ThinkProgress reports: Some cities were hit hard by the Great Recession. Lancaster, California was positively clobbered. In the summer of 2009, the unemployment rate reached 17 percent, housing prices bottomed out, and foreclosures were rampant.
Since then, the city has turned things around, thanks in part to the efforts of three-time Republican mayor Rex Parris, who transformed Lancaster into a clean energy powerhouse. Parris has been described by critics as “an arrogant bully and an unstoppable control freak,” according to the Los Angeles Times, but he gets results.
Today, the city produces more solar power per capita than any other city in California, and it is close to producing more renewable energy than it uses — a milestone on its way to becoming “the solar capital of the universe,” as Parris says.
“Had it not been for his leadership, we would not be on this journey,” said Lancaster city manager Mark Bozigian.
The solar boom has given a jolt of energy to the local economy. Housing prices have rebounded and the unemployment rate has dropped to less than 6 percent. Lancaster says its clean energy policies have created more than 1,000 jobs — no small feat in a city of just 160,000 people. [Continue reading…]
Paula Cocozza reports: The wind rips along the Humber estuary in Hull. It’s the kind that presses your coat to your back and pushes you on to your toes. “A bit too windy,” shouts Andy Sykes, before his words are swept away. He is the head of operational excellence at the Siemens Gamesa factory, which supplies blades – the bits that turn – to windfarms in the North Sea. At 75 metres long, they are hard to manoeuvre when it’s gusting.
Inside the vast factory hall, the blades lie in various states of undress. Several hundred layers of fibreglass and balsa wood are being tucked into giant moulds by hand. There are “naked” blades that require paint and whose bodies have the patina of polished tortoiseshell. Look through the hollow blades from the broadest part, and a pale green path, the tinge of fibreglass, snakes down the long tunnel, tapering to a small burst of daylight at its tip.
“Alice in Wonderland,” Sykes says. “That’s how I feel. That’s the emotion coming through. It’s 75 metres long. We know that. But stood here the perspective is just fantastic. It’s my favourite view.” Down this strange green rabbithole is a glimpse of a greener future, the possibility of a world powered by wind.
This is not as fanciful a vision as it once seemed. In the UK, the wind energy industry is celebrating. Last month, the cost of renewable energy dropped dramatically to undercut by almost half the government’s projections for 2025. At £57.50 per megawatt-hour (MWh), it is far cheaper than the state-backed price of £92.50 awarded in 2016 to Hinkley nuclear power station. The speed of wind’s progress is extreme and inarguable.
Emma Pinchbeck, executive director of RenewableUK, and a former climate change activist, can’t keep the happiness from her voice. But she is happy for new reasons. What’s really exciting, she says, is the fact that she “is not having to talk to officials about decarbonisation any more as a starting point. Windfarms are low carbon. But that’s not why we want to build them. We want to build them because they’re bloody cheap!” [Continue reading…]
Earther reports: The Trump administration may be doing everything in its power quell the tide of renewable energy, but the world is ready to ride the wave. According to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), a combination of falling prices, rising investments and stronger government support outside the U.S. have sent solar and wind installations skyrocketing.
Last year, the IEA reports that more solar photovoltaic generating capacity was added to the globe’s energy mix than coal, gas or any other energy source. That strong growth helped ensure that renewables accounted for two-thirds of all capacity added to the world’s grid. That’s the equivalent of enough generating capacity to power 31 million American homes.
While fossil fuel plants continue to be added to the grid, they’re lagging behind wind and solar additions. Not only that, older coal and natural gas plants are being shuttered. The net result is that renewables now account for 24% of the world’s electricity generating capacity. [Continue reading…]
Simon Johnson writes: President Donald Trump and the US Congress are coming under mounting pressure to increase assistance to Puerto Rico. The devastation caused there last week by Hurricane Maria has only exacerbated severe longer-term problems resulting from deferred maintenance on the island’s critical infrastructure. Puerto Rico needs more than short-term assistance (although this is also urgent); it needs bipartisan support to rebuild, with an initial and essential focus on a more robust and cheaper supply of electricity.
