Nevada legislature has lately made energy news. It has put roadblocks in the way of rooftop solar and distributed energy. It’s not likely to succeed. Renewable energy appears to be an unstoppable force.
Here’s some recent good news about renewable energy from China and the US. These stories help show the inexorable rise of solar and wind power at the expense of fossil fuels
Growth of renewable energy
China has long fouled its air through aggressive use of fossil fuels. It suffers 670,000 smog-related deaths every year.
As a result pollution is the top cause of social unrest. Its struggles to clean up enough to host the Olympics became a matter of worldwide knowledge and comment.
But in 2015, coal production, coal imports, and coal-fired electricity generation all fell. Decreases aren’t limited to making electricity. The iron, steel, and cement industries have also used less coal.
At the same time, non-fossil fuel is increasing dramatically. China installed 23 GW of wind energy capacity in 2014. Although final figures are not available, it may have installed 25 GW in 2015. That amounts to almost half of global installed capacity.
The US is also increasing production of renewable energy at the expense of fossil fuels. The fossil fuel industry has mounted vigorous criticism of renewable energy for, of all things, needing government subsidies. (Wind and solar subsidies amount to less than subsidies for fossil fuels, by the way.) Nevertheless, the solar industry now employs more people than fossil fuels do.
This announcement comes from the solar industry, so the figures do not include jobs in the wind industry or other sustainable alternatives. Congress extended the Production Tax Credit and the Investment Tax Credit for renewable energy last December.
Both solar and wind stand to benefit. Because of how late they passed, however, increases in capacity will probably be modest in 2016 compared to the last four years of the extension.
Trouble for coal
Meanwhile, the coal industry is in big trouble. Arch Coal is only the latest of a couple of dozen coal companies to declare bankruptcy. It is also one of the nation’s largest coal companies.
The bankruptcies don’t mean that any of these companies will necessarily go out of business. They will restructure their debt and continue to operate profitable mines.
Actually, it would not be good for the environment in the short term if they don’t. Coal companies have a legal obligation to restore the land used for mines. They must be financially healthy in order to meet that obligation.
Oil and therefore gasoline are cheap these days. That means that sales of gas guzzling cars are up. But so is the demand for lithium-ion batteries, the kind that run electric cars. The auto industry’s commitment to electric cars has not diminished.
Of course, cars alone have not caused the increased demand for batteries. Utilities are beginning to use batteries to reduce the need for expensive peaker plants. Tesla has recently released a commercial storage battery for household use.
Speaking of electric cars, they have a much lower range in cold weather. It’s not just that the cold reduces the batteries’ output. The people in the car have to stay warm. Heaters in an electric car run off the battery, not the engine heat.
There is a counterintuitive solution. Warm up the car the old fashioned way. It used to be necessary to warm up a gasoline car engine, especially in the winter, before it was ready to be driven.
Those days are long gone, but your electric car probably spends the night plugged in in the garage. So turn it on and heat the passenger compartment in the garage before you unplug it. That way you don’t drain the battery.
Lithium batteries have their own environmental and safety problems. Numerous research labs are working to produce economically viable alternatives.
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Has Coal Burning Finally Peaked in China? / Michael Graham Richard. Treehugger. January 20, 2016
Wind Energy Setting Records, Growing Still: The Wind Energy Outlook for 2016 / Vince Font. Renewable Energy World. February 3, 2016
Its Official: Solar Employs More People than Oil and Gas / Nithin Coca. Triple Pundit. January 18, 2016.
Arch Coal Files for Bankruptcy / John W. Miller and Peg Brickley. Wall Street Journal, updated January 11, 2016.
Demand for Lithium-Ion Batteries Surges in Spite of Cheap Oil / Phil Covington. Triple Pundit. January 19, 2016.
There’s a Worrisome Problem with Electric Cars that No One’s Talking About / Jessica Orwig. Business Insider. January 21, 2016.