By John Kell and Alan Murray
September 29, 2015

The U.S. is transitioning to clean energy much faster than analysts thought five years ago. That’s the conclusion I take from day one of Fortune’s Brainstorm E conference, looking at the nexus of energy, technology and sustainability.

 

The conference, which assembled several hundred business leaders and energy experts in Austin, Texas, is providing plenty of reason for optimism. Solar and wind energy are expanding faster than expected, thanks to the combination of rapidly falling prices and tax subsidies. Battery technology for energy storage is advancing. Efficiency gains have kept overall energy usage below 2007 levels. And new investments in technology promise more progress in the future. (See this piece on the clean web by Nicholas Eisenberger.) The conference also has highlighted efforts by business to encourage, and profit, from the change – including the creation of a new Energy Transitions Commission to help business gather data and make smart decisions about the rapidly changing energy environment.

 

The only pessimism came when the conversation turned to Washington, D.C., where increased political polarization has reduced – if not eliminated – the likelihood any kind of energy legislation. “Washington is in the Potomac, and that’s the best we can hope for,” said Christine Todd Whitman, former director of the EPA and governor of New Jersey. When I asked Whitman if the Pope’s advocacy of efforts to address climate change might help relieve the U.S. political stalemate, she responded: “Maybe for a nanosecond.”

 

More conference coverage here. More news below.

 

 

Alan Murray
@alansmurray
alan.murray@fortune.com

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