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Taylor Haelterman headshot

Solutions Journalists Take On the Energy Transition

Solutions journalists are making the energy transition less daunting by focusing their stories on the governments, communities and companies working to make the shift possible.
Power lines — energy transition

(Image: Yuan Yang/Unsplash)

This story on the energy transition is part of The Solutions Effect, a monthly newsletter covering the best of solutions journalism in the sustainability and social impact space. If you aren't already getting this newsletter, you can sign up here.

The energy sector is responsible for 73 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and it will take $4 trillion to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, according to the United Nations Development Program. It’s the exact kind of unfathomable problem that solutions journalists are skilled at breaking down and turning into a conversation about action. Read on to see how they’re making the energy transition less daunting by focusing on the governments, communities and companies working to make the shift possible.

Investigating companies’ community impact 

Liberty, North Carolina, is the soon-to-be home of a Toyota electric vehicle battery “megasite” that’s bringing a much-needed economic transformation to the mostly rural region. The car company is set to invest $13.9 billion in the project, which is expected to bring 5,100 direct jobs, thousands more indirect jobs and 100,000 new residents to the area, journalist Nicole Norman reported for Inside Climate News. 

That’s bringing about a lot of change to the town of 2,600 and those around it, an area that experienced great economic woes during the 2008 recession. “For the first time in the 250 years of Randolph County’s existence, we have a chance to be wealthy,” John Ogburn, longtime resident and city manager of nearby Asheboro, told Inside Climate News. 

Already, Toyota is partnering with local colleges to fund job training and education programs, and county and city officials are approving new neighborhoods and housing developments. Norman spoke to residents of Liberty and the surrounding communities for an in-depth look at how the project came to be, the community impacts and the new opportunities. Read more. 

Identifying scalable cross-sector collaborations

Community solar projects are only allowed in 20 states, but that number is growing thanks to federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, environmental journalist Alex Brown reported for Stateline. 

Community solar gives places like farms, schools, and stores an opportunity to earn extra income by leasing land or roof space to a solar electricity developer. The developer installs solar panels and funds the project by selling subscriptions to locals who can’t install their own solar arrays. Based on the power generated by the panels, the subscribers receive credits that reduce their electricity bills. The model helps more projects get off the ground, expanding clean energy in a way that often offers financial relief to low-income households that would otherwise be unable to access it.

Legislation to enable and expand these programs faces opposition from utilities in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Washington. But a growing number of states, including Virginia and Pennsylvania, are finding ways to work with utilities to make community solar a reality. Brown looked into the benefits, the hurdles and where community solar is already working. Read more. 

Exploring up-and-coming tech solutions 

The millions of electric vehicle batteries reaching the end of their usable lifespan are adding even more waste to the already overwhelmed global electronic waste stream. It’s a challenging problem to tackle, but innovators at Honda are turning to hydrogen fuel cells to ease the strain. 

“Fuel cell vehicles represent a smaller but growing part of the EV field,” senior writer Tina Casey reports for TriplePundit. “They combine hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air to produce an electrical current through a chemical reaction.” 

Honda recently unveiled a power station that uses fuel cells recovered from its cars to generate energy. And it’s launching a new battery and fuel cell hybrid version of its top-selling compact SUV: the CR-V e:FCEV. Designed to appeal to commercial drivers, the vehicle will help alleviate the battery supply chain while allowing customers to meet carbon emission reduction goals. Casey covers how the new tech works and whether it could make a difference. Read more. 

Learning from the failures and the successes 

We all watched electric scooters rise to prominence a few years ago. And we continued to watch when their popularity fell as the purported climate and convenience benefits were overshadowed by safety concerns and mismanagement. Now, a few years after the spectacle, Syris Valentine, a climate solutions fellow at Grist, looked into what we can learn. 

“The true climate benefits of these fleets depends upon how companies deploy and manage them, and safety remains a concern as injuries climb,” Valentine wrote. “But industry leaders appear intent on ensuring their scooters are as sustainable and safe as possible.”

Valentine reviews the issues the industry still faces, like the rise of serious injuries and whether the logistics of distribution and charging negate emissions savings, and speaks to experts about what can be done to address them. Read more. 

Most of the stories above were found via the Solutions Journalism Network’s online database of solution-focused stories. If you’re looking for more stories like these, I recommend checking it out. 

Taylor Haelterman headshot

Taylor’s work spans print, podcasts, photography and radio. She brings her passion for covering social and environmental issues through the lens of solutions journalism to her work as assistant editor. 

Read more stories by Taylor Haelterman