Energy News StoriesExcerpts of Key Energy News Stories in Major Media
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One-third of the world's installed electricity generation capacity is from renewable sources, according to the latest industry statistics. The data compiled by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows that two-thirds of the power capacity added around the world in 2018 was from renewables. Wind and solar accounted for 84% of that total. 2018 was characterized by a spate of solar and wind pricing breakthroughs. Falling interest rates for investors, ongoing technology improvements and regulatory frameworks that encourage competition among would-be developers have all played a part. The geographical distribution of the new plants includes developing and developed economies but it is the former leading the way. The three fastest growing regions were Oceania, Asia and Africa. Asia also became the first terrawatt region, just, with IRENA’s figures putting installed renewable capacity at 1,024GW. More than two-thirds of that is in China. Offshore wind capacity has doubled since 2015 but only represented around 4.4GW of the 171GW of renewable power plant deployed in 2018. The concentration of offshore wind remains firmly in Europe (~80%). Solar was the runaway leader of the pack adding 94GW in 2018 to 49GW of wind, on- and offshore. Half of the world’s total installed capacity is currently hydropower but China was the only nation to make substantial hydro additions last year. Bioenergy [added] 6GW.
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Two technologies that were immature and expensive only a few years ago but are now at the center of the unfolding low-carbon energy transition have seen spectacular gains in cost-competitiveness in the last year. The latest analysis by research company BloombergNEF (BNEF) shows that the benchmark levelized cost of electricity, or LCOE, for lithium-ion batteries has fallen 35% to $187 per megawatt-hour since the first half of 2018. Meanwhile, the benchmark LCOE for offshore wind has tumbled by 24%. Onshore wind and photovoltaic solar have also gotten cheaper, their respective benchmark LCOE reaching $50 and $57 per megawatt-hour for projects starting construction in early 2019, down 10% and 18% on the equivalent figures of a year ago. Elena Giannakopoulou, head of energy economics at BNEF, commented: “Looking back over this decade, there have been staggering improvements in the cost-competitiveness of these low-carbon options, thanks to technology innovation, economies of scale, stiff price competition and manufacturing experience. The most striking finding in this LCOE Update, for the first-half of 2019, is on the cost improvements in lithium-ion batteries. These are opening up new opportunities for them to balance a renewables-heavy generation mix. Batteries co-located with solar or wind projects are starting to compete, in many markets and without subsidy, with coal- and gas-fired generation for the provision of ‘dispatchable power’ that can be delivered whenever the grid needs it.
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The world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, which manages $1tn (Ł770bn) of Norway’s assets, is to dump investments in firms that explore for oil and gas, but will still hold stakes in firms such as BP and Shell that have renewable energy divisions. The Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), whose assets exceed those of rival sovereign wealth funds ... said it would phase out oil exploration from its “investment universe”. “The objective is to reduce the vulnerability of our common wealth to a permanent oil price decline,” said Norway’s finance minister, Siv Jensen. “Hence, it is more accurate to sell companies which explore and produce oil and gas, rather than selling a broadly diversified energy sector.” Greenpeace UK’s oil campaigner, Charlie Kronick, said: “This partial divestment from oil and gas [sends] a clear signal that companies betting on the expansion of their oil and gas businesses present an unacceptable risk, not only to the climate but also to investors. “While BP and Shell are excluded from the current divestment proposal, they must now recognise that if they continue to spend billions chasing new fossil fuels, they are doomed.” Tom Sanzillo, director of finance for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said: “These are very important statements from a big fund. They’re doing it because fossil fuel stocks are not producing the value that they have historically. He said GPFG’s investment strategy also “underscores that the fracking business model is unsustainable”.
