The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on Jan. 20 released its latest report on U.S. and global renewable energy. Published annually, NREL’s 2013 Renewable Energy Data Book reveals new renewable electricity accounted for over 61 percent of total new U.S. generation capacity in 2013, rising to represent nearly 15 percent of total installed capacity and 13 percent of total U.S. electricity generation.
Worldwide, renewable energy resources accounted for 23 percent of electricity generation. Solar electricity was the fastest growing segment of U.S. electricity generation technology: Cumulative installed solar electricity capacity surged nearly 66 percent higher in 2013.
Proving themselves to be the ultimate utilitarian consumer devices, smartphones are providing individuals untethered access to an increasingly wide range of personal devices. These range from computers and TVs to lights, heating and air conditioning and household appliances.
The installed base of “things” connected to the Internet will expand to number some 30 billion by 2020, according to a November 2014 IDC forecast. Among the ever-growing number of “connected” devices, smartphones are emerging as the preeminent choice for accessing the rapidly expanding “Internet of Things.”
Broadband network connectivity, which feeds enormous quantities of data into powerful software applications residing in data centers, is essential in the drive to make “things” smarter. This trend is clearly evident in the energy market space. Presenting its latest offerings at the upcoming DistribuTECH 2015 Conference and Exhibition, home energy analytics provider Bidgely is introducing “a suite of products that transform utilities’ big data into powerful insights to drive long-term customer engagement and energy savings.”
Renewable energy resources are bound to play a larger and larger role in China’s energy mix as the world’s second largest economy – and largest emitter of greenhouse gases – strives to reduce pollution and forge a healthier, more sustainable economy and society. Renewable energy technology also is playing a growing role in driving growth among U.S. industrial companies – blue-chips as well as fast-growing small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
On Jan. 26, General Electric announced that China’s Huaneng Corp. will install 55 of its GE 2.7-120 Brilliant wind turbines – 151 megawatts worth – at its Huaneng Dali Longquan wind farm in southwestern Yunnan province. The deal, which includes a two-year operations and maintenance service agreement, marks GE’s largest wind turbine order in China to date.
More than 16 gigawatts of wind power capacity was installed in China in 2013. That represented 45 percent of the worldwide total, according to Global Wind Energy Council statistics. Globally, wind, solar and other emissions-free energy resources will prevent 3,800 million tons of CO2 emissions per year out to 2030, the council highlighted in a press released issued during the United Nations’ latest climate treaty negotiations, which took place in Lima, Peru in December.
Achieving further reductions in nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions is a focal point for U.S. oil, gas and industrial businesses, as well as automakers, as state air quality authorities work to follow through on proposed new federal NOx emissions limits. Public air quality authorities in Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley – hubs for oil production in California for over 100 years – are working with industry players to come up with practical, cost-effective solutions.
A new clean combustion technology from Seattle’s ClearSign Combustion Corp. may provide an answer to oil and gas industry players’ and regulators’ search. Retrofitting 62.5 million Btu/hour once-through steam generators at an Aera Energy LLC heavy-oil production site with its Duplex Burner Architecture (DBA) has validated previous, smaller-scale test results. There, ClearSign’s DBA is reducing NOx emissions to levels that meet the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s (SJVAPCD) Rule 4320 on NOx emissions.
On Jan. 22, ClearSign followed the successful Aera Energy field test by announcing an agreement to retrofit a three-burner, 12 million Btu/hour vertical cylindrical heater at a Tricor Refining LLC oil refinery in Bakersfield with its Duplex Burner technology.
Solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPAs) have supercharged installation of residential photovoltaic (PV) energy systems in the U.S. At least this is the case in states such as Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and others where energy industry regulators permit them to be offered.
Due to a variety of factors, including the scheduled ratcheting-down of the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) at the end of 2016, U.S. solar energy finance-and-installation companies, such as market leader SolarCity, are increasingly turning to solar loans as a means of financing, however.
In two new reports, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) compares the costs and benefits of financing PV installations via third-party ownership (leases and PPAs) and direct ownership via solar loans and low-cost financing.
Like water, energy and waste management, digital telecommunications and data centers have become utilities essential for modern societies to function sustainably. It is generally accepted that the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events — and the onset of gradual, long-terms shifts in weather patterns and climate — pose existential threats to critical information and communications technology (ICT) supply chains, as well as infrastructure.