The existing electricity grid has substantially collapsed, with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) estimating that up to 90% of the transmission system may have been destroyed by the hurricane. A major dam is at risk. Damage to the air traffic control infrastructure has severely limited flights to and from the island. As Governor Ricardo Rosselló has stated publicly, there is now a real risk of a major humanitarian disaster. Donations are flowing in, but the total will be small relative to what is needed.
The Trump administration says that FEMA is working hard and effectively. Let’s hope they are right. There will be a lot of questions about whether Puerto Rico’s roughly 3.4 million US citizens receive the same support as Texas and Florida (and other parts of the 50 states) when natural disaster strikes. But the bigger question is this: What will be done – and by whom – to help Puerto Rico really recover?
Puerto Rico – a dependent territory of the US – needs major investment in its essential infrastructure to bring it at least to the level of the 50 states. After the humanitarian situation is stabilized, policymakers should focus on providing Puerto Rico with stable, reliable, and cost-effective electric power, generated primarily by renewables and distributed over a smart, resilient grid. Ensuring energy availability will be indispensable for stability and sustained economic growth. [Continue reading…]
Bloomberg reports: China will set a deadline for automakers to end sales of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles, becoming the biggest market to do so in a move that will accelerate the push into the electric car market led by companies including BYD Co. and BAIC Motor Corp.
Xin Guobin, the vice minister of industry and information technology, said the government is working with other regulators on a timetable to end production and sales. The move will have a profound impact on the environment and growth of China’s auto industry, Xin said at an auto forum in Tianjin on Saturday.
The world’s second-biggest economy, which has vowed to cap its carbon emissions by 2030 and curb worsening air pollution, is the latest to join countries such as the U.K. and France seeking to phase out vehicles using gasoline and diesel. The looming ban on combustion-engine automobiles will goad both local and global automakers to focus on introducing more zero-emission electric cars to help clean up smog-choked major cities. [Continue reading…]
Bill McKibben writes: The knock on environmentalists is that they’ve been better at opposing than proposing. Sure, being against overheating the planet or melting the ice caps should probably speak for itself—but it doesn’t give us a means. So it’s important news that the environmental movement seems to be rallying round a new flag. That standard bears a number: 100 percent.
It’s the call for the rapid conversion of energy systems around the country to 100 percent renewable power—a call for running the United States (and the world) on sun, wind and water. What Medicare for All is to the healthcare debate, or Fight for $15 is to the battle against inequality, 100% Renewable is to the struggle for the planet’s future. It’s how progressives will think about energy going forward—and though it started in northern Europe and Northern California, it’s a call that’s gaining traction outside the obvious green enclaves. In the last few months, cities as diverse as Atlanta and Salt Lake have taken the pledge.
No more half-measures. Barack Obama drove environmentalists crazy with his “all-of-the-above” energy policy, which treated sun and wind as two items on a menu that included coal, gas and oil. That is not good enough. Many scientists tell us that within a decade, at current rates, we’ll likely have put enough carbon in the atmosphere to warm the Earth past the Paris climate targets. Renewables—even the most rapid transition—won’t stop climate change, but getting off fossil fuel now might (there are no longer any guarantees) keep us from the level of damage that would shake civilization. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: U.S. solar companies are snapping up cheap imported solar panels ahead of a trade decision by the Trump administration that could drive up costs and cloud the fortunes of one of the economy’s brightest stars.
Domestic consumers and businesses have been embracing solar energy at a furious pace – thanks to a big assist from China. Low-cost photovoltaic cells and panels made in China and other Asian countries have helped drive down costs by around 70% since 2010, enabling more Americans to go solar.
Installations in the United States last year hit a record. Jobs are mushrooming too. The domestic industry now employs more than 260,000 people, according to The Solar Foundation, most of them construction workers hammering panels on rooftops and erecting utility-scale solar plants in the nation’s blistering deserts.