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A silent revolution has transformed driving in Norway. Some 30 percent of all new cars sport plug-in cables rather than gasoline tanks, compared with 2 percent across Europe overall and 1-2 percent in the U.S. As countries around the world — including China, the world’s biggest auto market — try to encourage more people to buy electric cars to fight climate change, Norway’s success has one key driver: the government. It offered big subsidies and perks that it is now due to phase out, but only so long as electric cars remain attractive to buy compared with traditional ones. “It should always be cheaper to have a zero emissions car than a regular car,” says Climate and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen, who helped push through a commitment to have only sell zero-emissions cars sold in Norway by 2025. To help sales, the Norwegian government waived hefty vehicle import duties and registration and sales taxes. Owners don’t have to pay road tolls, and get free use of ferries and bus lanes in congested city centers. These perks, which are costing the government almost $1 billion this year, are being phased out in 2021, though any road tolls and fees would be limited to half of what gasoline car owners must pay. Gradually, subsidies for electric cars will be replaced by higher taxes on traditional cars. Some 36 percent of all new cars sold are SUVs, which provide safety in the country’s tough winters. Tesla’s SUV, the Model X - the motor of choice for well-to-do environmentally-minded Norwegians.
Note: How strange that this AP article was posted and then removed from both the Washington Post website and ABC news website. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing news articles on energy corruption from reliable major media sources. Then explore the excellent, reliable resources provided in our New Energy Information Center.
The capacity of renewable energy has overtaken that of fossil fuels in the UK for the first time, in a milestone that experts said would have been unthinkable a few years ago. In the past five years, the amount of renewable capacity has tripled while fossil fuels’ has fallen by one-third, as power stations reached the end of their life or became uneconomic. The result is that between July and September, the capacity of wind, solar, biomass and hydropower reached 41.9 gigawatts, exceeding the 41.2GW capacity of coal, gas and oil-fired power plants. Imperial College London, which compiled the figures, said the rate at which renewables had been built in the past few years was greater than the “dash for gas” in the 1990s. Dr Iain Staffell, who undertook the research, said: “Britain’s power system is slowly but surely walking away from fossil fuels, and this quarter saw a major milestone on the journey.” In terms of installed capacity, wind is the biggest source of renewables at more than 20GW, followed by solar spread across nearly 1m rooftops and in fields. Biomass is third. In the past year, coal capacity has fallen by one-quarter, and there are only six coal-fired plants left in the UK. Coal operators have been affected by the UK’s carbon tax on electricity generation, as well as competition from gas.
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Carbon-dioxide emissions from electricity generation fell last year to their lowest level since 1987, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported today, and the strongest driver is neither the shift from coal to natural gas nor the growth of renewables. More than half of the decline in emissions has occurred because of ... a decline in industrial demand for electricity, the EIA reported. "U.S. electricity demand has decreased in 6 of the past 10 years, as industrial demand has declined and residential and commercial demand has remained relatively flat," writes Perry Lindstrom, a senior energy and environmental analyst. Demand for electricity grew by 1.9 percent per year from 1996 to 2005, but has declined since 2005 by -0.1 percent per year, spurred by rapidly decreasing demand in the industrial sector. If that shift had not taken place, Lindstrom concludes, U.S. power sector emissions would have been 654 million metric tons higher last year. That's slightly larger than the decline in emissions from the power sector's shift to using cleaner fuels—natural gas and renewables. Cleaner fuels are responsible for saving 645 MMmt of emissions. Today's EIA report does not investigate the reason for the decline in industrial demand, but EIA's past analyses of the industrial sector offer a clue. In its 2017 Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey, EIA pegged the decline in industrial electricity consumption to a national shift away from energy-intensive industries.
Note: For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing climate change news articles from reliable major media sources.
