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.
Speaking ahead of the vote, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the bill reflected tough compromises by both parties. “Crafting bipartisan legislation is hard, tedious work,” he said on the Senate floor. “It requires complex calibration of competing interests, needs and realities. The combined omnibus spending bill and tax extenders package is a perfect example of a bipartisan compromise brought in good faith.”
Nebraska state Sen. Al Davis is a rancher, a longtime resident of rural Nebraska, a proponent of renewable energy, and a Republican. Now going into his fourth year as a state legislator, Davis views this as a propitious moment for his home state to convert much more its abundant wind into exportable energy. Living in the Sandhills community of Hyannis, with a population of just under 200, he has witnessed the challenges that threaten sparsely populated rural America. His district, which is roughly twice the size of New Jersey in area, has fewer than 40,000 people, and that population is declining. One way to reverse that trend, he believes, lies in the development of wind energy.
A Spanish renewable energy developer’s pending bankruptcy has clouded the future of a controversial utility-scale solar power project on federal lands in the California desert that was once one of the Obama administration’s top-priority projects. Abengoa Solar, in a formal petition filed this week with the California Energy Commission (CEC), announced that it has an agreement in place to transfer ownership of the Palen Solar Electric Generating System to a subsidiary of San Diego-based EDF Renewable Energy Inc.