But signs of a chill are already visible as the industry waits to see how President Donald Trump responds to a recent trade complaint lodged by a Georgia manufacturer named Suniva. The company has asked the administration effectively to double the price of imported solar panels so that U.S. factories can compete. About 95% of cells and panels sold in the U.S. last year were made abroad, with most coming from China, Malaysia and the Philippines, according to SPV Market Research.
Trump has wide latitude to levy tariffs to protect domestic firms. His actions could determine whether sun-powered electricity can compete with fossil fuels to light the nation’s homes and businesses.
The White House would not comment on the solar trade case. But the administration has vowed to protect steelmakers and other U.S. manufacturers by penalizing “unfair” imports.
That has the solar industry bracing for the worst. Panic buying has sent spot prices for solar panels up as much as 20 percent in recent weeks as installers rush to lock up supplies ahead of potential tariffs.
Skittish U.S. energy customers are putting some solar projects on hold. Manufacturers are eyeing other markets to develop. And some investors are running for cover. Funding for large U.S. solar deals fell to $1.4 billion in the second quarter, down from $3.2 billion in the first quarter and $1.7 billion a year earlier, primarily due to concerns about the trade case, according to research firm Mercom Capital Group. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Over the past six years, rooftop solar panel installations have seen explosive growth — as much as 900 percent by one estimate.
That growth has come to a shuddering stop this year, with a projected decline in new installations of 2 percent, according to projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
A number of factors are driving the reversal, from saturation in markets like California to financial woes at several top solar panel makers.
But the decline has also coincided with a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities, which have been working in state capitals across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.
Utilities argue that rules allowing private solar customers to sell excess power back to the grid at the retail price — a practice known as net metering — can be unfair to homeowners who do not want or cannot afford their own solar installations.
Their effort has met with considerable success, dimming the prospects for renewable energy across the United States.
Prodded in part by the utilities’ campaign, nearly every state in the country is engaged in a review of its solar energy policies. Since 2013, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Indiana have decided to phase out net metering, crippling programs that spurred explosive growth in the rooftop solar market. (Nevada recently reversed its decision.)
Many more states are considering new or higher fees on solar customers.
“We believe it is important to balance the needs of all customers,” Jeffrey Ostermayer of the Edison Electric Institute, the most prominent utility lobbying group, said in a statement.
The same group of investor-owned utilities is now poised to sway solar policy at the federal level. Brian McCormack, a former top executive at the Edison institute, is Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s chief of staff. The Energy Department did not make Mr. McCormack available for an interview.
In April, Mr. Perry ordered an examination of how renewable energy may be hurting conventional sources like coal, oil and natural gas, a study that environmentalists worry could upend federal policies that have fostered the rapid spread of solar and wind power.
Charged with spearheading the study, due this summer, is Mr. McCormack.
“There’s no doubt these utilities are out to kill rooftop solar, and they’re succeeding,” said David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a renewable energy advocacy group. “They’re now driving the agenda.” [Continue reading…]
Vox reports: Even before President Trump announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, it was clear that he intended to lead the US on a fossil fuel bender. He has made it crystal clear that the federal government has no interest in addressing climate change.
But every action has an equal and opposite reaction; his announcement on Paris has sparked an extraordinary amount of counter-organizing. In recoiling from Trump, states, cities, and institutions are entering into closer cooperation. A coalition is forming, a Blue America, and at least on climate change, it is going beyond mere resistance to a more proactive role, negotiating with the international community on its own behalf, like a separate nation.
