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13 major clean energy breakthroughs of 2013

Dennis Schroeder/NREL

While the news about climate change seems to get worse every day, the rapidly improving technology, declining costs, and increasing accessibility of clean energy is the true bright spot in the march toward a zero-carbon future. 2013 had more clean energy milestones than we could fit on one page, but here are 13 of the key breakthroughs that happened this year.

1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down. Helped along by the Department of Energy’s loan program, Solana’s massive 280 megawatt (MW) solar plant came online in Arizona this October, with one unique distinction: the plant will use a ‘salt battery’ that will allow it to keep generating electricity even when the sun isn’t shining. Not only is this a first for the United States in terms of thermal energy storage, the Solana plant is also the largest in the world to use to use parabolic trough mirrors to concentrate solar energy.


Colorado to crack down on methane emissions from fracking


Colorado health officials announced new rules on Monday that would work to cut the air pollution produced by oil and gas operations in the state. The rules would force companies to capture 95 percent of all toxic pollutants and volatile organic compounds they emit. In addition, the rules include a requirement that companies control emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane, marking the first time a state has drafted rules to directly address the methane emitted by oil and gas operations, according to The Denver Post.

“These are going to amount to the very best air quality regulations in the country,” Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said.

Methane is a key driver of climate change; the greenhouse gas is 25 times more potent than CO2 over a century and 72 to 100 times more potent over a 20-year period. As oil and gas production booms in Colorado, the resultant air pollution is becoming a serious concern. Last year, air sampling conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded a 4 percent methane emissions rate over Colorado, more than double the rate reported by the industry. A 2011 study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research found that “unless leakage rates for new methane can be kept below 2%, substituting gas for coal is not an effective means for reducing the magnitude of future climate change.”

Colorado’s new rules will require companies to detect leaks from tanks, pipelines, wells, and other facilities using devices such as infrared cameras, and to inspect for leaks at least once a month at large facilities and plug leaks. In addition, companies must adhere to stricter limits on emissions from equipment near where people live and play.


Chevy plugs into demand, cuts Volt price by $5,000

The 2013 Volt.
The 2013 Volt.

In the latest move to make electric vehicles more consumer-friendly, Chevrolet announced it will cut the price of its 2014 Volt by $5,000. The decision comes as Chevy works to keep pace with its chief competitors in the electric vehicle market -- Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf -- which are both less expensive and better selling.

“Chevrolet has quickly discovered that when price savings at the pump and ultimately value are your key selling points, a $40,000 cost of entry makes for a difficult hurdle to overcome for most budget conscious consumers,” said Alec Gutierrez, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, in an interview with CNN Money.

The price cut comes, in part, to make sure the Volt shows up in online shopping searches along with the Prius and Leaf, which start at $25,010 and $29,650, including destination fees, GM said. The 2014 Volt will arrive in U.S. dealerships later this month and start at $34,995.