The price of solar is declining to unprecedented lows

Scientific American reports: The installed price of solar energy has declined significantly in recent years as policy and market forces have driven more and more solar installations.

Now, the latest data show that the continued decrease in solar prices is unlikely to slow down anytime soon, with total installed prices dropping by 5 percent for rooftop residential systems, and 12 percent for larger utility-scale solar farms. With solar already achieving record-low prices, the cost decline observed in 2015 indicates that the coming years will likely see utility-scale solar become cost competitive with conventional forms of electricity generation.

A full analysis of the ongoing decline in solar prices can be found in two separate Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Reports: Tracking the Sun IX focuses on installed pricing trends in the distributed rooftop solar market while Utility-Scale Solar 2015 focuses on large-scale solar farms that sell bulk power to the grid.

Put together, the reports show that all categories of solar have seen significantly declining costs since 2010. Furthermore, larger solar installations consistently beat out their smaller counterparts when it comes to the installed cost per rated Watt of solar generating capacity (or $/WDC). [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Study finds biofuels worse for climate than gasoline

Climate Central reports: Years of number crunching that had seemed to corroborate the climate benefits of American biofuels were starkly challenged in a science journal on Thursday, with a team of scientists using a new approach to conclude that the climate would be better off without them.

Based largely on comparisons of tailpipe pollution and crop growth linked to biofuels, University of Michigan Energy Institute scientists estimated that powering an American vehicle with ethanol made from corn would have caused more carbon pollution than using gasoline during the eight years studied.

Most gasoline sold in the U.S. contains some ethanol, and the findings, published in Climatic Change, were controversial. They rejected years of work by other scientists who have relied on a more traditional approach to judging climate impacts from bioenergy — an approach called life-cycle analysis. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Why has offshore wind technology been so slow to catch on in the United States?

Madeleine Thomas writes: The first offshore wind farm in the country, a $300 million project more than seven years in the making, will open this fall off the coast of Rhode Island.

Deepwater Wind, an offshore wind developer, is spearheading the five-turbine farm near Block Island, less than 20 miles south off the mainland. The facility will power most of the island, cut local electric rates by 40 percent, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40,000 tons a year. The wind farm — — the first of its kind in United States waters — — could power as many as 17,000 homes.

“I look at Block Island as sort of the key to unlocking the code of how to do offshore wind in the U.S.,” Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski told the Associated Press.

There may be merit to Grybowski’s claim, but, overall, offshore wind in the U.S. is slow-going. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has already approved 11 commercial wind leases throughout the Atlantic, but as the Associated Press reports, projects off the coasts of Cape Cod (which actually would have been the first in the country, if successful) and Long Island both stalled due to legal hurdles or delayed state votes. In Europe, offshore wind is a thriving industry, with more than 3,000 wind turbines installed across 11 countries. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Nuclear power is losing money at an astonishing rate

Joe Romm writes: Half of existing nuclear power plants are no longer profitable. The New York Times and others have tried to blame renewable energy for this, but the admittedly astounding price drops of renewables aren’t the primary cause of the industry’s woes — cheap fracked gas is.

The point of blaming renewables, which currently receive significant government subsidies, is apparently to argue that existing nukes deserve some sort of additional subsidy to keep running — beyond the staggering $100+ billion in subsidies the nuclear industry has received over the decades. But a major reason solar and wind energy receive federal subsidies — which are being phased out over the next few years — is because they are emerging technologies whose prices are still rapidly coming down the learning curve, whereas nuclear is an incumbent technology with a negative learning curve.

The renewable red herring aside, existing nukes can make a reasonable case for a modest subsidy on the basis of climate change — though only because they are often replaced by carbon-spewing gas plants. That said, the “$7.6 billion bailout” New York state just decided to give its nuclear plants appears to be way too large, as we’ll see. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Learning from nature: Record-efficiency turbine farms are being inspired by sealife

Alex Riley writes: As they drove on featureless dirt roads on the first Tuesday of 2010, John Dabiri, professor of aeronautics and bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology, and his then-student Robert Whittlesey, were inspecting a remote area of land that they hoped to purchase to test new concepts in wind power. They named their site FLOWE for Field Laboratory for Optimized Wind Energy. Situated between gentle knolls covered in sere vegetation, the four-acre parcel in Antelope Valley, California, was once destined to become a mall, but those plans fell through. The land was cheap. And, more importantly, it was windy.

Estimated at 250 trillion Watts, the amount of wind on Earth has the potential to provide more than 20 times our current global energy consumption. Yet, only four countries — Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Denmark — generate more than 10 percent of their electricity this way. The United States, one of the largest, wealthiest, and windiest of countries, comes in at about 4 percent. There are reasons for that. Wind farm expansion brings with it huge engineering costs, unsightly countryside, loud noises, disruption to military radar, and death of wildlife. Recent estimates blamed turbines for killing 600,000 bats and up to 440,000 birds a year. On June 19, 2014, the American Bird Conservancy filed a lawsuit against the federal government asking it to curtail the impact of wind farms on the dwindling eagle populations. And while standalone horizontal-axis turbines harvest wind energy well, in a group they’re highly profligate. As their propeller-like blades spin, the turbines facing into the wind disrupt free-flowing air, creating a wake of slow-moving, infertile air behind them. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Norway pledges to become climate neutral by 2030

The Guardian reports: Norway’s parliament has approved a radical goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2030, two decades earlier than planned.

On Tuesday night MPs voted for an accelerated programme of CO2 cuts and carbon trading to offset emissions from sectors such as Norway’s oil and gas industries, which are unlikely to be phased out in the near future.

The minority government’s ruling Progress and Conservative parties withdrew their support for the motion at the last minute. But their argument, that ambitious emissions reductions now could interfere with future climate negotiations, was roundly defeated.