It is, in foreign policy terms, a remarkable development — and while it seems to offer some near-term hope on climate change, it carries troubling implications for the ongoing stability of the country. [Continue reading…]
Bill McKibben writes: The cacao-farming community of Daban, in Ghana, is seven degrees north of the equator, and it’s always hot. In May, I met with several elders there to talk about the electricity that had come to the town a few months earlier, when an American startup installed a solar microgrid nearby. Daban could now safely store the vaccine for yellow fever; residents could charge their cell phones at home rather than walking to a bigger town to do it. As we talked, one of the old men handed me a small plastic bag of water, the kind street venders sell across West Africa—you just bite off a corner and drink. The water was ice-cold and refreshing, but it took me an embarrassingly long moment to understand the pleasure with which he offered it: cold water was now available in this hot place. There was enough power to run a couple of refrigerators, and so coldness was, for the first time, a possibility.
I’d come to Daban to learn about the boom in solar power in sub-Saharan Africa. The spread of cell phones in the region has made it possible for residents to pay daily or weekly bills using mobile money, and now the hope is that, just as cell phones bypassed the network of telephone lines, solar panels will enable many rural consumers to bypass the electric grid. From Ghana, I travelled to Ivory Coast, and then to Tanzania, and along the way I encountered a variety of new solar ventures, most of them American-led. Some, such as Ghana’s Black Star Energy, which had electrified Daban, install solar microgrids, small-scale versions of the giant grid Americans are familiar with. Others, such as Off-Grid Electric, in Tanzania and Ivory Coast, market home-based solar systems that run on a panel installed on each individual house. These home-based systems can’t produce enough current for a fridge, but they can supply each home with a few lights, a mobile-phone charger, and, if the household can afford it, a small, super-efficient flat-screen TV.
In another farming town, in Ivory Coast, I talked to a man named Abou Traoré, who put his television out in a courtyard most nights, so that neighbors could come by to watch. He said that they tuned in for soccer matches—the village tilts Liverpool, but has a large pocket of Manchester United supporters. What else did he watch? Traoré considered. “I like the National Geographic channel,” he replied—that is, the broadcast arm of the institution that became famous showing Westerners pictures of remote parts of Africa.
There are about as many people living without electricity today as there were when Thomas Edison lit his first light bulb. More than half are in sub-Saharan Africa. Europe and the Americas are almost fully electrified, and Asia is quickly catching up, but the absolute number of Africans without power remains steady. A World Bank report, released in May, predicted that, given current trends, there could still be half a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa without power by 2040. Even those with electricity can’t rely on it: the report noted that in Tanzania power outages were so common in 2013 that they cost businesses fifteen per cent of their annual sales. Ghanaians call their flickering power dum/sor, or “off/on.” Vivian Tsadzi, a businesswoman who lives not far from the Akosombo Dam, which provides about a third of the nation’s power, said that most of the time “it’s dum dum dum dum.” The dam’s head of hydropower generation, Kwesi Amoako, who retired last year, told me that he is proud of the structure, which created the world’s largest man-made lake. But there isn’t an easy way to increase the country’s hydropower capacity, and drought, caused by climate change, has made the system inconsistent, meaning that Ghana will have to look elsewhere for electricity. “I’ve always had the feeling that one of the main thrusts should be domestic solar,” Amoako said. “And I think we should put the off-grid stuff first, because the consumer wants it so badly.” [Continue reading…]
ThinkProgress reports: On Wednesday night, President Donald Trump held a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he praised coal and ridiculed wind energy.
“I don’t want to just hope the wind blows to light up your homes,” Trump told the crowd.
Iowa is the leading producer of wind energy in the country and generated 36.6 percent of its electricity from wind in 2016. Statewide, the wind industry employs between 8,000 and 9,000 people and has added $11.8 billion to the state’s economy through capital investments. Wind farms that are built on private land, which is leased to wind developers, collectively earn farmers and landowners an estimated $20 million annually. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Could the entire American economy run on renewable energy alone?
This may seem like an irrelevant question, given that both the White House and Congress are controlled by a party that rejects the scientific consensus about human-driven climate change. But the proposition that it could, long a dream of an environmental movement as wary of nuclear energy as it is of fossil fuels, has been gaining ground among policy makers committed to reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. Democrats in both the United States Senate and in the California Assembly have proposed legislation this year calling for a full transition to renewable energy sources.
