8 Ways It’s Been a Great Year for Renewable Energy

, Senior energy analyst | December 19, 2014, 10:27 am EDT
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As 2014 comes to a close, it’s helpful to look back and take stock of successes in the clean energy space. Here are 8 ways that it’s been a great year for clean energy (and just a few areas for improvement).

  1. The Clean Power Plan emerges. The EPA’s proposed rule on power plant carbon emissions, released in June, means that we’re finally going to tackle the largest single source of U.S. CO2 head on. If we do it right—including making full use of the renewable energy and energy efficiency resources that states have in abundance—it’ll be a solid boost for clean energy.

    Topaz Solar Farm (Credit: Sarah Swenty/USFWS)

    Topaz Solar Farm, the world’s largest PV facility… for now (Credit: Sarah Swenty/USFWS)

  2. Large-scale solar shines. Solar, both photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar (CSP), smashed records in 2014. February saw the start-up of the largest CSP facility in the world. And just last month the world’s largest PV project got finished.
  3. Rooftop PV dazzles. One of the many beautiful things about solar is its ability to play ball at the large scale and the small, and rooftop PV has had its own amazing year. By the end of the year, some 600,000 homes will have been solarized, 20 times the amount in 2006.
  4. Renewable energy costs continue to drop. Part of the growing success of renewables is their increasingly attractive economics. Wind power costs continue to impress, and rooftop PV is becoming competitive with the electricity grid in more and more places around the country.
  5. Renewable integration is no problem, experts say. As they had before, important electricity grid experts looking at the impact of large-scale adoption of renewable energy came to some very positive conclusions: that it’s doable, with little extra effort. Consider PJM’s assessment of a 30% renewables future, for example.
  6. LEDs score a Nobel Prize. The Nobel committee recognized the folks who made white LEDs possible, which seemed like a fine choice, given how much electricity lighting uses and the potential to make terrific gains there.

    LEDs capture hearts, minds, and a Nobel Prize.

    LEDs capture hearts, minds, and a Nobel Prize.

  7. Companies abandon ALEC. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a leading pusher of anti-clean energy and anti-climate legislation, took big hits as some powerful and high-profile members kissed ‘em goodbye. Obfuscation and misinformation lead to poor choice (as Indiana Jones saw). Less ALEC likely means better decision making for advancing clean energy.
  8. Leaders are leading. We had lots of examples in 2014 of clean energy leadership, from states and utilities to Fortune 500 companies and high-level elected officials, and many others, showing us how to get where we need to go on renewables and efficiency.

A bit of the flip side

While it’s been a great year in many respects, there are a few signs that some people haven’t gotten the message about the power of clean energy.

Crescendoing into 2015

Credit: phault (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pjh)

Offshore wind is a technology to watch in 2015. (Credit: phault, www.flickr.com/photos/pjh)

Overall, though, 2014 brought a whole lot of upside, and it has offered lots of promising signs for 2015. Solar looks set to continue to thrive, for example. The EPA will be finalizing the carbon rules for both new and existing fossil-fuel power plants. U.S. offshore wind, which made important progress in 2014 (see here and here, for example), is posed to finally get “steel in the water”.

Given the challenges of climate change, and the need to dramatically change how we make and use electricity, all this good news is welcome indeed.

So celebrate 2014, and expect much from 2015. We can’t afford anything less.


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  • azaredaniel

    We Need Sustainable Energy Policies, with all hands on Deck, removing Home Owners and Business Persons from investing and keeping their own profits goes against our daily childhood pledge of, With Liberty and Justice for All.

    A California Residential Feed in Tariff would allow homeowners to sell their Renewable Energy to the utility, protecting our communities from Poison Water, Grid Failures, Natural Disasters, Toxic Natural Gas and Oil Fracking. It would also create a new revenue stream for the Hard Working Taxpaying, Voting, Homeowner.

    Sign and Share this petition for a California Residential Feed in Tariff.

    We need a National Feed in Tariff, this petition starts in California.

    California currently has a Feed in Tariff that does not allow home owners to participate in the State mandated goal of 33% renewable energy by 2020.

    California also does not allow the homeowner to oversize their R.E systems, as of now, your local utility has allowed only 80% homeowner generation from your R.E system.

    California has 2 different Energy policies Net-metering and a Feed in Tariff.

