In a First, Renewable Energy Is Poised to Eclipse Coal in U.S.

In a First, Renewable Energy Is Poised to Eclipse Coal in U.S.

New York Tiems Brad Plumer 13 May 2020 – The coronavirus has pushed the coal industry to once-unthinkable lows, and the consequences for climate change are big. WASHINGTON — The United States is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time on record, new government projections show, a transformation partly driven by the coronavirus pandemic, with profound implications in the fight against climate change. It is a milestone that seemed all but unthinkable a decade ago, when coal was so dominant that it provided nearly half the nation’s electricity. And it comes despite the Trump administration’s three-year push to try to revive the ailing industry by weakening pollution rules on coal-burning power plants. Those efforts, however, failed to halt the powerful economic forces that have led electric utilities to retire hundreds of aging coal plants since 2010 and run their remaining plants less frequently. The cost of building large wind farms has declined more than 40 percent in that time, while solar costs have dropped more than 80 percent. And the price of natural gas, a cleaner-burning alternative to coal, has fallen to historic lows as a result of the fracking boom. Now the coronavirus outbreak is pushing coal producers into their deepest crisis yet. As factories, retailers, restaurants and office buildings have shut down nationwide to slow the spread of the coronavirus, demand for electricity has fallen sharply. And, because coal plants often cost more to operate than gas plants or renewables, many utilities are cutting back on coal power first in response. “The outbreak has put all the pressures facing the coal industry on steroids,” said Jim Thompson, a coal analyst at IHS Markit. In just the first four and a half months of this year, America’s fleet of wind turbines, solar panels and hydroelectric dams have produced more electricity than coal on 90 separate days — shattering last year’s record of 38 days for the entire year. On May 1 in Texas, wind power alone supplied nearly three times as much electricity as coal did. The latest report from the Energy Information Administration estimates that America’s total coal consumption will fall by nearly one-quarter this year, and coal plants are expected to provide just 19 percent of the nation’s electricity, dropping for the first time below both nuclear power and renewable power, a category that includes wind, solar, hydroelectric dams, geothermal and biomass. Natural gas plants, which supply 38 percent of the nation’s power, are expected to hold their output steady thanks to low fuel prices. The decline of coal has major consequences for climate change. Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and its decline has already helped drive down United States carbon dioxide emissions 15 percent since...

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Decarbonisation is our future. It must be factored into the coronavirus recovery

Decarbonisation is our future. It must be factored into the coronavirus recovery

The Guardian Pradeep Philip and Will Rayward-Smith 18 May 2020 – We are experiencing a human tragedy. The Covid-19 crisis is leading to human loss and suffering, hardship and job destruction. It has necessitated immediate and significant public health and economic global responses, affecting all of us, both now and for the foreseeable future. But with the economic recovery comes great opportunity to embrace a low carbon future and refocus on the green economy rather than stick to 20th century business models and infrastructure. A modernised economy with a more sustainable production system is in our sights. Governments need fiscal policies that achieve both short-term recovery and set a longer-term beneficial direction for the economy. As attention shifts to reflating economies it is time to ensure clean energy, transport and smart infrastructure lie at the heart of any longer-term stimuli. A key feature of our current crisis is that all sectors have been disrupted and some devastated. But now, in the very midst of lockdown, we must turn our attention from response to recovery. An unprecedented scale of government recovery measures are already upon us. With the scale of these interventions, Covid-19 is fast bringing our economy to an inflection point – one that will define the structure of our economy for decades and rebuilds the lucky country. With the global shift towards low-carbon by investors, corporates and citizens, decarbonisation is perhaps the most significant longer-term issue to be factored into the recovery. Failure of governments to do so may disadvantage economies with existing infrastructure and production capital becoming quickly outdated and requiring additional future upgrades. It may also lead to bailing out, or letting fail, businesses whose value rapidly diminishes due to being unviable in the low-carbon future – a future that is not so far away as countries and companies work towards ambitious 2030 emissions targets. Poor investments today would soon be exposed. In the very midst of lockdown, we must turn our attention from response to recovery Recovery and building resilience go hand in hand. Resilience to climate change will continue to be an objective in a post-Covid future. Building for climate risks is building economic resilience, and recovery plans, so targeted, mean taxpayer dollars will have been invested wisely. With a recovery design that considers decarbonisation, there are a multitude of job-rich, shovel-ready, stimulus opportunities that also unlock long-term value. Many of these projects are “negative cost”, in that their long-term financial benefits outweigh their upfront investment. Lighting upgrade programs across all government buildings would create metro and regional employment with positive domestic stimulatory impact, while also delivering long-term savings for taxpayers through reduced electricity bills. Similarly, a program to upgrade inefficient water heating systems...

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We now have the proof: greening the economy doesn’t come at the price of prosperity

We now have the proof: greening the economy doesn’t come at the price of prosperity

