing ahead at a clean energy future.

Picture: Graham Marema