They are relying on what looks like a watertight scholarly analysis to support their call: the work of a prominent energy systems engineer from Stanford University, Mark Z. Jacobson. With three co-authors, he published a widely heralded article two years ago asserting that it would be eminently feasible to power the American economy by midcentury almost entirely with energy from the wind, the sun and water. What’s more, it would be cheaper than running it on fossil fuels.
And yet the proposition is hardly as solid as Professor Jacobson asserts.
In a long-awaited article published this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — the same journal in which Professor Jacobson’s manifesto appeared — a group of 21 prominent scholars, including physicists and engineers, climate scientists and sociologists, took a fine comb to the Jacobson paper and dismantled its conclusions bit by bit. [Continue reading…]
Bloomberg reports: Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast.
That’s the conclusion of a Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook for how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India.
The scenario suggests green energy is taking root more quickly than most experts anticipate. It would mean that global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels may decline after 2026, a contrast with the International Energy Agency’s central forecast, which sees emissions rising steadily for decades to come.
“Costs of new energy technologies are falling in a way that it’s more a matter of when than if,” said Seb Henbest, a researcher at BNEF in London and lead author of the report.
The report also found that through 2040:
- China and India represent the biggest markets for new power generation, drawing $4 trillion, or about 39 percent all investment in the industry.
- The cost of offshore wind farms, until recently the most expensive mainstream renewable technology, will slide 71 percent, making turbines based at sea another competitive form of generation.
- At least $239 billion will be invested in lithium-ion batteries, making energy storage devices a practical way to keep homes and power grids supplied efficiently and spreading the use of electric cars.
- Natural gas will reap $804 billion, bringing 16 percent more generation capacity and making the fuel central to balancing a grid that’s increasingly dependent on power flowing from intermittent sources, like wind and solar.
Der Spiegel reports: Until the very end, they tried behind closed doors to get him to change his mind. For the umpteenth time, they presented all the arguments — the humanitarian ones, the geopolitical ones and, of course, the economic ones. They listed the advantages for the economy and for American companies. They explained how limited the hardships would be.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the last one to speak, according to the secret minutes taken last Friday afternoon in the luxurious conference hotel in the Sicilian town of Taormina — meeting notes that DER SPIEGEL has been given access to. Leaders of the world’s seven most powerful economies were gathered around the table and the issues under discussion were the global economy and sustainable development.
The newly elected French president, Emmanuel Macron, went first. It makes sense that the Frenchman would defend the international treaty that bears the name of France’s capital: The Paris Agreement. “Climate change is real and it affects the poorest countries,” Macron said.
Then, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reminded the U.S. president how successful the fight against the ozone hole had been and how it had been possible to convince industry leaders to reduce emissions of the harmful gas.
Finally, it was Merkel’s turn. Renewable energies, said the chancellor, present significant economic opportunities. “If the world’s largest economic power were to pull out, the field would be left to the Chinese,” she warned. Xi Jinping is clever, she added, and would take advantage of the vacuum it created. Even the Saudis were preparing for the post-oil era, she continued, and saving energy is also a worthwhile goal for the economy for many other reasons, not just because of climate change.
But Donald Trump remained unconvinced. No matter how trenchant the argument presented by the increasingly frustrated group of world leaders, none of them had an effect. “For me,” the U.S. president said, “it’s easier to stay in than step out.” But environmental constraints were costing the American economy jobs, he said. And that was the only thing that mattered. Jobs, jobs, jobs.
At that point, it was clear to the rest of those seated around the table that they had lost him. Resigned, Macron admitted defeat. “Now China leads,” he said.
