As Oil Industry Declines, Workers Turn to Solar

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The tar sands in Alberta is killing a Canadian climate-friendly future and the people who work there have also realized that jobs in the tar sands isn’t their future. A new not-for profit, Iron and Earth, is building a sustainable future for the climate and for workers. The worker led cooperative takes people who want out of the unstable oil economy into the growing field of renewable energy installations.

Iron and Earth is now running short solar training programs for oil and gas workers who want new options. “Our approach is really that so many of the tradespeople that work in the oil sands are highly skilled, and really require only a few days of specialized training for solar energy and potentially other renewable energy technologies as well,” Hildebrand says.
In the first five-day course, in October, 15 trainees installed solar panels at a community daycare on tribal land in Alberta. A similar course happened in November. The organization plans to train 1,000 oil and gas workers in its first campaign.

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A Solar Solution on Indian Railways

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The largest railway system in the world runs in India and it consumes a lot of energy to run it. Back when oil was more expensive they started looking into way to lower their fuel bill from using biofuel to solar. Today, they are running one solution that will save money in the first year of operations – putting solar panels on the roof of the train carriages. The panels will collect energy and store it in batteries instead of the current approach is using an additional diesel engine to power the carriages.

The rooftop solar system was developed by Noida-based Jakson Engineers, under the direction of the Indian Railways Organisation for Alternate Fuels (IROAF). “It is not an easy task to fit solar panels on the roof of train coaches that run at a speed of 80 km per hour. Our engineering skills were put to a real test during the execution of this rooftop solar project for Indian Railways,” Sundeep Gupta, vice-chairman and managing director of Jakson Engineers told the Business Standard newspaper. Established in 2008, the IROAF initially focused on bio-diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG) to help diversify Indian Railways’ fuel mix, before looking at solar.
Indian Railways has ambitious plans for solar. By 2020, the state-run transportation network plans to generate around 1,000 megawatts (MW) of solar power, which could be scaled up to 5,000 MW by 2025. These numbers are not only significant for the railways, given that it’ll help bring down the fuel bill, but will also impact India’s overall renewable energy goal of 175 gigawatt (1 GW = 1,000 MW) by 2022.

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More Americans Working in Solar Than in Coal

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The coal industry is failing and sustainable alternatives are on the rise. No matter what politicians do to try and “save” coal it’s clear that the dirty source of electricity is on its way out. A recent report revealed that in the USA more people are employed by the solar industry than in the coal industry. Solar only provides 1.3% of America’s electricity yet it is more of a job provider than coal is. If somebody (like the president) wants to create more jobs in the USA than maybe supporting solar is the way to do it.

To put this all in perspective: “Solar employs slightly more workers than natural gas, over twice as many as coal, over three times that of wind energy, and almost five times the number employed in nuclear energy,” the report notes. “Only oil/petroleum has more employment (by 38%) than solar.”

Now, mind you, comparing solar and coal is a bit unfair. Solar is growing fast from a tiny base, which means there’s a lot of installation work to be done right now, whereas no one is building new coal plants in the US anymore. (Quite the contrary: Many older coal plants have been closing in recent years, thanks to stricter air-pollution rules and cheap natural gas.) So solar is in a particularly labor-intensive phase at the moment. Still, it’s worth thinking through what these numbers mean.

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Clean, Renewable Energy Continues Amazing Drop in Costs

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The cost of installing solar energy systems of every type has seen double digit decreases in cost since 2008. This reduction is astonishing because it means that solar becomes competitive with coal (which we’ve already seen) and that arguments against using solar get less powerful every year. There’s also a compounding effect too. The more solar gets supported by institutions that more widespread the technology becomes and the spin of effects of that technology will spur more renewable production. The same is true for other forms of clean energy.

This makes it much clearer that the trends are not “flattening.”
Again, this is no surprise. The International Energy Agency released a whole report on this subject back in 2000, titled, “Experience Curves for Energy Technology Policy.” In it, the IEA explained that accelerated clean energy deployment policies were creating economies of scale and bringing technologies rapidly down the learning curve. As long as those policies continue, the price drops would continue.
And they did continue — with especially large investments by Germany and China. The result is that over the past four decades, for every doubling in scale of the solar industry, the price of solar modules has dropped roughly 26 percent.

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Former Nuclear Disaster Site Could Become Solar Plant

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One of the worst energy disaster in human history was the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. It has left a giant chunk of land around Pripyat uninhabitable to humans (although the rest of nature has been thriving because humans aren’t there), now the Ukrainian government wants to reuse the land for a new source of electricity. A collection of companies are proposing that the land from the disaster be converted to the world’s largest solar farm!

The development of the 1GWh(!) installation makes a lot of sense considering there is useful land and infrastructure in the area, and Ukraine needs the power.

Because Chernobyl was a site for energy production in its former capacity, transmission lines already exist. “The Chernobyl site has really good potential for renewable energy,” Semerak said. “We already have high-voltage transmission lines that were previously used for the nuclear stations, the land is very cheap and we have many people trained to work at power plants.”

As long as environmental and banking concerns are addressed, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development indicated it would be interested in participating.

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