Global demand for fossil fuels will peak in 2023, an influential thinktank has predicted. Explosive growth in wind and solar will combine with action on climate change and slowing growth in energy needs to ensure that fossil fuel demand peaks in the 2020s, Carbon Tracker predicted. The projection is much more bullish than estimates by the global energy watchdog and oil and gas companies, which mostly expect demand to peak in the mid-2030s. Coal reached its peak in 2014. The group, which popularised the notion of a carbon bubble – where fossil fuel assets lose their value in the switch to a low-carbon economy – said the findings spelled disruption for energy firms. The Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, has already warned that markets face a “huge hit” from the transition. The Carbon Tracker report warned incumbency and size would be no protection, and compared the fate of fossil fuel firms to the horse and cart at the start of the 20th century. “Demand for incumbents peaks early, and investors in incumbents lose money early,” it said. The first two decades of this century were the innovation period for renewables, the authors said, while the “endgame” for fossil fuels – when renewables overtake them – would come from 2050 onwards. Falling wind and solar costs would lead to some emerging countries “leapfrogging” fossil fuels and opting for renewables to meet most of their growing energy needs, the thinktank said.
Note: Ireland recently became the first country to fully divest from fossil fuels. Explore a treasure trove of concise summaries of incredibly inspiring news articles which will inspire you to make a difference.
Imagine a new, potent generation of solar panels capable of producing unlimited amounts of energy, using only sunshine and algae. This could be possible, thanks to a breakthrough made by researchers from the University of Cambridge, documented in a Nature Energy 2018 article. They were able to split water into its components, oxygen and hydrogen, using what is known as semi-artificial photosynthesis. The procedure has ... never been used to generate large amounts of energy due to expensive and toxic catalysts necessary for the reaction. Photosynthesis [is] the process plants use to convert sunlight into energy. Oxygen is a byproduct of photosynthesis when water absorbed by plants is “split.” Most of the oxygen on Earth is here because of this photochemical reaction. Hydrogen ... is also produced this way. Now, by combining algae and man-made components, researchers have been able to bypass both natural inefficiency and the use of toxic reactants. This was achieved by enabling a dormant process in algae that uses a special enzyme (hydrogenase) to reduce water into hydrogen and oxygen. Katarzyna Sokol, a researcher on the project ... explains: "Hydrogenase is an enzyme present in algae that is capable of reducing protons into hydrogen. During evolution, this process has been deactivated because it wasn’t necessary for survival, but we successfully managed to bypass the inactivity to [split] water into hydrogen and oxygen."
Utilities around the world are supersizing their solar farms. Nowhere is that more apparent than in southern Egypt, where what will be the world’s largest solar farm — a vast collection of more than 5 million photovoltaic panels — is now taking shape. When it’s completed next year, the $4 billion Benban solar park near Aswan will cover an area 10 times bigger than New York’s Central Park and generate up to 1.8 gigawatts of electricity. But Benban probably won’t hold on to its title for long. China is planning to build a two-gigawatt solar farm in the northwestern province of Ningxia, and the state of Gujarat in western India recently gave the go-ahead for a five-gigawatt facility. Japan is even talking about putting a large-scale solar farm in space. “There are huge savings for larger projects,” says Benjamin Attia, a solar analyst. A 2017 report from the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that the cost of photovoltaic systems shrank by a factor of five from 2010 to 2017. Even the punitive tariffs on Chinese solar panels enacted earlier this year by the Trump administration are unlikely to slow the spread of large-scale solar, which in the U.S. is already cheaper and much cleaner than coal. “Governments have wised up,” says Attia. “They just want the cheapest, fastest way to add new electricity supplies. For nuclear, procurement can take a decade. For gas, it’s up to four years. If you’re talking solar and things go smoothly, you can build a reasonably large project in 18 months.”
A floating tidal stream turbine off the coast of Orkney has produced more green energy in a year than Scotland’s entire wave and tidal sector produced in the 12 years before it came online. In 12 months of full-time operation, the SR2000 turbine supplied the equivalent annual power demand of about 830 households. It produced 3GWh of renewable electricity during its first year of testing. Over the 12 years before its launch ... wave and tidal energies across Scotland had collectively produced 2.983GWh. Andrew Scott, chief executive officer of developers Scotrenewables Tidal Power, said: “The SR2000’s phenomenal performance has set a new benchmark for the tidal industry. “Its first year of testing has delivered a performance level approaching that of widely deployed mature renewable technologies.” He added: “The ability to easily access the SR2000 for routine maintenance has been a significant factor in our ability to generate electricity at such levels over the past 12 months, including over winter.” The team ... said their success – combined with Meygen’s generation of more than 8GWh over the past year from four tidal turbines deployed in the Pentland Firth – is evidence that tidal power generation could be rolled out more widely.
