The U.S. wind power industry is celebrating after reaching a new milestone in November: 70 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity. “That’s enough to power about 19 million homes,” says Michael Goggin, senior director of research at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). There are more than 50,000 wind turbines operating across 40 states and Puerto Rico, according to the AWEA.
This is a project that checks all the right boxes: It’s privately financed, it involves clean energy, it will add capacity to the nation’s energy grid, it will create jobs in Oklahoma, it will foster new wind energy investments, and communities will benefit from new tax revenue. Here’s hoping the federal government soon gives the final thumbs up needed to get this project off the ground and underway.
Experts said the renewable energy provisions will result in billions of additional dollars in tax breaks for wind and solar power developers, something many Republicans were remiss to hand out. At the same time, the extenders should stimulate hundreds of billions of dollars in new renewable energy investment and help drive the nation’s transition away from traditional fossil fuels in favor of cleaner forms of energy, observers said.
Due partly to the intense opposition from local property owners, Missouri regulators have blocked the 780-mile-long Grain Belt Express power line from being built. In doing so, they have highlighted one of the toughest challenges facing the nation as it tries to shift toward a greater reliance on renewable energy. Converting the wind and sun into electricity is increasingly affordable, but it can be difficult to get that electricity from distant plains and deserts to the places where it’s needed. The reasons range from technical to regulatory. “Transmission is the biggest long-term barrier for wind energy development,” said Rob Gramlich, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the American Wind Energy Association. “That’s because the best wind resources are often in remote areas on farms and ranches that are far from population centers.”
olar energy is surging in the United States, but the biggest boost isn’t coming from better hardware. Instead, innovative business models and cutting red tape are the seeds that need to be planted for the solar energy sector to bloom. The technology behind solar power continues to ramp up in performance and drop in price. As it does so, the soft costs — permitting, financing, installation — are making up a bigger portion of the price tag for new projects.
On paper, the amount of sunlight hitting the Earth in one hour could fulfill humanity’s energy needs for a year, an equation that’s hard to ignore. However, harnessing more of this vast potential remains a major challenge, since the sun has to compete with coal, oil and natural gas — fuels that are abundant and cheap and retain substantial political support in many parts of the world, including the United States. Over the past few years, solar energy technologies, particularly photovoltaics, have rapidly closed the cost gap with fossil fuels and are being rushed into deployment. Yet solar panels still need to do much better if they’re going to take a meaningful bite out of greenhouse gas emissions.
“What I think people should also feel good about is that the agreement struck in Paris, although not legally binding when it comes to the targets that had been set, does create this architecture in which, all around the world, countries are saying this is where we’re going,” he said. “We’re going to be chasing after this clean energy future.”
The climate agreement reached in Paris last weekend has been hailed as a landmark in the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and it could well turn out to be one.
But the accord’s lofty goals won’t be achieved without large corporations making big changes. And while many companies have welcomed the deal and voluntarily pledged to cut emissions, the sweeping reforms required to avert a sharp rise in global temperatures will almost certainly require substantial new government regulations.
Security researcher Brian Wallace was on the trail of hackers who had snatched a California university’s housing files when he stumbled into a larger nightmare: Cyberattackers had opened a pathway into the networks running the United States power grid. Digital clues pointed to Iranian hackers. And Wallace found that they had already taken passwords, as well as engineering drawings of dozens of power plants, at least one with the title “Mission Critical.” The drawings were so detailed that experts say skilled attackers could have used them, along with other tools and malicious code, to knock out electricity flowing to millions of homes.
Reid, 76, was elected to the Senate in 1987 and will not seek re-election in November. “I thought, well, maybe this is an opportunity to do something good about things I’ve never been able to accomplish.” In agreeing to vote for a deal that killed the oil export ban, the Democrats extracted unprecedented five-year extensions to renewable energy tax credits that expired last year for wind, and were due to expire in 2016 for solar. The extensions provide Democrats and Obama ammunition in their strategy to reduce carbon emissions and temper climate change. Investors in renewables said they needed certainty about subsidies if the sector was to secure a greater share of the energy market.