2014 brought us plenty of news to be unhappy about. The year had barely begun when a major chemical spill poisoned the water of 300,000 West Virginians, a disaster that left residents worried about the safety of their water for months. Not even a month after the spill, tens of thousands of tons of coal ash spewed into a river in North Carolina, the toxic waste product piling as high as five feet in some places. 2014 saw crippling drought in California, devastating flooding in India, and climatic changes that threw many members of the animal world into disarray. To top it all off, 2014 could very well turn out to be the hottest year on record. But 2014 saw some good news too — and a lot of it was in the form of advancements in renewable energy. Here are eight news stories from 2014 to remind you that, at least for the renewable energy sector, this past year wasn’t so bad. World’s First Solar Road Opens In Netherlands Researchers Reach A Record In Solar Conversion Efficiency Scotland Has An Amazing Month Of Wind Energy Production World’s Largest Solar Plant Comes Online The World’s Largest Tidal Array Gets The Green Light Researchers Continue To Develop New Ways To Use Solar World’s Largest and Most Powerful Wind Turbine Comes Online Solar Car Hits Speed Record, Could Soon Hit The Streets Read More...
As the price of oil has tumbled to five-year lows, solar stocks have fallen with it: First Solar was trading near $72 in mid-September; now it's around $44. Solar City has around $65; now it's close to $50. Solar energy investors seem to be running for the doors, fearing that cheap oil will erase demand for alternative energy. But it won't, say industry analysts. Oil and solar serve two different customers. Oil dominates energy demand in transportation fuels, but solar power customers are primarily of two types: public electric utilities and large corporations. Neither of those use oil to generate electricity, and they are not about to start doing so, say analysts. Less than 5 percent of the world's electricity comes from oil; most of it comes from coal, natural gas, nuclear and, increasingly, solar power. Public utilities sign long-term agreements with solar providers, sometimes spanning 20 years. Those deals are unaffected by oil price changes, said Jeff Osborne, an analyst with Cowen Group.
Germany’s biggest utility firm, E.ON, has announced plans to split in two and spin off most of its power generation, energy trading and upstream businesses, responding to a crisis that has crippled the European energy sector. E.ON said it wanted to focus on its renewable activities, regulated distribution networks and tailor-made energy efficiency services, citing “dramatically altered global energy markets, technical innovation, and more diverse customer expectations”. “E.ON’s existing broad business model can no longer properly address these new challenges,” the chief executive, Johannes Teyssen, said in a statement. Germany’s power sector has been in turmoil, hit by a prolonged period of weak demand, low wholesale prices and a surge in renewable energy sources which continue to replace gas-fired and coal-fired power plants. E.ON said it would prepare next year for the listing of the new company created by its breakup, with the spin-off taking place after its 2016 annual general meeting.
Back in 2007, Google had a very simple idea for addressing global warming — we just need to take existing renewable-energy technologies and keep improving them until they were as cheap as fossil fuels. And, voila! Problem solved. That was the logic behind the company's RE-C project, which aimed to produce one gigawatt of renewable electricity for less than the price of coal. The hope was to do this within years, not decades. Among other things, the company invested in new geothermal drilling R&D and put $168 million toward Brightsource's Ivanpah solar tower in the Mojave Desert. By 2011, however, Google decided that this "moon shot" energy initiative wasn't going to work out as planned and shut things down. So what happened? In a long essay at IEEE Spectrum, two Google engineers on the project — Ross Koningstein and David Fork — explain the thinking behind the closure. It's not that Google has given up on renewable energy. (The company still spends many millions of dollars buying wind energy for its servers.) Partly it's that they simply weren't on track to achieve their specific goals. But, more interestingly, the project also made the engineers realize that their original clean-energy goal wasn't nearly ambitious enough. Cont'd...
Denmark, a tiny country on the northern fringe of Europe, is pursuing the world’s most ambitious policy against climate change. It aims to end the burning of fossil fuels in any form by 2050 — not just in electricity production, as some other countries hope to do, but in transportation as well. Now a question is coming into focus: Can Denmark keep the lights on as it chases that lofty goal? Lest anyone consider such a sweeping transition to be impossible in principle, the Danes beg to differ. They essentially invented the modern wind-power industry, and have pursued it more avidly than any country. They are above 40 percent renewable power on their electric grid, aiming toward 50 percent by 2020. The political consensus here to keep pushing is all but unanimous. Their policy is similar to that of neighboring Germany, which has spent tens of billions pursuing wind and solar power, and is likely to hit 30 percent renewable power on the electric grid this year. But Denmark, at the bleeding edge of global climate policy, is in certain ways the more interesting case. The 5.6 million Danes have pushed harder than the Germans, they have gotten further — and they are reaching the point where the problems with the energy transition can no longer be papered over.