Rasmus Hansson, the leader of the Norwegian Green party in parliament, said: “This is a direct response to the commitments Norway took on by ratifying the Paris agreement and means that we will have to step up our climate action dramatically. ‘2050’ is science fiction. ‘2030’ is closer to us now than the year 2000.”

The high profile climate motion followed a zero deforestation parliamentary vote earlier this month, which made Norway the first nation to ban public procurements that contribute to rainforest destruction. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Renewable energy surges to record levels around the world

BBC News reports: New solar, wind and hydropower sources were added in 2015 at the fastest rate the world has yet seen, a study says.

Investments in renewables during the year were more than double the amount spent on new coal and gas-fired power plants, the Renewables Global Status Report found.

For the first time, emerging economies spent more than the rich on renewable power and fuels.

Over 8 million people are now working in renewable energy worldwide.

For a number of years, the global spend on renewables has been increasing and 2015 saw that arrive at a new peak according to the report. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Oil company records from 1960s reveal patents to reduce CO2 emissions in cars

The Guardian reports: The forerunners of ExxonMobil patented technologies for electric cars and low emissions vehicles as early as 1963 – even as the oil industry lobby tried to squash government funding for such research, according to a trove of newly discovered records.

Patent records reveal oil companies actively pursued research into technologies to cut carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change from the 1960s – including early versions of the batteries now deployed to power electric cars such as the Tesla.

Scientists for the companies patented technologies to strip carbon dioxide out of exhaust pipes, and improve engine efficiency, as well as fuel cells. They also conducted research into countering the rise in carbon dioxide emissions – including manipulating the weather.

Esso, one of the precursors of ExxonMobil, obtained at least three fuel cell patents in the 1960s and another for a low-polluting vehicle in 1970, according to the records. Other oil companies such as Phillips and Shell also patented technologies for more efficient uses of fuel.

However, the American Petroleum Institute, the main oil lobby, opposed government funding of research into electric cars and low emissions vehicles, telling Congress in 1967: “We take exception to the basic assumption that clean air can be achieved only by finding an alternative to the internal combustion engine.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Portugal runs for four days straight on renewable energy alone

The Guardian reports: Portugal kept its lights on with renewable energy alone for four consecutive days last week in a clean energy milestone revealed by data analysis of national energy network figures.

Electricity consumption in the country was fully covered by solar, wind and hydro power in an extraordinary 107-hour run that lasted from 6.45am on Saturday 7 May until 5.45pm the following Wednesday, the analysis says.

News of the zero emissions landmark comes just days after Germany announced that clean energy had powered almost all its electricity needs on Sunday 15 May, with power prices turning negative at several times in the day – effectively paying consumers to use it.

Oliver Joy, a spokesman for the Wind Europe trade association said: “We are seeing trends like this spread across Europe – last year with Denmark and now in Portugal. The Iberian peninsula is a great resource for renewables and wind energy, not just for the region but for the whole of Europe.”

James Watson, the CEO of SolarPower Europe said: “This is a significant achievement for a European country, but what seems extraordinary today will be commonplace in Europe in just a few years. The energy transition process is gathering momentum and records such as this will continue to be set and broken across Europe.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

VW and Shell accused of trying to block EU push for electric cars

The Guardian reports: VW and Shell have been accused of trying to block Europe’s push for electric cars and more efficient cars, by saying biofuels should be at heart of efforts to green the industry instead.

The EU is planning two new fuel efficiency targets for 2025 and 2030 to help meet promises made at the Paris climate summit last December.

But executives from the two industrial giants launched a study on Wednesday night proposing greater use of biofuels, CO2 car labelling, and the EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) instead.

In reality, such a package would involve the end of meaningful new regulatory action on car emissions for more than a decade, EU sources say. But Shell insisted it is not trying to block an EU push for electric cars. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

China wants to power the world through a global grid

Earth

Adam Minter writes: China’s State Grid Corporation, the world’s biggest power company, is on an impressive buying binge. As Bloomberg News reports, the company is “actively in bidding” for power assets in Australia, hoping to add them to a portfolio of Italian, Brazilian, and Filipino companies. The goal isn’t simply to invest, however. State Grid’s Chairman Liu Zhenya has a plan that he believes will stall global warming, put millions of people to work and bring about world peace by 2050.

The idea is to connect these and other power grids to a global grid that will draw electricity from windmills at the North Pole and vast solar arrays in Africa’s deserts, and then distribute the power to all corners of the world. Among other benefits, according to Liu, the system will produce “a community of common destiny for all mankind with blue skies and green land.”

It’s a crazy idea, of course. And if this so-called Global Energy Interconnection had been proposed by anyone other than the chairman of the world’s wealthiest power company, it wouldn’t deserve much consideration. But the $50 billion in cash generated by State Grid last year gives the company the deep pockets and political standing to put its priorities on the international energy agenda.

Last September, no less than Chinese President Xi Jinping publicly called for talks on establishing a global grid, while leading research organizations — including the Argonne National Laboratory and the Edison Electrical Institute — have participated in conferences looking at what would be needed to establish one. And whether or not it’s ever built, the technologies that underlie Liu’s big idea are already changing how power will be generated and transmitted in coming decades. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Surge in renewable energy stalls world greenhouse gas emissions

denmark-wind-power

The Guardian reports: Falling coal use in China and the US and a worldwide shift towards renewable energy have kept greenhouse gas emissions level for a second year running, one of the world’s leading energy analysts has said.

Preliminary data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed that carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector have levelled off at 32.1bn tonnes even as the global economy grew over 3% .

Electricity generated by renewable sources played a critical role, having accounted for around 90% of new electricity generation in 2015. Wind power produced more than half of all new electricity generation, said the IEA. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail