Record solar growth in US, clean energy takes off in Europe

This solar farm is helping power a small US town. The land is owned by former US President Jimmy Carter who is calling on Donald Trump to enhance clean energy.
Photo via SolAmerica Energy.

We're all about saving you energy and have rounded up the latest solar, climate and energy news so you don't have to.

Solar and batteries

Solar grew by a record breaking 95% in the US last year. Solar also accounted for 39% of new capacity additions across all fuel sources.

Solar and wind generation may have helped keep the lights on in New South Wales last Friday when heavy demand for electricity could have resulted in rolling blackouts, reports Renew Economy.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is making his harbourside mansion blackout-proof by installing hi-tech batteries to store energy generated by his rooftop solar panels.

And in the US former President Jimmy Carter has just installed 3,852 solar panels on his farm which will provide over 50 percent of the power needs of the nearby town of Plains. In 1979 Carter turned heads when he installed solar panels on the White House roof as part of a push to increase clean energy use in America.

Carter is calling on Donald Trump to embrace renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power as they can secure millions of new jobs in the US.

Combining perovskite and silicon could improve the efficiency of photovoltaic solar panels and lead to solar becoming the dominant source of the world’s electricity, says an Oxford University physicist.

An Australian company has developed technology to store electricity as thermal energy by heating and melting containers full of silicon. A tonne of silicon can store enough energy to power 28 houses for a day.

An inexpensive, solar-powered ambulance that can fit down narrow laneways is set to hit the road in rural Bangladesh this year. The three-wheeled van runs entirely on solar power – including solar battery power at night – and can be used in rural areas with no grid electricity, according to the developers.

Renewables and fossil fuel

Renewable energy sources made up nearly nine-tenths of new power added to Europe’s electricity grids last year, in a sign of the continent’s rapid shift away from fossil fuels, reports the Guardian.

Saudi Arabia, the nation most identified with its massive oil reserves, is turning to wind and solar to generate power at home and help extend the life of its crucial crude franchise, reports Bloomberg.

The EU will need to phase out CO2 emissions from all of its coal plants in the next 15 years if it is to meet the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goals, according to a new Climate Analytics report.

As the world moves towards less polluting sources of energy there’s a battle in Australia to stop plans for the country’s biggest coal mine.

And in NZ Forest & Bird has mounted a court challenge over a decision by the Buller District Council to allow an open-cast coalmine on 100ha of public reserve land behind Westport township.

Approximately 80 per cent of New Zealand's electricity comes from renewable energy sources. But is this the full picture behind NZ's clean and green reputation? The Science Media Centre asks four experts how New Zealand's energy usage compares to the rest of the world and what our energy future might look like.

Australia’s energy system must be overhauled to ensure reliable power in the face of severe heatwaves and other extreme climate change-driven weather, says the Climate Council. Climate Councillor and energy expert, Andrew Stock said load shedding in South Australia and now in New South Wales, one of Australia’s biggest coal power states, shows the system is crumbling under the pressure.

Investment confidence has rebounded in Australia's utility-scale renewables with more than 20 projects under or about to start construction this year, according to analysis from the Clean Energy Council.

Climate change

The area of Arctic sea ice for January 2017 was the lowest for this time of year since satellite records started 38 years ago. It’s also 260,000 square kilometres below January 2016, the previous lowest.

US-based glaciologist Eric Rignot is in New Zealand this week to talk about polar ice sheets and their potential to add to predicted sea level rise. He tells Veronika Meduna at The Spinoff that it’s more important than ever to discuss climate science and what it’s like to be a climate scientist during the Trump presidency.

Regional climate variability caused an unusual period in which at least 58 of New Zealand's glaciers grew bigger, while glaciers worldwide were shrinking as a result of warming temperatures, say scientists from Victoria University.

PEPANZ, the body that represents the major oil and gas companies in NZ, has invited Greenpeace to attend the 2017 Petroleum Conference in Taranaki. Greenpeace NZ has declined and has instead challenged PEPANZ to a public debate with the moot: "We must rapidly phase out fossil fuels if our kids are to have a stable climate."

Preparing New Zealand's water stores for a warmer climate is a major focus of new research projects just awarded more than $2 million. The funding, for five studies, is part of the Deep South National Science Challenge, which aims to help Kiwis adapt to the effects that climate change will bring, among them, extreme weather events, drought, changes in typical weather patterns and sea level rise.

Power prices

The Otago-Southland Employers Association is continuing its campaign against proposed changes to electricity transmission costs which it says is “essentially a new subsidy by the south for the north."

Electric vehicles

California’s largest investor-owned utilities are proposing to make over $1 billion in new investments to accelerate widespread transportation electrification.

South Korea’s government and automakers are on a drive to make the electric car a mainstay of life in one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries.

The established energy industry is facing a dilemma as the mass adoption of electric cars and renewable energy could significantly decrease global consumption of fossil fuels. Some see that as a threat, a few see new opportunities, says Green Car Reports.

Waste Management’s Tom Nickels talks about the company’s move to electric trucks with its first vehicle now on Auckland roads.

Two new fast charging stations for electric vehicles will be installed in Pukekohe this year. Free power will be provided to the stations until 2020 by Counties Power.