The Guardian Fiona Harvey 22 May 2020 – We now have the proof: greening the economy doesn’t come at the price of prosperity. Everest is once again visible from Kathmandu, after decades shrouded in pollution. Greenhouse gas emissions have fallen to levels last seen in 2006. Nature has returned to our streets with a quack and a flurry, and people are waking to birdsong in inner cities as the roar of traffic recedes. Clear skies bring little cheer at the food bank, however. Birdsong might lift the heart, but it won’t pay the rent. The environmental renaissance that has come with lockdown shows both the necessity of cleaning up our filthy air and atmosphere, and the dangers of associating economic ruin with environmental gain. Daily greenhouse gas emissions fell by a quarter in many countries when the lockdown bit hardest, according to the first comprehensive study this week, and by early April were 17% down on last year. At the same time, the global economy plunged 6% and half the global workforce now face the loss of their livelihoods, says the International Labour Organisation. Getting people back to work will mean rapidly rising carbon emissions, as it did after the financial crisis of 2008, unless strong action is taken by governments. Already, emissions are climbing: they will be only 4% down on the year if lockdowns are lifted next month. For environmentalists, it may seem tedious to have to explain yet again why it makes economic sense to save the planet – there wouldn’t be an economy without the environment, so if we trash it “growth” will cease to have much meaning. But we teeter on the threshold of what could be the greatest depression for centuries. People who are losing their jobs and homes, with only politicians’ promises to put in their bank account, have every right to ask whether now is the time to prioritise the climate – or couldn’t it wait a year or two while we sort out this catastrophe first? That question has a clear answer: a green recovery can produce higher returns on public spending and create more jobs in both the short term and the long term, compared to the alternative of pouring stimulus cash into the fossil fuel economy. Those findings come from a study of the potential for a green recovery, based on a survey of finance ministries and central bankers, and a comparison with the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, conducted by the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, former World Bank chief economist Lord Stern, and leading economists from Oxford University. After the financial crisis in 2008, calls for a green recovery were partially successful. About 16% of the global stimulus spending was green, including subsidies for renewable energy, seed...

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Oil Companies Are Collapsing, but Wind and Solar Energy Keep Growing

Oil Companies Are Collapsing, but Wind and Solar Energy Keep Growing

New York Times Ivan Penn 27 April 2020 The renewable-energy business is expected to keep growing, though more slowly, in contrast to fossil fuel companies, which have been hammered by low oil and gas prices. A few years ago, the kind of double-digit drop in oil and gas prices the world is experiencing now because of the coronavirus pandemic might have increased the use of fossil fuels and hurt renewable energy sources like wind and solar farms. That is not happening. In fact, renewable energy sources are set to account for nearly 21 percent of the electricity the United States uses for the first time this year, up from about 18 percent last year and 10 percent in 2010, according to one forecast published last week. And while work on some solar and wind projects has been delayed by the outbreak, industry executives and analysts expect the renewable business to continue growing in 2020 and next year even as oil, gas and coal companies struggle financially or seek bankruptcy protection. In many parts of the world, including California and Texas, wind turbines and solar panels now produce electricity more cheaply than natural gas and coal. That has made them attractive to electric utilities and investors alike. It also helps that while oil prices have been more than halved since the pandemic forced most state governments to order people to stay home, natural gas and coal prices have not dropped nearly as much. Even the decline in electricity use in recent weeks as businesses halted operations could help renewables, according to analysts at Raymond James & Associates. That’s because utilities, as revenue suffers, will try to get more electricity from wind and solar farms, which cost little to operate, and less from power plants fueled by fossil fuels. “Renewables are on a growth trajectory today that I think isn’t going to be set back long term,” said Dan Reicher, the founding executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University and an assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration. “This will be a bump in the road.” Of course, the economic slowdown caused by the fight against the coronavirus is taking a toll on parts of the renewable energy industry just as it is on the rest of the economy. Businesses that until recently were adding workers are laying people off and putting off investments. Among the hardest hit are smaller companies that sell solar panels for rooftops. Their orders have dropped steeply as customers put off installations to avoid possible contact with the virus.   A sharp drop in the price of solar panels has helped the industry expand.Credit…Deanne Fitzmaurice for The New York Times Luminalt, a solar...

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Britain’s largest solar farm poised to begin development in Kent

Britain’s largest solar farm poised to begin development in Kent

The Guardian Jillian Ambrose 24 May 2020 – Britain’s largest solar farm, capable of generating enough clean electricity to power 91,000 homes, is poised to receive the greenlight from ministers this week. The subsidy-free renewables park is expected to reach a capacity of 350MW by installing 880,000 solar panels – some as tall as buses – across 364 hectares (900 acres) of farmland in the Kent countryside. The project is expected to be constructed one mile north-east of Faversham close to the village of Graveney and may also include one of the largest energy storage installations in the world. The developers expect to receive a development consent order for the £450m project from the business secretary, Alok Sharma, on Thursday almost three years after talks began with local stakeholders over plans for the park. Once it has the final g0-ahead from the government the developers hope to begin building the Cleve Hill solar farm from early next year, and begin generating clean electricity by 2023. Renewable energy is considered a crucial element in the UK’s plans to end its contribution to the climate crisis by building a carbon neutral economy by 2050, and it could also help spur economic growth in the wake of the coronavirus. The UK’s growing fleet of solar panels has produced record levels of clean electricity in recent weeks, reaching fresh highs of 9.68GW last month and helping the UK energy system to its longest stretch without coal-fired power since the Industrial Revolution. The renewables industry believes the UK’s solar power capacity could rise to 27GW by 2030 after the UK government dropped a block which prevented solar farms and onshore wind projects from competing in subsidy contract auctions. A boom in battery projects could mean the electricity generated by solar panels during the day could help to keep lights on at night too, helping to cut carbon emissions and domestic energy bills. The development partners behind the scheme, Wirsol Energy and Hive Energy, believe the project could help cut the UK’s carbon emissions by 68,000 tonnes a year while generating £1m of revenue for the Kent and Swale councils every year. But local activists have voiced concerns that the scale of the solar park, which is the equivalent of 600 football fields, could do more harm than good for the local area. Helen Whately, the Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, said the scale of the development would have a “devastating” impact by “industrialising” the countryside. “We’re not talking about a few fields – this would destroy an entire landscape. I want to see us reach net-zero by 2050, but this should not come at any cost,” she told the Sunday Telegraph earlier this month. The Campaign to Protect Rural England in Kent has also warned...

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