Americans using Most Renewable Energy Since 1930s

Connie J. Spinardi | Getty Images Solar farm and wind turbines near Palm Springs, CA.

By: Reem Nasr

The last time Americans used as much renewable energy as they do now was in the 1930s, when the burning of wood was more widespread.

That’s according to recent analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, released on Thursday. The study found that renewable energy accounted for 9.8 percent of the total domestic energy consumption in 2014. That is the highest percentage since the 1930s.

The use of renewable energy—from the sun, hydro-power, wind and the like—has been growing consistently since 2001, at an average of 5 percent per year. Most of the increase has come from the growing use of wind, solar, and biofuels. Hydroelectricity contributed the most to total renewable energy use in 2014, but its share of the total has declined since the 1990s.

Wood came in second among renewables in 2014, mostly due to a high demand for wood pellets. Solar systems were the main contributors to rising renewable energy in residential homes.

Last year, a little more than half of all renewable energy was used to generate electricity. The industrial sector used about 24 percent of the nation’s renewable energy, while the transportation sector came in at 13 percent.


Ugandan mayor: My district will be 100% renewable by 2020

The mayor of Kasese’s ambitious plan for his region’s renewables programme aims to improve living standards and public health

Wind-powered street lamps is one way to reach 100% renewable energy in Kasese district, Uganda. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

My desire to set a 100% renewable by 2020 goal was strongly motivated by the alarming climate-induced degradation of the snowcapped Rwenzori mountains, from which the communities here derive their livelihood, water supply and identity. The people of the Rwenzori get their name from the snow. Without the snow, our name will be no more. Also, I want to boost energy access in the region to improve living standards, increase public health and bolster the local economy.

The 100% renewables programme was launched in 2012 with the aim to transform the energy supply in the city of Kasese and the surrounding district. I want to bring access to clean energy services for all domestic, productive and social needs in both rural and urban areas by 2020. Only 7.6% of the 134,000 households in the district have access to the nation’s electricity grid so we are working on adopting a variety of renewable sources including biomass, solar, geothermal and micro-hydroelectric technologies.

The national government, civil society organisations and regional leaders are supporting our 100% renewable energy vision for Kasese. Three years into the project, tens of thousands of people have access to energy for the first time. Today renewables are estimated to be supplying 26.8% of the Kasese district with energy.

In the past, 97% of the local population relied on charcoal and firewood for cooking which caused noxious fumes leading to health issues, particularly for women. Similarly, 85% of locals relied on kerosene for indoor lighting, which is an expensive and inefficient fuel and imposes a significant financial burden on poorer families. Solar for lighting and biogas for cooking has replaced the traditional three-stone method of cooking – reducing indoor pollution. At the same time the deployment of relatively cheap domestic solar systems is providing electricity for many of the poor, freeing up money for food, clothing and education.

Biogas systems and energy saving stoves are improving community relations. Conflicts as a result of groups searching for firewood have reduced, while the time spent to collect firewood is being used for other, more productive work.

The increasing electrification has meant that residents of Kasese have the power to run their own radio and TV sets for the first time. Important lines of telecommunication are opening up and becoming increasingly reliable due to the roll-out of solar phone charging facilities and solar-run computers with internet access. Residents are increasingly able to access new forms of entertainment, each other and the outside world.

There are new jobs available for locals as the renewable energy sector expands in the region. The number of businesses in our green economy has increased from from 5 to 55 since 2012 – at least 1,650 people have been trained in the process. The businesses sell solar equipment, construct solar hubs, build biogas systems, improve cook stoves and deliver mini-hydro projects. The tourist industry has also enjoyed growth, as our camps and lodges get access to electricity we are able to attract more visitors.

In order to achieve the vision of 100% renewable by 2020, we need sustainable funding of renewable energy technologies. Sustainable financial support for the programme and finance mechanisms for individual households – especially those living on less than $1 a day – need to be ensured over the years in order for the 100% renewable vision to be realised.

Kasese’s journey towards 100% renewable energy by 2020 is happening right now. This bold project is empowering communities and improving livelihoods. It is setting a great example for other districts and municipalities to follow in Africa and in the rest of the world.

Godfrey Baluku Kime is mayor of Kasese, Uganda



Apple Reveals Solar Energy Programs

By: Jon Russell

Apple has plunged billions of dollars into making its global operations more efficient with renewable energy. The bulk of that push, which has won praise from Greenpeace, has come in the U.S. and Europe, but today Apple unveiled a suite of initiatives designed to make its business in China — the country where its revenue is positively booming — greener, too.

