A new report shows that 2013 was another banner, record-setting year for solar energy in the U.S., with 4,751 megawatts (MW) of new photovoltaic (PV) capacity installed–a year-over-year increase of 41 percent–with another 410 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) coming online. A record 2,106 MW of solar power capacity was installed in the fourth quarter alone, amounting to 44 percent of the annual total. That bests the old quarterly record by 60 percent.
As of year-end, there were more than 445,000 solar electric systems generating clean, renewable electrical power in the U.S. That amounts to more than 12,000 MW of PV and 918 MW of CSP capacity–enough for some 2.2 million average U.S. homes, according to the GTM Research-Solar Energy Industry Association’s (SEIA) “Solar Market Insight Year in Review 2013.”
Solar accounted for 29 percent of all new electricity generation capacity added in 2013, second only to natural gas, which accounted for 46 percent. In the aggregate, 2013 statistics indicate that solar energy is on the cusp of going mainstream in the U.S., if it isn’t already there. A geographic breakdown of solar installations shows that this is indeed the case, but only in a few U.S. states.
Any form of economic decision-making–whether to invest in a coal mine or solar power project, to buy this brand of good or product or that–comes replete with trade-offs, particularly when it comes natural resource development. We rely on markets and private sector businesses and investors, working within the context of public sector governance, to guide and approve, or disapprove, of those decisions.
Such trade-offs are clearly in evidence in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, one of the world’s richest, most productive and few remaining wild salmon fisheries. Bristol Bay is also the site of the proposed Pebble Mine, envisioned by project developers as one of the world’s largest open-pit copper mines.
Concerned about Pebble Mine’s impact on the Bristol Bay fishery and watershed–which provides basic ecosystem services, such as water, food and shelter, and sustainable livelihoods for communities throughout the area, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this past week invoked Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act in initiating a process “to identify appropriate options to protect the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska from the potentially destructive impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine.”
Brought together on Sir Richard Branson’s Caribbean island retreat by the Carbon War Room and Rocky Mountain Institute, to work out a framework to effect a transition away from fossil fuels, six Caribbean island nations have agreed to replace diesel-fueled power with a mix of clean, sustainable renewable power generation, energy storage systems, and greater energy efficiency.
The founder of both the Virgin Group and Carbon War Room, Branson is spearheading the “Ten Island Renewable Challenge,” an initiative that aims to promote and foster renewable energy development, enhance climate change resiliency, and support entrepreneurs and local businesses across the Caribbean Basin.
“Islands are a microcosm of larger energy systems around the world and offer an excellent test bed to demonstrate and scale innovative clean energy solutions,” Rocky Mountain Institute co-founder and chief scientist Amory Lovins stated.
Clean air, pure water and untainted land are rights that should be enjoyed by every American, at least in theory. As the history of industrial and human development shows, the reality isn’t clear, or just. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, it’s been the areas where the poorest, politically weakest segments of a population have lived and worked, or those most remote and isolated, that have been the most polluted.
Aiming to address the issue, former President Bill Clinton in 1998 issued Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.” Twenty-five years on, President Barack Obama on Feb. 10 issued a proclamation commemorating former President Clinton’s executive order and renewed the federal government’s commitment to assuring environmental justice for all.
Speaking at a meeting of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) in Denver on Feb. 11, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy followed through with her own reaffirmation on behalf of the federal agency she leads.
Aiming to bridge the digital divide in India and developing countries worldwide, Vihaan Networks Limited (VNL) has been promoting a wireless micro-telecommunications infrastructure solution that is proving to be low in cost, simple to install, and easy to maintain. Powered by solar photovoltaic panels (PV), it also eliminates the need for mobile telecoms operators to rely on diesel fuel to power wireless base stations and associated infrastructure.
An open-access rural fiber optic network provider and a wireless Internet Service Provider (ISP) have brought Vihaan’s “green” wireless broadband infrastructure to the US. Working with Vihaan, Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities (MBC) and Gamewood Technology Group have deployed a pilot-scale installation of Vihaan’s WorldGSM Rural Site and Village Site solutions in the rural southern Virginia town of Halifax, the companies announced on Feb. 5.
