Wind prices hit new lows, solar panel glut disappears
August 25, 2014

Court rules for a renewable-friendly grid

Electric grids across the U.S. will become friendlier to renewable energy, thanks to an appeals court ruling upholding a 2011 decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The commission’s policy, known as FERC Order 1000, requires regional planning for grid expansion, including attention to neighboring states’ renewable energy mandates. It also levels the playing field between utilities and anyone else offering to transmit electricity, which will help open the power markets in regions such as the Southeast, the Rockies, and the Pacific Northwest where control of the grid remains in the hands of utility monopolies.

Price of wind power hits record low: 2.5 cents per kwh

The price of new wind power fell to a record low of 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour last year, according to a Department of Energy report released last week. This benchmark, which applies to long-term contracts between operators and utilities, stood at 7 cents per kilowatt-hour just five years ago. Meanwhile, a boom in solar installations has caused the first shortage of photovoltaic panels since 2006, as demand catches up with the last few years’ glut of manufacturing capacity. This rise in demand extends to Africa, where more wind and solar power will be installed this year than in the previous 13 years combined.

The West is so dry that the mountains are rising up

The California drought has reduced the Golden State’s snowpack and groundwater so much that Earth’s crust has rebounded measurably, researchers report in last week’s edition of Science. The ground has risen by 4 to 15 millimeters, allowing scientists to estimate that the West is short 240 billion tons of water because of the drought—as much, they say, as the annual loss from the Greenland ice sheet. But that comparison is itself a moving target: new satellite data analysis finds that Greenland’s glaciers are melting twice as fast as they were just five years ago. 

Climate action or inaction – is it all in your mind?

Addressing the threat of climate change will take a “swerve” in public perception as powerful as the one that turned against nuclear weapons in the 1980s, but that shift in the zeitgeist is beginning, writes psycho-historian Robert Jay Lifton. Nevertheless, climate communication comes with some counter-intuitive challenges that George Marshall explores in his new book, Don’t Even Think About It. For instance, survivors of extreme weather tend to ignore the root causes of the catastrophes they’ve endured, and parents’ view of their kids’ future is often rosier than warranted. All this introspection may be an Anglophone phenomenon, since climate denial appears to be most common in English-speaking lands.

Insects already adjusting to a warming climate

A British butterfly species that moved north to adjust to a warming climate has adapted so thoroughly that it can no longer eat a host plant that is scarcer in its new habitat, according to a new paper in Ecology Letters. But other examples of climate adaptation may be less benign. The National Wildlife Federation warns that global warming is increasing the prevalence of mosquitoes, ticks, poison ivy, and fire ants, threatening to degrade Americans’ outdoor experience. The group hopes to awaken concern about climate change among outdoor enthusiasts across the political divide.

California passes bill to make solar permits easier, quicker

The California legislature sent a bill to the governor’s desk last week to streamline the permit process for rooftop solar power, which supporters say will shave $1,000 from the price of each project. Besides just making the approvals and inspections more routine, the bill would bar homeowners’ associations from imposing costly requirements on solar installations, an issue that has surfaced in neighborhoods across the U.S. The bill may be especially needed in Los Angeles, where red tape has kept solar projects off-line for months, even after they are already installed. 

Global warming slowed by heat stored in the deep Atlantic

The slowdown in warming over the last decade and a half can be explained by a speed-up in ocean currents in the Atlantic and Southern oceans, according to research published last week in Science. The currents function as a conveyor belt for heat, drawing it from the surface of the North Atlantic and storing it in the deep ocean, say the researchers. But the shift is not permanent, the scientists say: they forecast that it will end around 2030, allowing the pace of atmospheric warming to pick up again.

China lowers coal use, doubles solar PV growth

Chinese coal consumption fell during the first half of 2014 even as its economy continued to grow, according to figures released last week by Greenpeace International. The link between the country’s GNP and its use of coal had been weakening for several years, but this is the first time the two indicators are headed in opposite directions. Simultaneously, China has installed 3.3 gigawatts of photovoltaics so far this year, twice as much as in the first half of 2013, thanks to incentives such as generous feed-in tariffs for solar electric producers.


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Author Bio

For over 20 years, Seth has covered issues of natural resources and the environment as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, including The Nation, Sierra, Orion, Newsweek, and the Christian Science Monitor.  He is the co-editor and co-author of Salmon Nation: People, Fish, and Our Common Home (Ecotrust, 1999) and author of Saving Our Ancient Forests (Living Planet Press, 1991). He taught environmental journalism for two semesters at Brown University and directed the forestry programs of northern California’s Mattole Restoration Council from 2006 to 2011. Seth’s work with Climate Solutions marks a return to his academic roots: he holds an A.B. from Stanford in Energy Studies (1983), and an M.S. from UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group (1990).