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.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday afternoon, Dec. 19, for the first time in U.S. history issued a federal rule governing the disposal of coal ash nationwide. With some 140 million tons left over from combustion of coal to generate electrical power, coal ash is the second largest industrial waste stream in the U.S. Up until today, it has been left up to state governments to regulate storage and disposal. In effect, public health and environmental groups point out, there has been less regulation and monitoring of coal ash than household waste in the U.S.
While welcoming the EPA’s action, environmental groups say its initial rule won’t do nearly enough to safeguard human and environmental health and safety. “While EPA and the Obama administration have taken a modest first step by introducing some protections on the disposal of coal ash, they do not go far enough to protect families from this toxic pollution,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, was quoted in a statement. “We welcome federal efforts on this issue, but Sierra Club has significant concerns about what has been omitted from these protections and how they will be enforced in states that have historically had poor track records on coal ash disposal.”
South Africa is a nation rich in renewable energy resources. It’s finally capitalizing on them, thanks in large part to opening up its power market – previously a regulated monopoly – to independent power producers (IPP) and instituting short- and long-term national targets for renewable energy generation capacity.
Experiencing rolling blackouts and committed to developing its renewable energy resources as a path towards sustainable development, South Africa’s government on Dec. 11 announced it would triple electricity production from renewable energy sources in order to help alleviate power shortages. In the midst of auctions to procure 3,725 megawatts of energy from biomass, wind, solar and hydropower sources, and an additional 3,200 MWs thereafter, South Africa is now aiming for renewable energy resources to contribute 11.4 gigawatts to the grid as of an as yet unspecified date.
Add at least another 100 megawatts to South Africa’s total renewable power generation capacity: It is to come in the form of a concentrating solar power (CSP) plant to be built and operated by Spain’s Abengoa, and it will do more than generate clean, renewable power. Making use of molten salt thermal energy storage technology, the Xina Solar One power plant will be able to store five hours worth of energy, doling it out as needs demand even after the sun sets.
Continuing to lead the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, California in October 2013 enacted AB2514, legislation that requires the state’s investor-owned utilities to acquire 1.325 gigawatts of energy storage capacity by 2020.
Earlier this month, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison issued their first request for proposals for energy storage assets that will help meet projected long-term local capacity requirements.
California grid and energy market regulators are joining with industry players and already taking the next step in the U.S. renewable energy-smart grid transition. They’re building and testing microgrids in which solar photovoltaic systems are integrated with a variety of advanced energy storage technologies and the latest in real-time energy management software platforms.
President Barack Obama took executive action yesterday evening, Dec. 16, to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay, instituting an indefinite ban on oil and gas drilling across some 5.6 million acres in what’s known as the North Aleutian Basin Planning Area.
One of the world’s most economically valuable fishing grounds, the waters of Bristol Bay yield up to $2 billion worth of wild-caught seafood every year. Visiting to partake of Bristol Bay’s natural splendor, recreational fishing and tourism adds another $100 million a year to Alaska’s economy and communities. Home to an American fishing fleet and community that supplies 40 percent of U.S. wild-caught seafood, one of the economic and social pillars of the community is Bristol Bay’s salmon run – the world’s largest – as well as a bevy of endangered marine and terrestrial species of plants and animals.
President Obama’s latest executive action assures that the Bristol Bay ecosystem will not be threatened by oil and gas drilling. Further, it ensures local communities and businesses can continue to pursue eco-based livelihoods and lifestyles that reach back generations. Far above Bristol Bay, another environmental threat persists, however: the massive open-pit Pebble Mine project.
With energy demand rising and energy imports meeting as much as 70 percent of its needs, Chile has put itself on the “fast track” when it comes to developing an abundance of clean, renewable energy resources. Recent changes in energy market regulations are proving to be keys to unlocking Chile’s distributed renewable energy potential, and more broadly speaking, its sustainable development.
The same confluence of market regulatory changes, lower costs and technological advances is driving rapid renewable energy growth in the U.S. The birthplace of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, U.S. solar energy technology and project developers are venturing overseas in efforts to expand their businesses. Given the changes recently made to the market regulations governing its energy sector, Chile has become a “hotspot” for solar and renewable energy project developers.
Case in point: SunEdison on Dec. 15 was awarded 15-year power purchase agreements to supply 570 gigawatt-hours of electricity to Chile’s National Electricity Commission. Highlighting just how fast solar has become competitive with fossil-fuels in Chile, this solar energy will come at a lower cost than electricity generated by fossil-fuel combustion – and that’s without subsidies or incentives.
U.S. solar power installations are on track to post another year of record growth. Enough solar power capacity – 1.354 gigawatts – was installed in the U.S. in Q3 2014 to power some 3.5 million homes, according to the latest quarterly report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research.
More affordable and as emissions- and pollution-free as ever, U.S. home and property owners are installing solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems at an unprecedented pace. An industry first, more than 300 megawatts of residential PV went into operation in Q3. More than half of that was installed in states that don’t offer any incentives, SEIA and GTM highlighted.
That’s encouraging news for players all along the U.S. solar industry value chain, particularly in light of ongoing international trade tensions and a scheduled scaling down of the federal investment tax credit (ITC) at year-end 2016.
Facing stiff competition for residential customers, downstream solar PV finance-and-installation companies are turning to home solar loans as opposed to the third-party leases that have galvanized growth in recent years. Upsolar America believes it has a winning lifelong solution with its zero-down, 20-year, 5.99 percent fixed rate home solar loan program.