    Net metering the energy policy for homeowners, allow you to bank excess electricity from R.E systems for future credits. The credits you accumulate are at the retail rate, and are reviewed at the end of the year. It will be written off with a thank you from the utility and no payment to the homeowner for producing more than what you use.

    Net metering has allowed third party leasing companies to replace one utility with another.

    “Examples of Net-metering slow down Renewable Energies:

    1. Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPSs) which create de facto caps on the deployment of renewable energies (the Germans do not have any RPSs, their Feed in Tariff has no caps.
    2. Net-metering caps, most states only allow a small percentage of one to two percent of peak load to be net metered.

    3. Third party leasing companies like Solar City, Sun Run, Verango and others fight tooth and nail to protect scarce capacity carve outs (from the States RPSs) so as to bolster their chosen business model.” Bob Tregilus

    No one is fighting for the Hard Working, Taxpaying, Voting, Homeowner, we can change that with a Ca. Residential Feed in Tariff Energy policy that allows everyone to participate. Homeowner’s, Small and Large Businesses, Small and Large farmers, and Industries, have the right to sell Renewable Energy electricity to the utility.

    Vote Solar Initiative is a Sierra Club and Solar Leasing Companies platform to ensure that One Utility will take the place of Another through the continued use of Net Metering.

    We need a Policy that will enable Hard Working, Voting, Tax Paying Citizens, get a chance to participate in the States goal of 33% Renewable Energy by 2020 through a California Residential Feed in Tariff.

    California, there is enough Residential Solar to power 2.25 San Onofres, couple that with a Commercial Feed in Tariff and we can solve some of these environmental and electrical generating problems.

    This petition will ask the California Regulators and Law makers to allocate Renewable Portfolio Standards to Ca. Home Owners for a Residential Feed in Tariff, the RPS is the allocation method that is used to set aside a certain percentage of electrical generation for Renewable Energy in the the State.

    • ucsjrogers

      Thanks for your interest, azaredaniel. Please know that there are a lot of people fighting for homeowners, in California and elsewhere, including UCS and our allies — Vote Solar and Sierra Club included.

      We’re entering new territory in the leading states/jurisdictions given solar’s amazing progress in recent years, and we’re figuring out together what it all means. That means being open to a range of solutions, which we try to be. The new year will certainly give us plenty of chances to move into even more exciting new territory.

      – John

  • These are all steps in the correct direction to shift our nation’s baseload energy production from fossil fuels to renewables, but it is not enough. If the Keeling Curve continues on track, we’re likely to see year round 400PPM carbon dioxide by 2016 ~ alarmist is the only reaction that makes sense.

    • ucsjrogers

      Thanks, Avangion. Alarmism is certainly one possible response. My point is to help people understand all the good stuff that is happening, and all the technologies that are so ready to do what we need them to do. More is definitely better, needed, and very possible. Let’s make 2015 an even bigger year for clean energy. – John

  • Richard Solomon

    Thanks for pointing out all of the progress made this past year. Often one loses sight of these trends while engaged in the ongoing ‘battle’ for change.

    It’ll be interesting and important to see how the recent dramatic drop in the price of oil affects how solar, wind, and other alternatives fare in the months to come. If history is any guide, many people and politicians will fall back into using ‘cheaper’ oil and gasoline without thinking about the longer term implications. How can UCS and its members try to be proactive about this tendency?

    Eg, the renewal of subsidies and tax breaks for solar and wind power will come up in Congress in the next couple of years. With the Republicans holding the majority in both houses of Congress it will be a struggle for sure.

    • ucsjrogers

      Thanks, Richard. It is easy to lose sight of the good stuff amid the bad, but there is a lot of good stuff out there. (See my colleagues’ recent blogposts on deforestation and palm oil — or Google — for more good news about progress.)

      In terms of oil, UCS, and our members, there’s lots of good news there, too: the increasing fuel economy standards that UCS supporters helped make possible mean that even with tendencies to fall back at times of cheaper oil, what they might fall back to has gotten better. Don Anair’s report-back from last month’s LA Auto Show, for example, has a lot of positive stuff in it about fuel economy, mini SUVs, and technologies coming ’round the bend: http://blog.ucsusa.org/la-auto-show-suv-hydrogen-fuel-economy-746.

      Struggles will come, but it’s getting harder and harder to say no to renewables and higher efficiency.

      Happy holidays.