energy

Booming U.S. Renewable Energy Sector Growing Faster Than Expected

The mainstreaming of renewable energy is happening even faster than projected.

According to the latest “Electric Power Monthly” report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which includes data through the end of 2014, some 13.91% of electricity generation in the U.S. last year was from renewable sources.

“Given current growth rates, especially for solar and wind, it is quite possible that renewable energy sources will reach, or exceed, 14% of the nation's electrical supply by the end of 2015,” noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “That is a level that EIA, only a few years ago, was forecasting would not be achieved until the year 2040.”

That number includes conventional hydroelectric power, which comes with severe environmental impacts of its own and is not generally considered a true “clean energy” source (the same can be said of biomass and biofuels, which is also included). So it’s worth noting that 2014 was the first year that electricity generation from non-hydropower renewable energy sources exceeded hydroelectric generation.

Wind energy continues to be the biggest clean energy source by far, supplying some 4.45% of 2014 electricity generation in the U.S. versus .45% from solar and .41% from geothermal. But solar is making great strides, seeing more than 100% growth last year while wind grew just 8.3% and geothermal by just 5.4%.

State Solar Jobs Report Is Good News For The Economy And Environment

The Solar Foundation released its 2014 State Solar Jobs Census yesterday demonstrating that solar energy is still one of the fastest growing industries in the US, which is good news for our economy and the environment.

California ranks number one, with 54,700 jobs in solar installation, manufacturing, sales and distribution. Massachusetts came in second with 9,400 jobs. The booming solar industry — which now employs nearly 175,000 Americans nationwide — is not strictly a blue state phenomenon, however. Arizona came in a close third with 9,200 jobs.

The solar industry’s growth isn’t bound by geography, either.

“Big gains in employment are no longer limited to solar-friendly California and the sunny Southwest,” Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), said in a statement. “Employment is also booming in East Coast states, including Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Maryland, while significantly growing in the southern states of Texas, Georgia and Florida.”

In other words, with solar making big gains in red states and blue states alike last year, the mainstreaming of renewable energy continues apace.

The War On Solar Is Real, Unlike the "War on Coal"

You’ve most likely heard of the so-called “war on coal,” especially given how eagerly mainstream newspapers have helped conservatives in pushing this bogus meme. But there’s another war going on, one you probably haven’t heard of even though the outcome has major implications for the future of our planet.

That would be the “war on solar,” a concerted effort by vested fossil fuel interests and their political allies to hinder the progress of solar power, and more broadly attack all efforts to convert our society to run on clean, renewable energy sources.

Solar is a fast-growing clean energy industry that now employs 174,000 people, more than the coal industry. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. now has more than 20 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity, enough to power four million American homes while contributing more than $15 billion to the American economy.

The aggressors in the war on the solar industry include some familiar names: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Tax Reform and the Koch Brothers’ own Americans for Prosperity, organizations that are intent on rolling back policies — including the solar investment tax credit — designed to encourage solar energy development. These front groups for fossil fuel interests are determined to restrict the growth of the clean tech industries in favor of the dirty energy interests they’re beholden to for funding.

As Karl Cates of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis writes, “the war on solar remains starkly underreported, and vastly deserving of much more and better coverage than it’s gotten so far.”

Fracking Industry Showdown Preceding Stricter Fugitive Emissions Ordinances In Mansfield, Texas

Sharon Wilson, Earthworks’ Gulf Regional Organizer, described FLIR camera footage she shot of a fracking industry site on January 29 in Mansfield, Texas, as ‘the mother lode of all emissions.”

The issue of fugitive emissions — like those documented by Wilson at Summit Midstream Partners Compressor Station on the 29th — is one of the reasons that the Mansfield City Council is struggling with how to handle a request from another oil and gas company, Edge Resources, to renew an expired permit.

Approving the permit renewal would allow Edge Resources to pursue a large fracking industry development in a growing residential neighborhood not far from the Mansfield Performing Fine Arts Center, where fracking industry sites have already caused problems. A growing group of residents do not believe regulators can protect them from the gas industry.

Watch FLIR video shot by Sharon Wilson on behalf of the Citizen Empowerment Project at the Summit Midstream Partners Compressor Station:

Coal Casts Cloud Over Germany’s Energy Revolution

This is a guest post by Henner Weithöner originally published on Climate News Network.

The energy market in Germany saw a spectacular change last year as renewable energy became the major source of its electricity supply—leaving lignite, coal and nuclear behind.

But researchers calculate that, allowing for the mild winter of 2014, the cut in fossil fuel use in energy production meant CO2 emissions fell by only 1%.