Chinese researchers have taken what they say is a major step forward for the development of a new generation of solar cells. Manufacturers have long used silicon to make solar panels because the material was the most efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. But organic photovoltaics, made from carbon and plastic, promise a cheaper way of generating electricity. This new study shows that organics can now be just as efficient as silicon. Organic photovoltaics (OPV) can be made of compounds that are dissolved in ink so they can be printed on thin rolls of plastic, they can bend or curve around structures or even be incorporated into clothing. Commercial solar photovoltaics usually covert 15-22% of sunlight, with a world record for a silicon cell of 27.3% reached in this summer in the UK. Organics have long lingered at around half this rate. In April researchers were able to reach 15% in tests. Now this new study pushes that beyond 17% with the authors saying that up to 25% is possible. This is important because according to estimates, with a 15% efficiency and a 20 year lifetime, organic solar cells could produce electricity at a cost of less than 7 cents per kilowatt-hour. In 2017, the average cost of electricity in the US was 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Flexible, printed solar cells offer a wide range of possibilities. They can work indoors and they can be made semi-transparent, so they could be incorporated into windows and generate power during daylight.
The sprawling, gated campus of the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands (ECN) sits on a spit of land about an hour north of Amsterdam. In a nearby control room, engineers ... were working on one of clean energy’s intransigent problems: how to turn waste into electricity without producing more waste. Decades ago, scientists discovered that when heated to extreme temperatures, wood and agricultural leftovers, as well as plastic and textile waste, turn into a gas composed of underlying chemical components. The resulting synthetic gas, or “syngas,” can be harnessed as a power source, generating heat or electricity. But gasified waste has serious shortcomings: it contains tars, which clog engines and disrupt catalysts, breaking machinery, and in turn, lowering efficiency and raising costs. This is what the Dutch technology is designed to fix. The MILENA-OLGA system, as they call it, is a revolutionary carbon-neutral energy plant that turns waste into electricity with little or no harmful byproducts. The MILENA-OLGA process ... is 11 percent more efficient than most existing energy-from-waste plants and over 50 percent more efficient than incinerators of a comparable scale. The process also emits zero wastewater and produces no particulates or other pollutants. Just 4 percent of the original material is left over as inert white ash, which can be used to make cement.
Note: A similar technology was developed and implemented over 10 years ago, as detailed in this Popular Science article. Why wasn't this amazing invention widely reported and used? Explore a treasure trove of concise summaries of incredibly inspiring news articles which will inspire you to make a difference.
This week, two of the biggest economies in Europe set new records for clean energy. The UK’s electrical grid has not burned any coal for about 1,000 hours so far this year. Though it’s just a symbolic achievement, the pace at which the UK is reaching such figures shows the pace of the energy transition. In 2016 and 2017, the comparable figures for the full year stood at 210 hours and 624 hours, respectively. There are two reasons for the shift: a carbon tax on coal has made cleaner natural gas more attractive, and subsidies for solar and wind power have ensured wider deployment of new clean-energy technologies. Germany’s case has been slightly different. Though it began pushing for renewable energy much earlier than the UK, its gains have been slower. The coal lobby in Germany is a lot stronger than in the UK. But as the costs of renewable energy have come down, change is finally showing. In 2018 so far, coal generated about 35.1% of the country’s electricity. In comparison, renewable sources, such as solar, wind, and biomass, generated about 36.5%. At the half-year mark, it’s the first time in Germany’s history that renewables sources have generated more electricity than coal. Such records and falling renewable costs have made it easier for the EU to set more ambitious clean-energy goals. Last month, the bloc’s member nations agreed that each country must get 32% of all its energy from renewable sources by 2030.
