Rob Wile uses a graph to point out the obvious, the dramatic fall in the cost of solar power generation. In many countries– Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal — and in parts of the US such as the Southwest, solar is at grid parity. That means it is as inexpensive to build a solar plant as a gas or coal one. The pace of technological innovation in the solar field has also accelerated, so that costs have started falling precipitously and efficiency is rapidly increasing. By 2015, solar panels should have fallen to 42 cents per watt. Reneweconomy.com says that the best Chinese solar panels fell in cost by 50% between 2009 and 2012. That incredible achievement is what has driven so many solar companies bankrupt– if you have the older technology, your panels are suddenly expensive and you can’t compete. It is like no one wants a 4 year old computer. Conservatives shed no tears when better computers drive slower ones out of the market, but point to solar companies’ shake-out as somehow bad or unnatural. No wonder US solar installations jumped 76% in 2012. The reductions in cost over the next two years are expected to continue, at a slowing but still impressive 30% rate:
Construction has begun on the world’s largest solar plant. MidAmerican Solar and SunPower Corp. are building a 579 megawatt installation, the Antelope Valley Solar Project, in Kern and Los Angeles counties in California. That is half a gigawatt, just enormous. It will provide electricity to 400,000 homes in the state (roughly 2 million people?), and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 775,000 tons a year. The US emits 5 billion metric tons a year of C02, second only to China, and forms a big part of the world’s carbon problem all by itself. We just need lots more of the Antelope Valley projects.
Important new research also shows that hybrid plants that have both solar panels and wind turbines dramatically increase efficiency and help with integration into the electrical grid. Earlier concerns that the turbines would cast shadows and so detract from the efficiency of the solar panels appear to have been overblown. Because in most places in the US there is more sun in the summer and more wind in the winter, a combined plant keeps the electricity feeding into the grid at a more constant rate all year round, which is more desirable than big spikes and fall-offs.
That Germany, then China, then the US are the world’s largest solar markets is no surprise. But that number 17 Japan will increase its solar installations by 120% in 2013 and so may be the second hottest solar market, just after China, this year, would mark a big change. Japan may well have 5 gigawatts of solar installed by the end of this year, even though the relatively new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is no particular friend of the renewables. In my own view, if Japan made the right governmental and private investments, it could overtake China in the solar field and reverse its long post-bubble stagnation.
Because of South African and Israeli demand in particular, demand for solar panels in the Middle East and Africa has risen over 600% during the past year. Saudi Arabia’s announced plans to save its petroleum for export by going solar at home will add a great deal to regional demand if it sticks to those plans. (In most countries, petroleum isn’t used much for electricity generation as opposed to transportation, but in oil states such as Saudi Arabia it often is used in power plants; but that cuts down on foreign exchange earnings.)
The two Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan are emerging as the solar giants in India, with each having now passed half a gigawatt in solar electricity generation capacity. The two account for some 88% of all of India’s solar power. But Rajasthan may soon outstrip Gujarat, given the state’s solar-friendly commitments, its ample amounts of scorching sunlight, and its vast deserts.
Coal plants produce a lion’s share of carbon dioxide poisoning of the atmosphere, causing rapid global warming. In the case of the US, they are responsible for fully 40% of our CO2 emissions.
The single most important thing you can do for the earth is call your utility company and pressure them not to use coal, and lobby your city to develop its own solar installations, and put solar panels on your roof.
Close all the 600 coal plants in the United States and you’d dramatically reduce our 500 billion metric tons a year of CO2 emissions. (The supposed good news that our emissions have fallen from 6 to 5 billion metric tons annually is laughable, since 3, 4, or 5 billion tons a year will still radically alter the earth. We need to get it down to sustainable levels and hydrocarbons like natural gas cannot do that!)
Environmentalists should think strategically. As bad as a tar sands pipeline might be, coal plants are far, far worse. We should put all our eggs in one basket and target coal for extinction within a decade.
The solar industry already employs more workers than are in the coal mines.
China increased its wind power generation by 41% in 2012, bringing the total to 62.7 gigawatts on its way to a planned 100 gigs in 2015. At that point wind will account for nearly 5 percent of China’s electricity generation. Since 80% of China’s electricity is now from dirty coal, and the country is the largest C02 polluter in the world, even more rapid progress on the renewables front is key to a more responsible energy policy.
7. In nine American states, wind power now accounts for over ten percent of electricity generation, and in some of them, such as Iowa and South Dakata, it is close to a quarter. American wind power increased 17% in 2012.
Scotland has approved 11 wind turbines in Aberdeen, which will supply have the town’s electricity. They are being touted as job-creators and engines of economic growth, and are locally popular. (Green energy has already created 11,000 jobs in Scotland and the country is rapidly increasing the amount of electricity it generates from renewables).
But Donald Trump, has plans for a golf course near Aberdeen and is threatening a law suit now that the project has been approved.
This was his address to the Scottish parliament on the subject last year:
The Donald’s complaint that wind turbines are a blight on the beauty of the land is silly. There is lots of land. And, the beauty of the land won’t remain anyway if it is turned to desert or ends up under the ocean. Scotland is doing its bit to avert the catastrophe of climate change caused by dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Trump exemplifies the selfishness and childishness of the current American business class, too many members of which are unimaginative and scientifically illiterate. If they knew what was good for them they’d be lobbying for green energy.
Dreaming of playing golf where wind energy can be generated is the contemporary equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.
Documentary on what the 600 coal plants in the US are doing to our health and well-being. The government should announce a crash program to close them all by 2023 and replace them with green energy. If it won’t municipalities (your city) should go into the business of solar and wind electricity generation itself. The “cost” would be minor to the cost to our health and our planet (via global warming — it isn’t a distant threat–) that we will incur if we don’t.
Although the Gulf makes its way in life by selling petroleum, countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates don’t engage in that sordid game of the American rich, of climate-change denial. The emirs are in no doubt about its dangers to their region and the need to use their current wealth to move to renewables. Since green energy requires massive investment capital, and since these countries are very wealthy, they are, ironically, in a position to take the lead on green energy. And they have the will. Unlike big American energy corporations who pay weasels to deny the dangers of our rapidly altering climate.
the United Arab Emirates has launched the Middle East’s biggest concentrated solar power plant, with the help of Spain’s Abengoa and the French energy firm Total S.A. When fully operational, Shams-1 will generate 100 megawatts of electricity.
The project was inaugurated by UAE President, Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan. It is a project of Masdar, a green energy concern backed by the UAE government and headed by Sultan al-Jaber, whom I met in February when I was given a wonderful tour of Masdar City near Abu Dhabi by the very kind genius, Hector Hernandez. (See this press release).