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Sun and Wind

Part 6. Climate and Energy Series A chemical engineer discusses renewable energy.

The Department of Energy’s just-released report is pretty upbeat. They give themselves a big pat on the back for US progress in implementing renewable energy. Much of the success is due to solar and wind achieving grid parity (comparable pricing) with electricity from coal or natural gas. Two trends – (1) the decline in capital costs for solar and wind plants and (2) improvements in solar and wind efficiencies – will continue to drive down the price of electricity from renewable sources.

Two big issues remain: low-cost storage, where battery costs are dropping, and power transmission, where efficiencies are increasing. Finally, it is noteworthy that taller wind-power plants capture power at greater heights, where wind speeds are generally higher.

An accompanying report, Getting to 100, is equally optimistic, claiming, “the mission to reach 100% renewable energy is an increasingly realistic goal” and citing successes:

  • Apple, Kohl’s, Intel, Microsoft and Unilever now power all their US operations with 100% renewable energy.
  • Wal-Mart “has hundreds of onsite solar projects in the U.S., with hundreds more coming on line.”
  • The cities of Aspen, CO, Burlington, VT, and Greensburg, KS, are powered entirely by renewables.
  • Reykjavik, Iceland, gets all its electricity and heat from geothermal.
  • Thanks to heavy rains, Costa Rica existed on 100% renewable energy for the first 100 days of 2015.

Although “huge challenges remain,” including market and regulatory barriers, renewables now comprise “approximately 22.8% of total global electricity generation.”

Real progress – although it still leaves the other 77.2%, not to mention all our cars, boats and planes.

Edited to fit my 250-word limit. To join the conversation, please send your thoughts to jamesgblaine2@gmail.com. I am particularly looking for new ways of understanding the climate and energy question and workable solutions.

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