Timed in conjunction with CEO Tim Cook’s visit to the country, the U.S. company revealed that it will work with its manufacturing partners in China to help them “become more energy efficient and to use clean energy for their manufacturing operations.” Apple further explained that it is working with said suppliers, which include Foxconn, to add more than two gigawatts of ‘clean’ energy to those operations in the next few years.

That move alone is notable, since Apple’s China-based manufacturers have long been accused of polluting the environment. Back in 2011, iPhone supplier Pegatron was reprimanded over environmental concerns, while Apple reportedly clamped down on Foxconn and UniMicron in 2013 following accusations that they released water tainted by toxic metals into rivers.

One company’s initiatives won’t elicit a full clean up of China’s manufacturing industry, but Apple putting pressure on its partners to be more environmental friendly is a major development. Indeed, Foxconn’s own pledge today to create 400 megawatts of solar power by 2018 — the equivalent, it said, of the energy it uses for “final production” of the iPhone — is proof of the potential for change.

Apple also revealed today that its operations in China are now carbon neutral. That’s because — thanks to the completion of a 40 megawatts solar power system in the Sichuan Province — the company now produces more electricity in China than it uses in its offices and retail stores in the country.

The U.S. giant said it isn’t done there, and it plans to extend its solar projects with an additional 200 megawatts through projects in the north, east and south of China. It claimed that, once these additional facilities come online, its green energy production “will produce the equivalent of the energy used by more by than 265,000 Chinese homes in a year and will begin to offset the energy used in Apple’s supply chain.”

“Climate change is one of the great challenges of our time, and the time for action is now,” Cook said in a statement. “The transition to a new green economy requires innovation, ambition and purpose. We believe passionately in leaving the world better than we found it and hope that many other suppliers, partners and other companies join us in this important effort.”

Apple is certainly setting the bar for others to follow. The company is carbon neutral in the U.S. and China, while it claimed that renewable energy powers 87 percent of its international operations.


Australia ‘could become world leader in solar home battery storage’

By: Oliver Milman

Energy stored from roof panels could offer the cheapest electricity alternative within three years, Climate Council study says

Leading manufacturers of home-based battery systems are targeting Australia, where 1.4 m households have rooftop solar panels. Photograph: Raoul Wegat/AAP

Australia could become a world leader in home battery storage, with the potential for energy stored from solar panels offering the cheapest electricity alternative within just three years, according to a new report.

The study, by the Climate Council, predicted that the cost of battery storage would fall “dramatically” and help Australian homeowners overcome the intermittency of electricity generation from rooftop solar panels.

On the basis of a $10,000 battery system with a payback of 10 years, the Climate Council predicts that half of all Australian households will adopt battery storage for their solar systems, with capacity growing 50-fold and the market’s value ballooning to $24bn.

The report states that by 2018 the trend could reduce costs of energy as such that getting off-grid will become cost-competitive to staying connected.

Leading manufacturers of home-based battery systems are targeting Australia, where 1.4m households have rooftop solar panels.

The US firm Tesla has announced that its vaunted 7 kWh Powerwall system will be available in Australia by the end of the year – one of the first overseas markets to get the product. The Canberra-based business Reposit Power, which enables people to directly buy and sell their stored electricity, partnered with Tesla for Powerwall’s launch.

Other market players have emerged too, with Enphase Energy rolling out its home energy solution in Australia and New Zealand next year. The system combines solar generation, energy control and storage.

Amanda McKenzie, the chief executive of the Climate Council, said this competition meant prices would fall and would prove a “game changer” in how Australians used electricity. “Australians are forging a people-led renewables revolution,” she said.

“Australia leads the world in rooftop solar with more than twice the solar PV penetration rates of the next country – Belgium – and more than three times the penetration of Germany, the US and the UK.”

According to the Climate Council, households that don’t use stored energy could make the biggest savings. They would be able to keep and use this power rather than purchase electricity during expensive peak demand periods, the not-for-profit said.

The advancement of battery storage has led to shifts in policy direction from both traditional energy companies and the government.

AGL Energy, which has significant brown coal interests in Victoria, is developing its own battery while the Coalition, which has previously attempted to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, has can cited battery storage as an area the agency help develop.


A Tower of Molten Salt Will Deliver Solar Power After Sunset

For the first time, solar thermal can compete with natural gas during nighttime peak demand