Tesla rolls out lower-priced car to frenzied buyers
Tesla revealed its $35,000 electric hatchback last Thursday, and by Saturday night had collected an unprecedented 276,000 orders for nearly $10 billion in cars, demonstrating the power of combining performance, style, salesmanship, and advanced technology. Some customers camped out overnight to plunk down their $1,000 deposits for the Model 3, but more than mere fandom was at work: the federal $7,500 tax credit begins tapering off after an automaker sells its 200,000th electric vehicle, so early buyers get a larger subsidy. CEO Elon Musk even suggested Tesla might game the timing of that delivery so as to maximize customers’ credits. Global EV sales grew last year by 80 percent although they remained flat in the US, and India’s power minister floated the possibility that India might shift to all-electric car sales by 2030, paying for the higher initial cost with fuel savings.
Clean energy successes, from Hawaii to South Africa
Hawaii’s largest utility showed how it can meet the state’s 100 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard by 2045, relying on a 250 percent increase in rooftop solar, demand response, buying clean power, and using liquefied natural gas from 2020 to 2040. Hawaiian Electric might find that LNG is unnecessary, given the recent successes of concentrating solar power plants in South Africa and Nevada which store heat to generate power long into the night. Clean energy is providing significant employment, too, with a new study showing that 2.5 million Americans work in the sector, including 1.9 million in energy efficiency, 300,000 in solar, 77,000 in wind, and 170,000 in advanced vehicles. Despite its growth, however, clean energy still does not have a monopoly company to rival the Standard Oil of yore.
Threat of Antarctic melting revised upward
Sea-level rise could reach six feet by 2100, double the previous scientific predictions, according to a study published in Nature last week that uses new models to project faster melting of Antarctic glaciers. The models envision warmer ocean waters eating away at underwater ice, creating floating ice shelves that disintegrate and allow upland glaciers to flow downhill, where they would calve into the water. The research (explained with vivid graphics) suggests a rapid decrease in climate pollution is needed to stave off the inundation of coastal cities. The sobering forecasts come as satellite data show that last month was the hottest March on record, and science writers ponder the meaning of the Anthropocene.
Major drive launched to protect Clean Power Plan
A full-court press began last week in the media and in court to support President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which is being challenged by 27 states in federal appeals court. A coalition of 54 local governments filed a brief supporting the rules, which would guide reductions over the next decade in climate pollution from the nation’s electricity supply. They were joined by over 200 current and former members of Congress and four tech giants: Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. Meanwhile, Louisiana continued crafting plans to meet the standard despite its opposition to the rule, Colorado Republicans tried to deny funding for state regulators to make compliance plans, and Iowa voiced its support for the rules.
Coal malfunctions, cancellations, and misallocations
The world economy is on the brink of investing nearly $1 trillion in 1,500 coal plants that would go unused if countries fulfill their climate goals, according to a new report which notes that coal plants in most of the world are used barely half the time. The Indonesian national utility will delay 8 GW of coal generation and China will halt construction of new coal plants in 15 regions, confirming a second report predicting widespread cancellation of Asian coal projects. Coal use dropped 4 percent in the UK last year, but a similar drop in the weight of coal burned in China may not translate to a comparable reduction in climate pollution, because of a shift toward coal with higher energy and CO2 content per ton. In Saskatchewan, the first large-scale carbon capture and storage plant at Boundary Dam is functioning at less than half capacity.
The wind bone’s connected to the load bone
The Department of Energy green-lighted a $2.5 billion high-voltage transmission line last month to carry 4,000 MW of wind power from the Oklahoma Panhandle to Arkansas and Tennessee. The Plains & Eastern Clean Line won federal backing that will entitle it to use eminent domain to obtain its right of way, once developers demonstrate that the 700-mile project is viable. A similar line, the Grain Belt Express, hit a roadblock when Missouri regulators voted it down. In China, where rich wind resources are located far from urban demand, the national government has ordered utilities to connect all renewable generators to the grid and is completing a network of 17 ultra-high-voltage DC transmission lines.
Northwest victories for clean energy over oil, coal
Oregon oil lobbyists say they’re scrapping three proposed ballot measures aimed at repealing or easing the state’s clean fuels standard, which the legislature adopted last year. A spokesman for Renew Oregon said he was “pleased but not surprised” at the outcome, as the measures were polling poorly with voters. In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill allowing Puget Sound Energy to collect ratepayer funds to decommission Units 1 and 2 of Montana’s Colstrip coal plant, while vetoing a section that could have frozen the funds if the units were closed before 2023. PSE received an extension last month on its rate case to plan for the units’ retirement.
Image: In Antarctica, waiting for the Zodiac to arrive. Photo by Michael Sale, via Flickr.