Wind, solar, hydropower and biomass reached a new record, producing 27.3% (157bn kilowatt hours) of Germany’s total electricity and overtaking lignite (156bn kWh), according to AGEB, a joint association of energy companies and research institutes.

This was an achievement that many energy experts could not have imagined just a few years ago.

Obama Vows To Fight For Climate Policies In State Of The Union But What He Didn’t Mention Was Just As Telling

President Barack Obama could not have signaled more clearly in his 2015 State of the Union address that he intends to fight for his legacy on climate change in the face of a hostile, anti-science GOP-led House and Senate.

But it was what the President didn’t mention that could negate his climate legacy: free trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership that undermine local efforts to lower emissions, projects like Keystone XL that lock us into decades of continued dirty energy use, and the exporting of American-made coal, crude oil and natural gas to overseas markets.

Which is not to say that every policy position Obama laid out regarding energy and the environment entirely matched his lofty rhetoric about climate change.

New Solar Jobs Numbers Set The Stage For National “Shout Out For Solar” Friday

Following up on the massive gains made in 2013, U.S. solar energy had another banner year in 2014—and the industry is poised to shout it from the rooftops.

In this case, of course, “rooftops” means social media.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), which is celebrating its 41st anniversary as a national trade association, is organizing its second annual national “Shout Out For Solar” day on Friday, January 16, 2015 to proclaim the wonders of solar energy in the U.S. via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

The national “Shout Out For Solar” day was also planned to coincide with the release of The Solar Foundation’s annual National Solar Jobs Census, which came out today and reports that the U.S. solar energy industry now employs nearly 174,000 people—a 22% increase since November 2013. As Climate Progress reports, that is 20 times faster job growth than the national average.

Energy Shift Requires Shift In Conversation

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Abundant, cheap fossil fuels have driven explosive technological, industrial and economic expansion for more than a century. The pervasive infrastructure developed to accommodate this growth makes it difficult to contemplate rapidly shifting away from coal, oil and gas, which creates a psychological barrier to rational discourse on energy issues.

The ecological and true economic costs of energy use force us to scrutinize our way of living. And because our infrastructure doesn’t allow us to entirely avoid fossil fuels, we must face the contradiction between how we should live and constraints against doing so.

Canada has no national energy plan, other than governmental desire to be a fossil-fuelled energy-export superpower. Given the consequences of human-induced climate change already hitting home, you’d think the highest priority of governments at all levels would be to decide on the lowest-emission energy path. But politicians focused on election intervals have difficulty dealing with generational issues.

California Governor Proposes Most Ambitious Renewable Energy Target In U.S.

California Governor Jerry Brown used the occasion of his fourth inaugural address to propose an ambitious new clean energy target for the state: 50% renewable energy by 2030.

“We are at a crossroads,” Brown said in announcing the proposal, according to Climate Progress. “The challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it, to live within our means and to keep California ever golden and creative.”

Already the leader in installed solar capacity and third when it comes to wind power, the Golden State had previously adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard mandate to procure 33% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, a goal it was easily on pace to meet.

Environmentalists were quick to applaud Governor Brown’s 50% by 2030 proposal, which would give California the most ambitious renewable energy target of any US state, eclipsing Hawaii’s 40% by 2030 target.

But given the current growth rate of California’s renewable sector, even 50% by 2030 might not end up being that ambitious, according to Abigail Dillen, Vice President of Climate and Energy for Earthjustice.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan Could Leave A Lot Of Renewable Energy Gains On The Table

Many states are already on track to meet or beat the renewable energy targets laid out for them by the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, according to a new report from Earthjustice, which is calling on the agency to strengthen the plan in order to promote more ambitious renewable energy growth.

The Clean Power Plan sets out different emissions reduction levels for each state to reach by 2030, and suggests renewable energy targets as one means of achieving those goals. But Earthjustice has found that many states have already adopted their own renewable energy standards that either meet or even exceed the suggestions made by the EPA.

Three extreme examples are California, Colorado, and Hawaii, some of the states that have done the most to embrace renewable energy. California ranks first in installed solar capacity and third in wind—it even set a record earlier this year for single-day solar photovoltaic energy generation—and has set a mandatory goal of generating 33% of its electricity from renewables by 2020. Yet the Clean Power Plan sets a standard of 21% by 2030 for the Golden State.

Colorado has a similarly ambitious self-imposed goal of 30% by 2020, but the EPA’s suggestion is also 21% by 2030. And Hawaii, which is aiming for 40% by 2030, is being urged by the Clean Power Plan to hit just 10%.

Here’s how several other clean energy early adopter states' own commitments stack up against the goals called for in the Clean Power Plan:

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