But a recent report from Riverside Technology and Acclimatise found that the business risks of climate change as they relate to telecommunications and data centers are poorly recognized — particularly with respect to infrastructure and supply chains. Similarly, climate change resiliency and adaptation plans in this critical segment of the U.S. ICT sector are poorly developed, concluded the report, which was conducted on behalf of the federal government’s General Services Administration (GSA).
“Despite the importance of these sectors, the climate risk they face is poorly understood. Even less understood are climate risks to the supply chains both sectors rely upon,” the authors of Climate Risks Study for Telecommunications and Data Center Services highlight. Furthermore, though it boosts operational efficiency and the bottom line, the recent trend that has seen more and more companies sharing ICT resources – platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), for instance – increases the vulnerability of critical ICT infrastructure and supply chains to the impacts of extreme weather events and more gradual shifts in climate.
The appearance of the polar vortex in late 2013-early 2014 put much of the U.S. and eastern Canada in a record-setting deep freeze around this time last year, adding another new term to lay-people’s weather-related vocabulary. The polar vortex also stressed power utility grids and generation assets, sending consumer demand and power prices soaring in markets from Texas to New England.
Wind power was a stand-out performer, however. According to study from American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), wind energy saved end-users in the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic states at least $1 billion during just two polar-vortex days last January.
In these and other regions, AWEA’s Greg Hresko and Michael Goggin highlight: “[W]ind energy provided large quantities of critical electricity supply when it was needed most, keeping the lights on and reducing the impact of these price spikes.” According to their analysis, “[W]ind energy protected Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes consumers from extreme price spikes during the polar vortex event” over just two days in early January 2014, “saving consumers over $1 billion on their electric bills.”
Editor’s Note: This is the second post in a two-part series on how sustainable agroforestry is helping to break the cycle of poverty and environmental degradation in Haiti. In case you missed it, you can read the first part here.
An innovative, five-year community agroforesty development project developed and carried out by Timberland, the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) and Haitian farmers has proven successful. So successful, in fact, that Timberland is considering replicating it in other countries where farmers produce cotton and rubber – the raw materials the company uses to manufacture clothing, footwear and, more recently, tires.
Partnering with experienced local NGOs who know ‘the lay of the land,’ leading proponents of corporate social and environmental sustainability such as Timberland are helping turn the tide and break the cycle of poverty and environmental resource degradation in Haiti. Through the SFA’s community agroforestry development model, Timberland is helping boost agricultural productivity, small farmers’ incomes, community well-being, and ecosystems health and sustainability. What’s more, it is encouraging NGOs and local communities to come up with sustainable, market-based development solutions.
Haiti has long been plagued by natural catastrophes as well as political-economic strife. Looking to break a cycle of poverty and environmental degradation, multinational businesses, multilateral development banks, foreign aid agencies, non-governmental organizations and local communities are working to help put Haiti on the path to recovery from a devastating 2010 earthquake.
Haiti has the highest rates of deforestation of any country in the world – a mere 2 percent of Haiti’s original forests remain. Deforestation on such a grand scale has contributed significantly to a host of profound, persistent socioeconomic problems. Loss of soil from erosion, higher and more extreme incidences of flooding, degradation of water resources, and habitat destruction have all but crippled agriculture and drastically reduced biodiversity in Haiti. Compounding this, shifting seasonal rainfall patterns and less in the way of precipitation are also taking a heavy toll.
Bidding to win a 100-megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) contract for Dubai state utility DEWA, Saudi Arabia’s Acwa Power in November stunned solar industry players by submitting a tender-low bid of 5.98 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour.
Acwa has become well known for its aggressive bidding in solar energy tenders across the Middle East-Africa region. Nonetheless, its sub-6 cents per kWh bid was unprecedented, setting a new record-low cost for the building and operation of new utility-scale solar energy facilities globally.
The record-low bids submitted during DEWA’s recent tender, and others in countries such as Brazil and South Africa, will prompt project developers to recalibrate their valuation models in light of: lower equipment and soft costs; higher performance; and more efficient and cost-effective operations and maintenance. It will also prompt national governments and utilities across the region to further streamline and reduce the administrative overhead associated with bidding and gaining approvals to construct solar energy facilities, Apricum-The Cleantech Advisory’s Dr. Moritz Borgmann asserts.
2014 may have marked an inflection point in the transition to clean, renewable energy in Germany, Europe’s largest economy and the fifth largest in the world. Collectively, renewable energy resources supplied more electricity in Germany than any other category last year, surpassing lignite coal for the first time, according to Agora Energiewende‘s 2014 annual report.
