Top 10 "Clean Energy" Topics to Keep an Eye on

Clean energy is one of the top topics in the world these days, in presidential speeches, economic growth plans and projections, international competition and cooperation, and even in Hollywood. We have seen rapid growth in wind power, rooftop solar, innovative financing, and much more recently.

1. International Clean Energy Race

The “international clean energy race” may well determine who will lead the world economy in the future — “the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy” (Obama, State of the Union 2010). China is about to make the largest solar and wind projects in the world look like little LEGO projects and it seems like it is #1 or fast-approaching #1 right now. “Every day we wait in this nation China is going to eat our lunch. The Chinese don’t need 60 votes.  I guess they just need 1 guy’s vote over there – and that guy’s voted” (Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to 200 business leaders, 2010); “China now leads world in clean tech. Time for a Sputnik program to reclaim leadership” (Representative Steve Israel of New York, January 2010).

On the flip side of that, the cooperation-focused (rather than competition-focused) United Nations climate conference in Mexico that is supposed to keep the ball rolling from the Copenhagen Accord is something to keep an eye on as well (along with all of its lead-in and follow-up activity). In a sense, this can be combined with the clean energy race topic because it is intended to put everyone on the same track.

2. Climate & Clean Energy Bill in Congress

The US’ best bet at getting ahead in the global clean energy race and at providing a livable environment for our children and grandchildren might be the climate and clean energy bill that is inching its way through Congress. The public supports it. Hollywood is trying to get people to put the pressure on their representatives in Congress. And big business is putting the pressure on Congress. However, the coal and oil lobby and its Congressional robots are constantly trying to undermine the bill.

3. PACE Funding

Property Assessed Clean Energy funding started in Berkeley, California in October of 2007 and is on the move. What’s so special about it? It “allows private property owners to pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects through an addition to their property tax bill, overcoming the high upfront costs that prevent most property owners from investing in such retrofits.” People can avoid the high upfront costs of solar technology but can capitalize on the long-term benefits of it and save them money!

This is also a less controversial tool than broader initiatives like cap and trade, so one hopes that this becomes a real federal priority soon. One very effective way to transition fast to clean power in a way that can bypass our Senate block on cap and trade, is to make PACE funding for renewable energy available to homeowners nationwide in the budget. Budget funding can be passed with a majority of just 51 votes like in other democracies.

A UC Berkeley study found that there is “potentially a gigaton of greenhouse gas reductions to be made, at no cost to local, state, or federal governments from a $280 billion potential market in PACE solar funding in the US.” Cities and counties that are picking it up are seeing dramatic growth in solar power (e.g. “California’s Sonoma County which offered PACE starting in March in California recently reached an astounding 4% of power on the grid coming just from rooftop solar alone.”)

4. Distributed Solar Energy

Simply, distributed solar is “energy generated, stored and managed at the local level.” Distributed solar includes private installations (e.g. on the roofs of houses, businesses, etc.) which are actually more popular than utility-scale solar these days as well as things like small photovoltaic farms. Distributed solar projects can be combined into larger power purchase agreements for a big bang as well.

Distributed solar has several key advantages over large-scale solar projects: quicker implementation, better ability to upgrade or innovate to more efficient technologies, and much more flexibility in siting. Due to all of its benefits and increasingly cheap solar technology, distributed solar seems to be booming and is getting more and more people’s attention. As the New York Times reports, “Over the past few weeks, some 1,300 megawatts’ worth of distributed solar deals and initiatives have been announced or approved. At peak output, that is the equivalent of a big nuclear power plant.”

5. 10 Million Solar Roofs Bill

New bill just introduced to Congress from Independent Bernie Sanders proposes incentives and tax rebates aimed at getting 10 million solar roofs and 200,000 solar heaters up and running over the next 10 years. Keep your eye on that!

6. Renewable Energy Standards

Implementing a strong nationwide renewable energy standard would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Of course, despite claiming they are for the working man, conservatives seem to be against these, because they encourage clean energy companies more than the dirty energy companies that own these politicians pockets and pens. Want jobs? Implement a strong RES. (see topic #1 again)

7. Wind Power

Wind power has been growing more than any other energy sector in the US and Europe recently. Wind power capacity grew 31% worldwide in 2009. It more than doubled in China last year and China is now looking to build a wind turbine farm 25 times the size of the world’s largest in the coming years. With plenty of effort still going into new designs to make wind power dramatically more efficient, I don’t think this gust of wind is letting up anytime soon.

8. Clean Coal Technology

Not a fan favorite of environmentalists, but with China and India looking to build their economies significantly while using coal heavily and Obama committed to developing “clean coal” technology, this might become more than a back room topic. (Of course, there are serious problems with mountaintop removal, coal ash, toxic mercury in our oceans, and tens of thousands of pollution violations that “clean coal” can’t address, but may have to pay for financially one day.)

9. Nuclear

Looks like this topic is ripe to explode. Obama has been backing it strongly, including in his State of the Union address. The Senate Energy Committee is apparently all about “nuclear, nuclear, nuclear”. Yet there are so many issues still to address. And will the public (and major environmental groups) ever support this?

10. Climate Change & the Media

Why isn’t this higher? Because I think the main driver for the clean energy technology that will help to address climate change is going to come from the jobs incentive more. However, this is a major issue I follow and, very sadly, one of the worst-represented in the media due to hijackers who somehow find a way to vilify honorable climate scientists and misrepresent climate science through completely illegal and abhorring means and yet still get the media on their side. For constant news addressing these issues in an informative light, keep your eye on the highly acclaimed Climate Progress or on Planetsave where I occasionally summarize some of the biggest stories and add my own 2 cents.

www.cleantechnica.com

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