Promoting and fostering sustainability in communities large and small, U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy recognized the winners of the agency’s 2013 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement at a ceremony at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 5. Seven Smart Growth projects earned top honors, with the Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail and Historic Fourth Ward Park winning the award for Overall Excellence.
Whether it’s enhancing water infrastructure, greening the urban landscape and improving residents’ quality of life by building new parks; providing solar-powered, highly energy efficient mixed-income housing; lowering the risk of floods while building a riverfront park; or revitalizing inner-city neighborhoods through community-driven redevelopment, this year’s EPA Smart Growth award winners demonstrate the compound effects and cross-cutting social, environmental and economic benefits that can result from well thought-out, inclusive and equitable sustainability initiatives.
“This year’s winning projects show that smart growth approaches are having a visible impact on communities across the country— large and small, cities and suburbs, towns and rural places,” McCarthy said in a pre-ceremony message. “They show that the choices communities make about how they develop can protect people’s health and the environment while contributing to local economic growth. Most importantly, they show other communities that the path to a sustainable future is just around the corner.”
Revenue growth and profits for U.S. power utilities have always been predicated on increasing demand, regulatory framework and relationships with regulators. Though still highly regulated, that business modus operandi is being turned on its head. Rapid growth in distributed solar, wind and other renewable energy resources and the development of smart grid and demand-response systems are two factors driving these changes. The movement to put a price on carbon emissions – based on the polluter pays principle – is another.
Also driving change are innovative new power industry participants, some of whom are now progressing from bleeding to leading edge, and from pilot stage to commercial scale. Leveraging its innovations in demand reduction/power efficiency software and the latest in battery storage systems, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Green Charge Networks (GCN) believes it has the ways and the means to generate very healthy returns by smoothing out customers’ electricity load profiles and boosting power, as opposed to energy efficiency.
When it comes to job creation, it appears that the U.S. economy has undergone radical change over the past couple of decades as the full extent of neoconservative economic, trade and tax policies, along with rapid technological change, have been more fully realized.
Historically wide and growing disparities in wealth and income in developed and developing countries alike was a focal point of discussion for the world’s super-wealthy at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, while the need to create more and better jobs and economic opportunities for all Americans was the theme of President Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) address Tuesday evening.
The potential to spur sustainable, well-paying job growth – as well as lasting environmental and social benefits – has been one of the principal reasons the president has espoused policies and legislation that promote and foster development of renewable energy and clean technology. Though policies, legislation and regulations aimed at fostering “green” job growth have been criticized, refuted, opposed and undermined, the latest report from the Solar Foundation reveals that the U.S. solar energy sector continues to create jobs at a much higher rate than the economy overall.
Joule Assets’ founders Mike Gordon and Dennis Quinn have been helping small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) save energy and boost energy efficiency for years. At the same time, they’ve been contributing to a wave of disruptive, fundamental change impacting U.S. power markets and industry – helping establish demand response as a viable means of better managing the flow of electricity across the grid, and the production and distribution of electrical power from variable renewable energy resources, such as wind farms and solar power plants.
Now, Gordon and Quinn are taking their expertise public, for the first time offering accredited investors the opportunity to earn above-market returns by helping SMEs realize energy savings – otherwise known as “negawatts” – and take advantage of changing supply-and-demand conditions in electricity markets by shedding load during times of high and peak demand – so-called demand response.
The first investment fund of its kind, Joule Assets’ planned $300 million-$400 million Energy Reduction Assets (ERA) Fund will monetize and distribute the energy savings and demand response cash flows Gordon, Quinn and team originate and finance between fund investors, technology providers and SME consumers.
Spain’s Abengoa has landed the contract to design, build and operate South America’s largest solar thermal power plant. Also known as concentrated solar power (CSP), Chile’s Ministry of Energy and public sector development agency Coporacion de Fomento de la Produccion (Corfo) awarded Abengoa the contract to build a 110 megawatt (MW) CSP plant in Chile’s northern Antofagasta region, where precipitation is lower, and solar insolation higher, than any other region in the world.