While most countries are struggling to reach their renewable energy targets, others are breezing past them. Thanks to both its geography and impactful policies, Sweden is set to achieve its 2030 goals in mere months. In 2012, years before the Paris Agreement, Norway and Sweden signed a joint agreement to increase production of electricity from renewables by 28.4 terawatt hours within eight years. It only took a few years for Sweden to realize it was ahead of schedule, and in 2017, it increased its target, aiming to add another 18 TWh by 2030. Lo and behold, once more, Sweden is moving much faster than anticipated and now there’s a good chance it will reach the 2030 goal in mere months — maybe even by the end of the year. Wind energy is one of the main drivers propelling Sweden’s renewable targets forward. According to the World Economic Forum ... there will be 3,681 turbines functioning in the country by the end of the year. But this is only the start of the road for Sweden. Sweden already has a cross-party agreement to achieve 100% renewable energy production by 2040, and the figure is already hovering around 57%. The country has also set a target of net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2045. According to the Paris Agreement, all EU countries have agreed to achieve 20% final energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020.
Of all the measures of the continent’s poverty, few are starker than that about two-thirds of its people have no access to reliable electricity. But thanks to a happy combination of innovation and falling costs for renewable energy, Africa may now be able to leapfrog ahead not once but twice, skipping both polluting fossil fuels and, often, the electricity grid itself. This is partly due to falling costs: the price of solar panels has come down by more than 80% since 2010, and that of wind turbines is also dropping fast. Yet generating power is useful only if it can be sent to where it is needed, and in many parts of Africa electricity grids seldom stretch beyond big cities. [A] set of innovations is offering to sidestep this problem with mini rooftop solar installations that can power a home, or slightly larger “micro-grids” that can light up a village. Rooftop solar systems usually consist of a small solar panel and a small rechargeable battery and controller which typically powers ... lights, a radio and a phone charger. Most systems have a built-in connection to the mobile-phone network that allows the provider to switch it on or off remotely. Instead of shelling out $250 or so upfront for an entire system, customers can buy electricity for the equivalent of 50 cents a day using mobile money. Thanks to this new “paygo” model, venture capital is pouring into an industry that now has at least half a dozen significant firms. The largest of them, M-Kopa, has electrified more than 500,000 homes and is adding almost 200,000 more a year.
More than 40 nations are proposing to boost their 'bioeconomy' - the part of the economy based in biology and the biosciences. Around US$2 trillion of products in agriculture and forestry, food, bioenergy, biotechnology and green chemistry were exported worldwide in 2014, amounting to 13% of world trade, up from 10% in 2007. These sectors are central to at least half of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from food security to ensuring energy access and health. But conflicting national priorities make it hard to align bioeconomy policies to meet the SDGs on a global scale. Ecological sustainability is a prime concern in rich and industrializing countries; inclusive rural development and equitable sharing of resources is central in developing countries. Decisions made in one place may be felt elsewhere. A global bioeconomy must rebuild natural capital and improve the quality of life for a growing world population. It should balance managing common goods, such as air, water and soil, with the economic expectations of people. Three types of innovation will be needed: technological (such as systems to reduce emissions), organizational (changes in institutional behaviour) and social (such as job creation).
Note: For an excellent, more recent discussion on the global bioeconomy, see this informative article.
