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We’re half-assing the clean-energy transition

Photo by Hans Gerwitz.

The International Energy Agency recently issued its annual progress report [PDF] on clean energy. Here's the five-cent version:

The transition to a low-carbon energy sector is affordable and represents tremendous business opportunities, but investor confidence remains low due to policy frameworks that do not provide certainty and address key barriers to technology deployment. Private sector financing will only reach the levels required if governments create and maintain supportive business environments for low-carbon energy technologies. [my emphasis]

Progress is inadequate -- relative to the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees C -- on virtually every low-carbon technology except onshore wind and solar (click for a larger version of this chart):

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This crazy bill could eliminate Arizona’s ability to do any environmental work

The Arizona House is about to vote on a totally insane bill that could prevent that state from doing even the tiniest smidgen of environmentally friendly work. Solar and wind projects that used a dollar of government funding would be made illegal. State universities could have to stop all sustainability-related research. State buildings wouldn't even be able to use CFL lightbulbs.

The bill, SB 1507, has already passed the Senate, and the House has given it initial approval. The final House vote is coming on Monday. The bill would make it "illegal for any government entity in the state to abide by any tenet or principle" of the Rio Declaration, the Arizona Capitol Times reports. These are incredibly broad principles like, for instance, "enact effective environmental legislation."

Think about that one for a second. If this bill passes, it will be illegal in Arizona to pass effective environmental legislation. (Ineffective? Hey, go for it!)

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Clean energy: Still a wedge issue that favors Democrats

wedge heel shoesOh, wait, not this kind of wedge?

In his much remarked-upon interview with Rolling Stone, President Obama said some (in my view fairly tepid and passive) things about climate change. What interested me more is the very first bit:

Let's talk about the campaign. Given all we've heard about and learned during the GOP primaries, what's your take on the state of the Republican Party, and what do you think they stand for?

First of all, I think it's important to distinguish between Republican politicians and people around the country who consider themselves Republicans. I don't think there's been a huge change in the country. ...

But what's happened, I think, in the Republican caucus in Congress, and what clearly happened with respect to Republican candidates, was a shift to an agenda that is far out of the mainstream – and, in fact, is contrary to a lot of Republican precepts. I said recently that Ronald Reagan couldn't get through a Republican primary today, and I genuinely think that's true. ... You've got a Republican Congress whose centerpiece, when it comes to economic development, is getting rid of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Doesn't all of that kind of talk and behavior during the primaries define the party and what they stand for?

I think it's fair to say that this has become the way that the Republican political class and activists define themselves.

Obama's contention is that the GOP political class and activist base have worked themselves into a blind ideological fury, but most people who identify as Republican do not share their rigidity. They are more likely to lean in the direction of Independents and moderates.

If this is true, it identifies a political vulnerability. Democrats ought to be able to exploit the differences between the masses and the ideologues, to set them at odds with one another.

I'm not sure how many genuine "wedge issues" there are, actually, but one that shows up in the polls over and over again is clean energy. As I wrote back in January, clean energy is a wedge issue that favors Democrats.

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Donald Trump still blowing hot air about Scottish wind farms

Scotland’s plan to build offshore wind turbines would curb climate change, reduce the country’s reliance on foreign oil, and create thousands of jobs. But Donald Trump don’t give a f***.

Trump appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s economy, energy, and tourism committee today to speak out against the country’s plan to build offshore wind turbines. His argument? Eleven wind turbines -- located a full 1.5 miles from land -- will “ruin Scotland’s tourism.”

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U.S. cleantech support about to fall off a cliff

If you care about cleantech in the U.S., this graph should make your blood run cold:

Boom & Bust: the coming cleantech cliff

That's from a new report -- "Beyond Boom and Bust: Putting Clean Tech on a Path to Subsidy Independence" -- from folks at the Breakthrough Institute, Brookings Institution, and World Resources Institute. It's a welcome and much-needed attempt to put some numbers behind the debate over federal cleantech support.

It's divided into three parts. The first tells the story of cleantech policy over the last five years. Early in his term, Obama unleashed a ton of support for cleantech, mainly via the stimulus bill, but also by funding some programs from the Bush era and earlier. At around $150 billion, federal cleantech spending from 2009-2014 will amount to over three times what was spent from 2002-2008. But that funding is dropping off a cliff:

In the absence of legislative action to extend or replace current subsidies, America's clean tech policy system will have been largely dismantled by the end of 2014, a casualty of the scheduled expiration of 70 percent of all federal clean tech policies. ... Furthermore, many of the remaining programs will end shortly after 2014.

Yikes.

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Turbine makes fresh water out of thin air in the desert

If you've ever watched water drip out of a window air conditioning unit, you've seen the operating principle of Eole Water's new wind turbine in action. Tests of the turbine in Abu Dhabi have yielded between 500 and 800 liters of water a day, and the company thinks it can get it up to a cool 1,000 liters -- not bad for a desert.

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Blown away: Wind power growing faster than other top electricity sources

Photo by Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

Cross-posted from Earth Policy Institute.

A new picture is emerging in the U.S. power sector. In 2007, electricity generation from coal peaked, dropping by close to 4 percent annually between 2007 and 2011. Over the same time period, nuclear generation fell slightly, while natural gas-fired electricity grew by some 3 percent annually and hydropower by 7 percent. Meanwhile, wind-generated electricity grew by a whopping 36 percent each year. Multiple factors underlie this nascent shift in U.S. electricity production, including the global recession, increasing energy efficiency, and more economically recoverable domestic natural gas. But ultimately it is the increasing attractiveness of wind as an energy source that will drive it into prominence.

Read more: Wind Power

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Everything that is good for the environment is a job

Van Jones. (Photo by Zach Gross.)

In his newest book, Rebuild the Dream, green economy pioneer Van Jones reflects on his journey from grassroots outsider to White House insider, shares intimate details of his time in government, and provides a blueprint for reinventing the American Dream. Along the way, he contrasts the structure and rhetoric of the 2008 Obama campaign, the Tea Party movement, and Occupy Wall Street. The following excerpt from the book focuses on a new green economy.

Many politicians want us to lower our expectations about the economy. I say it is time to raise them. We should go beyond the shriveled thinking imposed upon us by today’s mania for austerity. The time has come to propose solutions at the scale of the problems we face. We can and we must revive the economy -- in a way that respects people and the planet.

For too long, we have acted as if we had to choose between strong economic performance and strong environmental performance. We have been torn between our children’s need for a robust economy today and our grandchildren’s need for a healthy planet tomorrow. We have been trapped in the “jobs versus the environment” dilemma.

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If fossil fuel subsidies were distributed to every person, we’d each get $58/year

Globally, every year fossil fuels get six times as much money in subsidies than renewable energy. Given a world population of around 7 billion, that means every man woman and child on the planet is spending an average of $58 a year to prop this industry up, but only around $9 to support renewables.

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Mesmerizing wind map is the coolest-looking weather map ever

Data visualization wizards Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg have devised a real-time map of wind speeds in the U.S., and it beats the pants off spiky cold fronts, happy suns, and whatever else they're putting on weather maps these days. It's simple, elegant, and crazy hypnotic -- watch it together with the lava lamp ocean currents, and you might just go into a turbulence-inspired trance and start making noises like Osborne Reynolds. (Look it up, jerks.)