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Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

2014 in review IV: clean tech

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The cost of solar power keeps dropping - the future looks solar.

The cost of solar power keeps dropping – the future looks solar.

So, the year in review in clean tech, and a very strong ray of hope. That’s because in many instances, solar and wind have reached parity with fossil fuels, and the price of wind and solar electricity keeps dropping as the technologies progress. Here’s what caught my eye in this year’s news and reviews.

NRDC’s Nathanael Greene reports that worldwide clean energy investment reached $175.1 billion. In the US, renewables are winning on coast alone; El Paso Electric, for instance, signed up a deal to purchase solar power at 5.79 cents per kWhr – same as coal. During just the first nine months of this year, solar prices have dropped by 11 percent already, while wind prices have dropped by 15% (and a whopping 58% in the last five years). As a result, wind and solar are now major players in the US, with more new installations this year than for coal or gas.

Records were broken everywhere, whether in production (for instance, Scotland met all its power needs and more from wind), installation (the largest solar plant opened in California, and the largest floating solar plant was also unveiled), or technologies (more efficient solar panels, tidal power, and energy storage). Tech nerds can read all about it from DeSmogBlog, Eco-Business, Carbon Brief, ThinkProgress, and the Energy Collective; and I have myself tried to keep up with the news on this blog.

Merran Smith, the director of Clean Energy Canada, identified five distinct positive developments: solar electricity moved from boutique to mainstream; Health Canada debunked the myth of wind energy sickness; a push for decentralized renewable power in developing countries; carbon pricing support from big business; and the April IPCC report that identified growth in renewable energy as both necessary and affordable. “While pipelines have been grabbing headlines, clean energy has been grabbing growth,” she quipped.

Meanwhile, fears that China or India may gobble up so much coal as to negate the effect of renewables may not materialize, according to recent analysis (here and here); more importantly, renewables are likely to continue to do well despite the crash in oil prices.

But it’s one thing to reduce the amount of fossil fuel burned, it’s another to remove the excess climate-changing carbon dioxide from the air. But there are also interesting news in that respect: in some areas (Costa Rica, Europe, and maybe even Brazil) forests are growing back enough to remove appreciable amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere (and allow wildlife to return); and efforts to reduce deforestation are bearing fruit. One of the most effective way to trap excess carbon is to promote the growth of salt marshes (the so-called blue carbon approach); in storm-battered Lousiana, getting carbon credits to rebuild coastal marshes holds promise. Organic agriculture also has a huge potential for sequestering carbon by building up soil organic matter; if most of the world switched to organic methods, a large amount of carbon would be removed from the atmosphere. But could it feed the world? A new report showing that organic agriculture can yield just as much as chemical-based ag says yes. Finally, marine reserves can also sequester carbon, and this year’s creation of the largest marine reserve in the world is great news.

But to get back to simple, practical good news: this year saw the announcement of the first wind-powered brewery, in North Carolina. Cheers to that as we usher in the new year!

 

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  1. […] in earlier posts in this series that 2014 provided many reasons for feeling good about the future. Developments in clean tech are one reason, of course, but what happened at the political level is what has been most […]


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