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While the use of wind, solar, and other clean energy technologies has surged in recent years, progress by some measures remains slow. In fact, one recent statistic is downright alarming: carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere for 2013, the last year for which statistics are available, showed the highest one-year spike since 1984, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
Overall, the year-average concentration was 42 percent higher than it was in 1750 – and no, alas, that date is not a typo – a time when “humans began digging up and burning coal, oil, and natural gas at a vast scale,” as David Talbot wrote in the MIT Technology Review.
The conclusion? Substantial reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases are needed to stave off catastrophic climate change.
Such dire news inspired us at ARTÉMIA to take a closer look at current cleantech trends and developments. And here we found somewhat better news – progress is being made, we discovered, if much more slowly than one might wish.
Not so long ago, it seemed that solar power was being written off as unaffordable. But improvements in technology, as well as new policies to promote research, development, and installation of PV (photovoltaic) panels, have, in the last few years, resulted in a significant decline in the cost of solar power.
And it looks as if this new affordability is changing the equation – for the better. According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, new solar generating capacity outstripped natural gas in the first six months of 2014. A projected 6.5 gigawatts of PV will be installed in the U.S. in 2014, an increase of more than one-third over the year before.
Even so, solar remains a minuscule proportion of the United States’ energy mix – around just 1 percent of total generation. Regardless the trajectory, however slightly, is up.
And there’s more good news. Like solar, wind power is becoming more affordable. Turbine prices, project costs, and purchase prices for electricity produced in the United States all continue to decrease, according to the Department of Energy’s 2013 Wind Technologies Market Report, published in August, 2014. And – more good news – the cost outlook for 2015 predicts a continuing downward trend.
The news is dramatically less positive for electric vehicles, though. Studies show that the acceptance of EVs is moving relatively slowly, largely because the American public is ill-informed about what it’s like to own – and indeed to operate – such a vehicle. Manufacturers and policymakers need to do a far better job of educating the public on the subject of EVs, according to researchers at the University of Kansas and the University of Indiana. According to a Wall Street Journal report on this research, little is being done to convey what perks and incentives are available to EV buyers, from tax breaks to such enticing details as the fact that carpool lanes on highways are open to EVs – even if only the driver is present. As this communication gap becomes common knowledge, efforts to alert the public to the benefits of EVs should rise. And greater acceptance of the technology itself should follow.
Cleantech Matters … more than ever.
The Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed a goal of 12% renewable energy, nationwide, by 2030. Yet the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) insists that America could reach higher. Quadrupling the country’s renewable electricity rate in the next 15 years, to 23% by 2030, is “a realistic and affordable goal,” according to Rachel Cleetus, Senior Climate Economist of UCS.
Some states have made clear progress: seven have already exceeded the EPA’s proposed goals for 2030; another 17 have laws that require more renewable electricity than the EPA’s proposed standards. And nine report electricity from wind and/or solar in the double digits – with Iowa and South Dakota reaching a very impressive 24%.
And thanks to a new technology called carbon capture, industrial air emissions may be transformed into usable substances. A Texas-based company, Skyonic Corp., has developed a way of catching and reusing such emissions, converting them into baking soda, bleach, and hydrochloric acid. Their new $125 million SkyMine plant is expected to have a total carbon impact of 300,000 tons annually.
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