Following through on a recently enacted law that requires Chile’s electric utilities to source 20 percent of their electricity from clean energy sources by 2025, the 110 MW plant is to be built with 17.5 hours of power storage capacity, which will enable it to generate and distribute clean, renewable electricity night and day.
Politically contentious as ever, climate change is back in the headlines, as a brutal, deep and prolonged southward shift in the polar vortex has put much of the continental U.S. in a deep freeze. In stark contrast, people living in the Southern Hemisphere – in Australia, Argentina and Brazil, for example – are trying to cope with heat waves, the threat of drought and power outages in major cities. While many are scrambling with the immediacy of such problems, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving forward with longer term, structural fixes to address climate change conceived by the Obama Administration. On Jan. 8, the EPA issued proposed new performance standards that would put an upper limit, or cap, on carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new, stationary power plants under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act.
Money’s tight in Washington D.C. as Democrats and Republicans continue fierce infighting over the federal budget, deficit reduction, and what exactly is appropriate fiscal policy at this juncture in what’s been a gradual, lopsided economic recovery. Throughout this period, fostering development of a renewable, clean energy manufacturing base has been a focal point for the Obama Administration.
Maintaining and adding impetus to its “green” economy drive, which includes the launch of a historic Climate Change Action Plan, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, speaking at the DOE’s American Energy and Manufacturing Competitiveness Summit on December 12, announced $150 million in Phase II clean energy tax credits to build U.S. capabilities in clean energy manufacturing.
“The credits will go towards investments in domestic manufacturing equipment by 12 businesses,” through the DOE’s Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit (48C) program, DOE explains in a press release.
Whether it’s the production of food and drink, clothing, shelter, transportation or personal communications and computing devices – world economies and societies ultimately depend on the health and integrity of Earth’s ecosystems and the natural resources and services they provide. The headlong quest for economic growth and unprecedented expansion of the human population has increasingly put that health and integrity at risk, threatening the sustainability not only of businesses and economies, but that of modern societies in their entirety.
Increasing natural resource scarcity — agricultural, water, energy and mineral — and the negative impacts of economic activities on fundamental ecosystems services and biodiversity is a reality that societies and business executives are increasingly being forced to confront. So is a fundamental flaw in economic theory – the failure to fully integrate environmental and social externalities into the determination and accounting of business costs or into management decision-making.
A holistic framework for economic and business decision-making that internalizes externalities and addresses these issues is emerging in the form of natural capital accounting and management, an attempt to factor the value of ecosystems services and biodiversity into business accounting and the decision-making calculus, however.
Determining and accounting for the monetary value of ecosystems, biodiversity and ecosystem services and factoring them into the calculus of business decision-making is a very tall order. Yet, that’s precisely what’s necessary if humanity is to avoid environmental catastrophes of unprecedented scope and scale over the course of the 21st century, according to proponents of “natural capital,” nearly 500 of whom from 35 countries gathered in Edinburgh November 21-22 for the inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital.
World Forum host government Scotland wasn’t reticent about lending support and providing leadership to the Natural Capital movement. During the World Forum’s opening day, First Minister Alex Salmond announced the launch of the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital, a public-private partnership dedicated to charting a course for ongoing development and adoption of the natural capital framework and methodologies throughout Scottish society.
Following in the wake of the institution of national climate change legislation (2012) and a national carbon tax on fossil fuels (this legislative session), Mexico’s financial exchange, Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (BMV), is finalizing the launch of the first carbon offset credit exchange in the Latin American region.
Dubbed MEXICO2 and slated for launch November 26, the carbon credits exchange will offer public and private sector organizations a financial incentive to “green” their activities by developing projects that mitigate climate change and reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, such as forest conservation, sustainable agriculture and renewable energy systems deployment. On the other side of transactions, polluters will be able to offset their emissions by purchasing credits, and use the expense to offset any carbon tax they may incur.