Still, it is likely that none of the G-7 heads of state and government expected the primitive brutality Trump would stoop to when announcing his withdrawal from the international community. Surrounded by sycophants in the Rose Garden at the White House, he didn’t just proclaim his withdrawal from the climate agreement, he sowed the seeds of international conflict. His speech was a break from centuries of Enlightenment and rationality. The president presented his political statement as a nationalist manifesto of the most imbecilic variety. It couldn’t have been any worse. [Continue reading…]
Beth Gardiner writes: The squares of silicon are hardly thicker than sheets of paper, each about six inches by six, with narrow stripes of silver. They come into the factory by the thousands, stacked in cardboard boxes, and within hours, they’ll be ready to leave again.
The squares are solar cells, and in this plant two hours’ drive from Shanghai, workers in bright blue uniforms and white lab coats run the machines that assemble them, row by row, into more familiar-looking panels, ready to be installed on rooftops or in large arrays and begin turning sunlight into electricity.
Chinese manufacturing has changed the economics of renewable power around the world, making solar generation cost-competitive with electricity from fossil fuels like natural gas and even coal. It has brought change closer to home too, as China rolls out the world’s biggest investment in clean energy—motivated in part by a desire to ease the atrocious air pollution that kills an estimated 1.1 million of its people every year.
“The installation rates are absolutely mind-blowing,” says Lauri Myllyvirta, an energy and air pollution expert at Greenpeace in Beijing. China added 35 gigawatts of new solar generation in 2016 alone. “That’s almost equal to Germany’s total capacity, just in one year,” Myllyvirta says. [Continue reading…]
The Canadian Press reports: Two-thirds of Canada’s electricity supply now comes from renewable sources such as hydro and wind power, the National Energy Board said in a report released Tuesday.
Renewable energy production jumped 17 per cent between 2005 and 2015. The portion of all electricity in Canada generated by renewables is now 66 per cent, up from 60 per cent a decade earlier.
“I think people don’t understand just how much of our generation is the renewables,” said NEB chief economist Shelley Milutinovic. “Probably very few people would know Canada produces the second most hydro in the world.” [Continue reading…]
Joe Romm writes: The rapid rise of solar power is one of the most astonishing transformations in the history of global energy use.
A decade ago, solar photovoltaics (PV) was just a tiny sapling, easily dismissed by fossil fuel advocates. Today, after a remarkable 30-fold increase in PV sales in just nine years, it has become a giant redwood forest.
Joe Romm writes: Stunning drops in the cost of wind and solar energy have turned the global power market upside down.
For years, opponents of renewable power, like President Donald Trump, have argued they simply aren’t affordable. The reality is quite different.
Unsubsidized renewables have become the cheapest source of new power — by far — in more and more countries, according to a new report from the United Nations and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).
In just one year, the cost of solar generation worldwide dropped on average 17 percent, the report found. The average costs for onshore wind dropped 18 percent last year, while those for offshore wind fell a whopping 28 percent.
The result is “more bang for the buck,” as the U.N. and BNEF put it. Last year saw 138.5 gigawatts of new renewable capacity. That not only beat the 2015 record of 127.5 GW, but it was built with a total investment that was 23 percent lower than in 2015.[Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: On the solar farms of the Atacama Desert, the workers dress like astronauts. They wear bodysuits and wraparound sunglasses, with thick canvas headscarves to shield them from the radiation.
The sun is so intense and the air so dry that seemingly nothing survives. Across vast, rocky wastes blanched of color, there are no cactuses or other visible signs of life. It’s Mars, with better cellphone reception.
It is also the world’s best place to produce solar energy, with the most potent sun power on the planet.
So powerful, in fact, that something extraordinary happened last year when the Chilean government invited utility companies to bid on public contracts. Solar producers dominated the auction, offering to supply electricity at about half the cost of coal-fired plants.
It wasn’t because of a government subsidy for alternative energy. In Chile and a growing list of nations, the price of solar energy has fallen so much that it is increasingly beating out conventional sources of power. Industry experts and government regulators hail this moment as a turning point in the history of human electricity-making.
“This is the beginning of a trend that will only accelerate,” said Chilean Energy Minister Andrés Rebolledo. “We’re talking about an infinite fuel source.” [Continue reading…]