Ecuador's highest court has upheld a $9.5 billion judgment against oil giant Chevron for decades of rainforest damage. Plaintiffs celebrated the constitutional court's decision announced Tuesday night, saying it should pave the way for indigenous tribes to receive compensation for oil spills that contaminated groundwater and soil in their Amazon home. But the ruling is largely symbolic as Chevron no longer operates in the South American country. That means Ecuador's government will have to pursue assets owned by the ... company in foreign courts, where it so far has had little luck. Last week, an appeals court in Argentina rejected an attempt by Ecuador to collect on its award, echoing earlier rulings by courts in Canada, Gibraltar and Brazil. In 2014, a U.S. court of appeals ... also denied Ecuador's request, arguing that the original judgment was obtained through bribery, coercion and fraud. In an added twist, the American lawyer who for years represented Ecuador in the matter was barred Tuesday from practicing law in New York state. The New York state appeals court found Steven Donziger guilty of professional misconduct, saying that in his appeal of the 2014 ruling he did not challenge the judge's findings of bribery, witness tampering, and the ghostwriting of a court opinion.
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Ireland will become the first country in the world to fully divest from fossil fuels after politicians voted to withdraw all public funds from oil and gas companies. In an effort to meet the country's climate change commitments, as embodied in the Paris agreement, the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill will probably be brought into force after parliament's summer recess. First introduced by independent MP Thomas Pringle in 2016, the bill has since been backed by all opposition parties. Taking inspiration from universities and cities around the world that have withdrawn financial support from the fossil fuel industry, Mr Pringle began working on the idea after meeting Irish international development charity Trocaire. The passing of the bill will compel the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to sell off its fossil fuel investments, which stand at more than €300m (Ł265m) across 150 companies worldwide. Mr Pringle said the withdrawal of this money will not only remove funds from some of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters, it will act as a gesture of Ireland’s commitment to tackling climate change. Eamonn Meehan, executive director of Trocaire, agreed that the bill made a “powerful statement” that would serve to improve the nation’s reputation as a “climate laggard”.
Google has more clean power than it needs. The Alphabet Inc. unit used about 7 terawatt-hours of electricity to run all of its global operations last year, and it sourced even more than that, according to Neha Palmer, its head of energy strategy. Corporate buyers are major purchasers of wind and solar power. While part of the motivation is to advance sustainability goals, they’re also finding that clean energy is often the cheapest electricity available. Big technology companies have been leading this trend, and Google has been the biggest of them all. “Our electric consumption is the largest part of our carbon footprint,” Palmer said in a phone interview. “The renewable-energy program we have is the best way to mitigate our carbon impact.” Companies signed long-term agreements for a record 5.4 gigawatts of clean capacity globally last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, up from 4.3 gigawatts in 2016. That’s enough to displace at least 10 coal-fired power plants. Google signed its first clean power-purchase agreement in 2010, and since then it’s arranged about 25 more, prompting more than $3 billion in new clean-power plants. Google has agreed to buy ... more than double that of Amazon.com Inc., the next biggest green consumer. “It’s a significant investment, leading to lots of new renewables projects,” Kyle Harrison, a New York-based analyst ... said. “It’s a long-term bet on clean energy, a hedge against wholesale prices.”
In southeast Georgia, in an area filled with farms, construction will soon begin on a sprawling new 120-megawatt solar plant. It will be the first solar facility in the county, and it will exist in part because Google - which has a large data center in Georgia - is working to bring renewable electricity to every region in which it operates. The solar farm is one of two new projects in Georgia that will sell energy to Google via the local utility, and is also the latest example of the company’s work to open energy markets to corporations that want to support new sources of renewable electricity. The company pioneered the practice in 2010; now, companies from Nike to Starbucks and AT&T are doing the same thing. Traditionally, wind farms and solar farms sold wholesale power only to utilities, and regulations made it impossible for companies to buy that clean energy. But the company realized that it could apply to the federal government for the right to buy and sell wholesale power itself, and then create long-term contracts - called power purchase agreements - with the developers of renewable projects. The first project was a wind farm in Iowa. By 2017, with around 20 similar projects, Google met a longstanding goal to buy as much renewable energy as it uses globally, sourced from new wind and solar plants. Ultimately, the company wants to use clean energy everywhere it works, all the time. The next step in that process is to buy renewable energy on every local grid where Google works.
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