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Mon, 2014-07-14 11:39Mike G
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California And Texas, Pioneers In The Mainstreaming of Renewable Energy

California and Texas continue to break new ground in making electricty generation from renewable sources a vital part of the United States' energy mix.

California, for its part, is following up on the huge year solar energy had in 2013 by breaking the record for single-day solar photovoltaic (PV) energy generation back in March, and then breaking its own record on June 1. The new record in California — 4,767 Megawatts of utility-scale solar PV energy fed into the grid in one day — is the national record, as well.

California installed some 2,261 MW of solar capacity in 2013, more than any other state, and looks to be on track to post up even bigger numbers this year. PV Magazine reports that “California’s solar footprint is growing bigger with each passing day, week and month, with May recording three times as much solar generation as recorded during the same month in 2013.”

Texas may seem like a strange bedfellow for California when it comes to the mainstreaming of energy sources that aren't oil, but the Lone Star State set a new record for itself on March 26 when 10.2 GW, nearly a third of the state's electricity generation that day, came from the wind. State regulators don't expect that record to last long, either.

These two examples point to a clear trend of renewable energy scaling up nationwide in blue states and red states alike.

Tue, 2014-03-04 21:01Mike G
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Solar Power Had A Huge Year In 2013

A new report out from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) shows that solar power came an incredibly long way toward asserting itself as a key part of the U.S. energy mix last year.

The U.S. now has a total of 12.1 gigawatts of photovoltaic (PV) installations and 918 megawatts of concentrating solar power (CSP), enough to power 2.2 million homes.

Here are some of the other highlights from the Solar Market Insight Year in Review 2013 report:

PV installations increased 41% over 2012 to reach 4,751 MW; these new installations have a $13.7 billion market value.

• 410 MW of CSP came online in 2013, increasing total capacity in the U.S. more than 80%.

• Solar accounted for 29% of all new electricity generating capacity, making it the second-largest source, exceeded only by natural gas.

• The cost to install solar fell throughout the year, reaching a new low of $2.59/W in the fourth quarter and ending 15 percent below the mark set at the end of 2012.

But these statistics don't tell the whole story.

Thu, 2014-01-30 05:00Russell Blinch
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Two Big Reasons Why Solar Power is Under Siege

Forget the U.S. war on coal, that’s not going so well for the team in the charcoal jerseys. The real shooting war has opened up against renewable energy, particularly solar, because of its potentially disruptive nature to vested interests.

Solar power is the go-to source for new generating capacity in the U.S. Some 930 megawatts of photovoltaic solar power was installed in the third quarter of 2013, a jump of 35 percent over last year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. And 2013 will go down as the year the United States surpassed uber leader Germany in new solar installations.

And the momentum shows no signs of slowing this year because home owners and companies are rapidly embracing the idea of harnessing power from the sun rather than from expensive and increasingly brittle power grids.

Solar panels are the new granite countertops in home building – an amenity that’s becoming a standard in residential housing, according to Bloomberg in a report.  At least six of the 10 largest American homebuilders include panels in new housing construction today.

And what is a movement without stock market darlings? Companies such as Elon Musk’s SolarCity and SunEdison, to name just two, are often hot stocks on a daily basis.

Tue, 2013-12-03 09:58Sharon Kelly
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Toxic Coal Ash Disposal Proves Costly and Hazardous, Duke Energy's Sutton Lake Contamination Questioned

A new report out from Wake Forest University concludes that coal ash waste from Duke Energy’s Sutton coal plant in Wilmington, NC is elevating levels of selenium pollution in nearby Sutton Lake. The lake, prized by fishermen for its largemouth bass population, has been contaminated, according to a study released today by Prof. Dennis Lemly, Research Associate Professor of Biology at Wake Forest, with high levels of selenium. Selenium has been linked to deformities in fish – including two-headed trout – and can cause a condition known as selenosis if people consume high enough doses in their food or drinking water.

Several conservation groups, including the Sierra Club and the Southern Environmental Law Center, which joined the University in announcing the findings, filed suit against Duke Energy Progress, Inc. this summer, arguing that pollution from the Sutton plant's coal ash is “killing a regional fishing lake and is threatening a community’s drinking water.”

The new report, which found that the coal ash pollution kills over 900,000 fish and deforms thousands more in Sutton Lake each year, is likely to bolster the plaintiffs' case in that suit.

The research also highlights one of the most fundamental problems with American energy policy: policy-makers and the public have been unwilling to recognize the true costs of the fuels we use to make electricity.

Thu, 2013-11-07 09:00Sharon Kelly
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Could California's Shale Oil Boom Be Just a Mirage?

Since the shale rush took off starting in 2005 in Texas, drillers have sprinted from one state to the next, chasing the promise of cheaper, easier, more productive wells. This land rush was fueled by a wild spike in natural gas prices that helped make shale gas drilling attractive even though the costs of fracking were high.

As the selling price of natural gas sank from its historic highs in 2008, much of the luster wore off entire regions that had initially captivated investors, like Louisiana’s Haynesville shale or Arkansas’s Fayetteville, now in decline.