Renewable energy resources, including wind, hydro, solar and biomass, accounted for 27.3 percent of German electricity generation in 2014, according to Agora’s The Energiewende in the Power Sector: State of Affairs 2014. Significantly, greenhouse gas emissions and electric power consumption both declined, and wholesale power prices fell to a record-low while Germany’s economy expanded 1.4 percent.
Commenting on the confluence of positive developments, Agora Energiewende Director Dr. Patrick Graichen said: “In 2013, we could still see an increase in the undesirable emission of carbon dioxide, parallel to the rise in renewables. At the time, we called this the Energiewende Paradox. Today we can say that this trend has been broken – energy from renewables continues to grow and greenhouse gas emissions are decreasing again.”
Organizations across the U.S. are coming to grips with our fossil-fuel addiction and the escalating, often hidden, true costs of fossil-fuel production, distribution and combustion.
Registering another record-setting year in 2014, the U.S. solar energy industry is looking forward to another banner year in 2015, while the recent extension of the federal wind energy production tax credit is expected to boost growth across the wind sector.
A mix of supportive government policies and R&D investments, along with energy market reforms, ongoing technological advances and new financing vehicles, is proving to be a potent and self-reinforcing combination for allocating public- and private-sector resources for public good. As a result, the costs of renewable energy generation and energy efficiency upgrades are expected to continue on their downward trend — and installations continue to grow — despite the recent sharp drop in oil prices.
Fueled by power market reform and technological advances, investor enthusiasm regarding the commercial prospects of advanced energy storage technology is on the rise. A study by the Electric Power Research Institute and the U.S. Department of Energy determined annual savings of $50 billion could be realized by deploying energy storage systems across the U.S. power grid.
Savings of this magnitude, along with market researchers predicting rapid growth in revenues, is stoking investors’ appetite for pioneering young companies that have proven their advanced energy storage solutions commercially. Among this small but growing set is Millbrae, California-based Stem, whose technology is capable of managing fleets of distributed energy storage systems so as to meet or exceed grid operators’ needs and yield attractive financial returns and environmental benefits.
On Jan. 7 Stem announced it had closed a $27 million equity financing round. Constellation Technology Ventures and Total Energy Ventures joined earlier investors, including GE Ventures, that see energy storage playing a growing role in the U.S. power grid, both in front of and behind the meter, and Stem’s technology helping drive that growth.
Global, real-time communications would not be possible were it not for the 1,200-odd satellites orbiting the earth. By extension, globalization of culture, markets and the assembly of global businesses may well not have proceeded nearly as fast or to the degree it has were it not for satellite technology.
There were 1,235 satellites serving various purposes – from amateur radio to astrophysics – in various types of Earth orbit as of July 2014, according to a Union of Concerned Scientists’ database. Over half – 639 – are for communications. The majority of communications satellites – or comsats – are in geostationary orbit, moving at the same speed as the Earth’s rotation at fixed points along the equator, some 22,238 miles above our planet’s surface.
We can add four more satellites to the roster of comsats orbiting Earth: Aiming to provide broadband Internet access to the “other 3 billion” human inhabitants that still lack high-speed voice and data network communications, “next-generation network” provider O3b Networks on Dec. 18 celebrated the successful launch of four comsats into medium-Earth orbit (MEO). That brings the number of satellites O3b has put into MEO in the past five months to eight. O3b’s globe-spanning constellation of communications satellites now totals 12.
Laissez-faire capitalists would have us believe that “free,” unregulated markets and the relentless pursuit of economic growth are the best means of enhancing overall quality of life for the world’s 7-plus billion people [update]. Others note that every system has, and needs, governing rules and that given the authority by their populaces, governments need to provide an essential counterbalance to unbridled greed and the pursuit of monetary and material wealth by individuals and organizations.
Aiming to move beyond GDP as a measure of a society’s overall economic performance, the Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI) factors social and natural, as well as produced, capital into the equation. Results of the second biennial Inclusive Wealth Report revealed stark differences in 140 nations’ economic performance over the decade to 2012 as measured by GDP and the IWI.
Economic abstractions aside, living conditions and quality of life in megacities around the world offer a stark vision of just where unbridled industrialization, ideas of ‘laissez-faire’ economics and the relentless pursuit of GDP growth lead. It’s not a pretty, or encouraging, picture. As The Guardian’s Ian Wainwright recently reported from Beijing, air and other environmental pollution in this capital city of some 21 million has made it “almost uninhabitable.”