Renewable energy continues to run the table in the United States. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects has released its latest “Energy Infrastructure Update,” and it shows that all of the new electricity generating capacity brought online during the month of April in the United States was from wind and solar.
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%.
Pressure continues to grow for European politicians to agree to further reductions of greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2030.
The European Union’s 2020 climate and energy package, which is binding legislation, calls for emissions to be cut by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. In addition, the plan calls for energy efficiency savings of 20 per cent and a 20 per cent increase in renewable energy technologies.
While the European Union seems largely on track to meet those targets, later this month politicians are going to vote on even greater emissions reductions, energy savings and growth in renewables by 2030.
In January, the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, published the 2030 policy framework for climate and energy.
Despite six years of economic uncertainty, the plan includes targets to reduce EU domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent below the 1990 level by 2030, which would ensure that Europe would meet its objective of cutting emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050.
Two new reports prepared for the U.K. and the U.S. militaries suggest that the consequences of climate change are immense in scope and will create severe, sustained challenges for the world and its growing population.
The fifth edition of Global Strategic Trends, prepared for the U.K. Ministry of Defence, says climate change will likely create a lengthy list of defence and security implications in the next three decades.
Key predictions include more sexual violence in war zones, failed and failing cities posing major security repercussions for nations and more extreme weather events causing widespread damage and loss of life. The report also raised the prospect of the increased use of nuclear energy increasing the likelihood of fissile material being obtained by non-state actors,
Written for military and political leaders, the 172-page report is stark, frightening and pulls no punches.
“In the process of identifying threats, challenges and defence and security implications for policy- and decision-makers, there may be a tendency for the document to seem rather negative in its outlook. This is an inevitable consequence of its purpose. There is of course scope for human ingenuity to have a significant impact on the future, and hence there are considerable grounds for optimism.”
Three years ago the world was reminded of the dangers nuclear energy poses when catastrophe struck Japan at the Fukushima power plant. Since then the gravity of the disaster has grown more evident as cleanup efforts have turned into a debacle. In the last month alone we have seen news of radioactive water leaks at the site, lawsuits from U.S. Navy sailors who responded to the initial disaster and are now developing cancer and ongoing harm to the fishing industry.
The nuclear industry is often portrayed as a climate-neutral alternative to coal and natural gas. An industry-tied movie called Pandora's Promise, recently featured at Sundance and debuted through Netflix and iTunes, has been promoting this very perspective.
But nuclear power plants need cooling water, which means they are often situated on shorelines. That makes these plants more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, such as sea level rise. They are also more at risk of being affected by the ever-growing number and severity of storms tied to climate change, such as Hurricane Sandy.
Case in point: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers recently concluded that a small six-foot-high miniature tsunami that hit near a New Jersey nuclear power plant this summer was not the result of a seismic event (as tsunamis usually are). Instead, the researchers concluded that the surge was caused by a sudden atmospheric pressure change. The nuclear plant, Oyster Creek, did not report any damage. But experts say there was a cautionary lesson on offer: expect the unexpected. Climate change will cause more destructive and seemingly freakish events like this. Emergency planners need to plan for them — especially when the risks are high as is the case with nuclear plants.
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.
This is a guest post by EcoWatch, republished with permission.
For the last few months EcoWatch has been covering what's become the worst drought in the U.S. in more than half a century. More than 3,200 daily high temperature records were set or tied in June, and July is in the books as the warmest month ever recorded in the lower 48 states, according to a report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center.
Besides the discomfort of relentless heat and unmitigated sunshine, the drought has forced us to rethink several issues commonly taken for granted—namely, abundant and affordable food, secure livelihoods for farmers, safety from natural disasters, practical public policy regarding the delegation of crops for food and biofuels, and most importantly, the value of water.
The value of water is inestimable. Without it, as the drought has shown us, uncertainty and chaos quickly enter the picture, throwing superpower economies off kilter and quite literally, imperiling lives.
But that's not all.
A new poll released today shows that American voters take global warming pollution very seriously and want to see action from government and the private sector to curb emissions and support clean energy solutions.
The new Yale-GMU survey found that 76% of Americans believe that regulating CO2 emissions should be a high priority for the federal government – a stark contrast to Republican politicos who consistently suggest that the government is over-stepping its bounds by trying to regulate global warming pollution. The Yale-GMU findings echo those of a Gallup poll released earlier this month that found 65% of Americans support “imposing mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions/other greenhouse gases.” (H/T Joe Romm)
The Yale-GMU poll found that 75% of Americans would support policies and candidates that would raise taxes on dirty energy sources like coal, oil, and natural gas, while passing the extra money onto American taxpayers by reducing the federal income tax by the same amount - a “revenue-neutral” tax shift.
While 79% support funding more research into renewable energy sources, those who strongly support it fell to 36% from 53% in 2008, and those who strongly oppose it rose to 21% from 8%, possibly due to the Solyndra bankruptcy and the coordinated attacks on clean energy by fossil fuel interests.
Support for building more nuclear power plants has dropped dramatically in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, from 61% who supported it overall in 2008 to just 42% now.