But unlike natural gas prices, oil prices remain high to this day, and investors and policymakers alike remain dazzled by the heady promise of oil from shale rock. Oil and gas companies have wrung significant amounts of black gold from shale oil plays like Texas’s Eagle Ford and North Dakota’s Bakken.

Shale oil, they say, is the next big thing.

“After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to control our own energy future,” President Obama said in his most recent State of the Union address. “We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.”

But once again, the reality may be nothing like the hype. Consider California.

Sat, 2013-09-28 07:00Don Lieber
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Solar Power Fights Climate Change, Poverty, and Lung Cancer

My writing for DeSmog, and other blogs, has focused on the problems related to climate change.  The burning of fossil fuels is at the root of these problems. 

The fossil fuel industries (oil, coal, gas) spend millions of dollars in PR campaigns and political contributions to downplay the consequences of their continued monopoly on world energy while portraying non-fossil fuel alternatives, like solar power, as impractical and too expensive to meet the energy needs of the world.   

The large oil, coal and gas companies don’t want us to be aware, for example, that renewables already account for up to 20% of total global electricity production, according to one French-based study.  A recent report in Scientific American states that renewables (solar, wind, hydro, together) will soon become the ‘second most important’ global energy source’ (after coal) and are “becoming cost competitive with fossil fuels”.    

While governments have been slow to support the widespread introduction of renewables (despite the scientific necessity), awareness of private and non-governmental programs, such as that of the WakaWaka Foundation, helps provide the public more confidence in the inevitable, necessary shift toward solar, wind and other non-fossil fuel sources which don’t wreck our climate.   

Take the example of one new solar manufacturer.  WakaWaka, a Netherlands-based NGO, provides solar products to some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. WakaWaka runs several programs which combat extreme poverty AND promotes the use of solar power.  The foundation develops climate education kits for local communities and schools; provides micro-enterprise support  for start-up solar power entrepreneurs (including the provision of micro-community loans as necessary); and, donates solar products directly to some of the most isolated, poorest people on Earth, including those in humanitarian crisis zones.   Current programs are in Haiti, Africa and South America; they recently began a program serving a Syrian refugee community.

Sun, 2012-10-28 05:00Farron Cousins
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Why Is North America Behind The Curve On Climate Change and Energy?

Just three short years ago, it appeared that North America was on the verge of finally kicking that nasty dirty energy addiction that was crippling our economies and our energy independence.  The United States had elected a president (Barack Obama) who set incredibly lofty goals for renewable energy targets, and green energy investments across the continent were higher than anywhere else in the world.

Tue, 2012-10-23 05:00Steve Horn
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As You Sow: Coal Investments, Shale Gas, a Bad Bet

In a missive titled “White Paper: Financial Risks of Investments in Coal,” As You Sow concludes that coal is becoming an increasingly risky investment with each passing day. The fracking boom and the up-and-coming renewable energy sector are quickly superseding King Coal's empire as a source of power generation, As You Sow concludes in the report.

As You Sow chocks up King Coal's ongoing demise to five factors, quoting straight from the report:

1. Increasing capital costs for environmental controls at existing coal plants and uncertainty about future regulatory compliance costs

2. Declining prices for natural gas, a driver of electric power prices in competitive markets

3. Upward price pressures and price volatility of coal

4. High construction costs for new coal plants and unknown costs to implement carbon capture and storage

5. Increasing competitiveness of renewable generation resources

Sun, 2012-09-23 18:21Laurel Whitney
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Amidst Record Drought, Report Shows Massive Water Requirements For Nonrenewable Fuels

If you haven't heard about the major droughts afflicting most of the US this summer, then you may just have your head in the sand (or more likely a water-parched dusty hole). In fact, the media department of the Drought Monitor website ran out of combinations for modifying the words “intensify” and “widespread” when referring to the drought in their headlines.

Indeed, if you have been keeping tabs on the situation, “megadrought” and “a new normal?” sound highly familiar by now. With farmers nervous about a modern-day Dust Bowl taking hold, the question on everyone's mind is, how long will it last?

This visceral threat of water scarcity puts a new report about the true cost of fossil fuels in perspective. “The Hidden Costs of Electricity: Comparing the Hidden Costs of Power Generation Fuels” evaluates, among other parameters, the water demands of fuel sources such as biomass, coal, nuclear, natural gas, solar, and wind.

In short, the nonrenewables like nuclear and coal use far more water to generate electricity than clean energy technologies like solar and wind. Take a look at how much water power plants need to function (mainly for the purpose of cooling):

Mon, 2012-09-17 12:06Farron Cousins
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U.S. Government Significantly Underestimating Costs Of Climate Change And Dirty Energy

A new study released today shows that the U.S. government is using faulty calculations and outdated information to determine the costs of energy and climate change in America. The study was written by Chris Hope from the University of Cambridge and Laurie Johnson of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

Current government models would have us believe that fossil fuels provide the cheapest sources of electricity for the United States, but the new study says that the numbers being used are misleading, as they do not take into account all of the costs, specifically those related to climate change, that these sources of energy carry.

From NRDC:

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