The controversial government program that funded failed solar company Solyndra, and became a lighting rod in the 2012 presidential election, is officially in the black. According to a report by the Department of Energy, interest payments to the government from projects funded by the Loan Programs Office were $810 million as of September - higher than the $780 million in losses from loans it sustained from startups including Fisker Automotive, Abound Solar and Solyndra, which went bankrupt after receiving large government loans intended to help them bring their advanced green technologies to market. The report's findings are more of a political victory than a financial one. It took the program three years to break even after Solyndra's failure, while during that same time the Standard & Poor's 500 index increased 67 percent. Still, the federal loans program is a success for taxpayers, judging by the numbers in the new report, the DOE said. After Solyndra's 2011 collapse, the program was sharply criticized by Republican lawmakers as a waste of public money and a fountain of cronyism. The outcries mounted as others in the program failed, and the DOE issued no new loans between late 2011 and this year. "Taxpayers are not only benefitting from some of the world's most innovative energy projects... but these projects are making good on their loan repayments," Peter Davidson, executive director of the Loan Programs Office, said in an interview on Wednesday. Davidson took over the loan program in May of 2013.
The “new reality” facing electricity consumers and their utility companies is that renewable energy is meeting an increasingly larger share of U.S. energy needs, according to a report released this month from Ceres and Clean Edge. That translates into more and better choices and a clean energy future. “Renewables — including wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, waste heat and small-scale hydroelectric — accounted for a whopping 49 percent of new U.S. electric generating capacity in 2012, with new wind development outpacing even natural gas,” writes Jon Wellinghoff, partner at Stoel Rives LLP and former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the report. “Benchmarking Utility Clean Energy Deployment: 2014,” the first report from Ceres in partnership with Clean Edge on this subject, ranks the nation’s 32 largest electric utilities and their local subsidiaries on their renewable energy sales and energy efficiency savings. cont'd.
IBM Research Launches Project "Green Horizon" to Help China Deliver on Ambitious Energy and Environmental Goals
IBM has announced that it is deploying the full force of its researchers in laboratories around the world in a 10-year initiative to support China in transforming its national energy systems and protecting the health of citizens. Dubbed "Green Horizon", the project sets out to leap beyond current global practices in three areas critical to China's sustainable growth: air quality management, renewable energy forecasting and energy optimization for industry. Led by IBM's China Research laboratory, the initiative will tap into the company's network of 12 global research labs and create an innovation ecosystem of partners from government, academia, industry and private enterprise. One of the first partners to come on board is the Beijing Municipal Government. Through a collaboration agreement, the two parties have agreed to work together to develop solutions which can help tackle the city's air pollution challenges. The collaboration will leverage some of IBM's most advanced technologies such as cognitive computing, optical sensors and the internet of things all based on a Big Data and analytics platform and drawing on IBM's deep experience in weather prediction and climate modelling. "China has made great achievements and contributed much to the world's economic growth over the past 30 years. It now has an opportunity to lead the world in sustainable energy and environmental management," said D.C. Chien, Chairman and CEO, IBM Greater China Group. "While other nations waited until their economies were fully developed before taking comprehensive action to address environmental issues, China can leverage IBM's most advanced information technologies to help transform its energy infrastructures in parallel with its growth."
Residential Energy Generation and Storage Will Reach $71.6 Billion in Annual Revenue by 2023, Forecasts Navigant Research
Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, which enable customers to generate some of their own electricity and sell unneeded power back to their utility, are the most visible form of the broad disruption caused by distributed energy resources (DER). The growing affordability of DER technologies is altering utilities’ traditional relationship with residential customers by giving customers greater control of their energy consumption. According to a new report from Navigant Research, worldwide revenue from all forms of residential distributed generation and energy storage will grow from $52.7 billion annually in 2014 to $71.6 billion in 2023. “Rooftop solar PV is just one of the technologies that are transforming the traditional residential power industry,” says Neil Strother, principal research analyst with Navigant Research. “Some of these technologies, such as residential combined heat and power, are in the early stages of market development, while solar panels are more mature. Nonetheless, these energy innovations and attractive financing mechanisms provide residential customers with new options.” One key driver for this sector, according to the report, is continuing advances in new technologies, such as more efficient energy storage systems (ESSs). These advances, along with government subsidies for ESSs, often in the form of feed-in tariffs, are enabling the combination of rooftop solar PV systems and residential energy storage in order to collect and store energy for use when sunlight is unavailable or there is a power outage.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday released a draft rule to regulate carbon emissions from hundreds of fossil-fired power plants across the U.S., the cornerstone of President Barack Obama's climate-change agenda. The proposed rule mandates that power plants cut U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions 30% by 2030 from levels seen in 2005, an aggressive target that marks the first attempt at limiting such pollution. The carbon framework seeks to strike a balance between what environmentalists want—an ambitious overall target—with what the utility industry wants—flexibility, a long compliance timeline and an earlier base-year calculation from which to meet the goal. Carbon emissions have dropped since 2005, making the overall reduction smaller than it would have been if the EPA had used a more-recent year for a baseline.
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