Building New Solar Energy Plants Cheaper than Running Coal

Solar Panel School

Since the inception of Things Are Good we’ve been following the demise of dirty fossil fuel usage and the rise of clean energy. A few highlights from over the years:
Solar Power Is Cheaper Than Nuclear
Solar And Wind Outgrow Subsidies
Wind Power: One Of The Cheapest Sources Of Energy
German Coal And Gas Power Plants Closing Due To Cheap Renewable Energy

The rise of renewable energy is even more impressive given the massive subsidies given to fossil fuel industries. Despite the bailouts for companies operating in the tar sands, the car subsidies, and other related government handouts, renewable energy just gets cheaper and cheaper.

This past month the International Energy Agency declared solar to be the cheapest source of electricity in history. Cheaper than coal!

Now, the IEA has reviewed the evidence internationally and finds that for solar, the cost of capital is much lower, at 2.6-5.0% in Europe and the US, 4.4-5.5% in China and 8.8-10.0% in India, largely as a result of policies designed to reduce the risk of renewable investments.

In the best locations and with access to the most favourable policy support and finance, the IEA says the solar can now generate electricity “at or below” $20 per megawatt hour (MWh). It says:

“For projects with low-cost financing that tap high-quality resources, solar PV is now the cheapest source of electricity in history.”

The IEA says that new utility-scale solar projects now cost $30-60/MWh in Europe and the US and just $20-40/MWh in China and India, where “revenue support mechanisms” such as guaranteed prices are in place.

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The Importance of Mapping Fossil Fuel Companies

industry

The Corporate Mapping Project in Canada tries to connect the dots between corporations, organizations, and governmental bodies in regards to the oil and gas industry. Despite all evidence that the tar sands are horrible for the planet the Canadian taxpayer continues to subsidize the fossil fuel industry. Why?

That the answer the mapping project looks to help investigate. By showing the connections between corporate and political players we can expose anything from sketchy polices to blatant corruption. This project is great for researchers and economist trying to understand why Canada props up a dying (and lethal) industry.

You can see their list of the top 50 companies in terms of power and influence in Canada’s oil and gas industry.

We focus on “mapping” how power and influence play out in the oil, gas and coal industries of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan. We will also map the wider connections that link Western Canada’s fossil fuel sector to other sectors of the economy (both national and global) and to other parts of society (governments and other public institutions, think tanks and lobby groups, etc).

Our mapping efforts are focused in four key areas:

  1. How are the people and companies that control fossil-fuel corporations organized as a network, and how does that network connect with other sectors of the Canadian and global economy? That is, how is economic power organized in and around the fossil-fuel sector?

  2. How does that economic power reach into political and cultural life, through elite networks, funding relationships, lobbying and mass-media advertising and messaging? What are the implications of such corporate influence for politics and society?

  3. How is corporate power wielded at ground level, from fossil-fuel extraction and transport right through to final consumption? If we follow a barrel of bitumen from its source to the end user, how does it affect the communities and environments all along the way? How and why do certain links along these commodity chains become flashpoints of intense political struggle, as we have seen particularly with pipeline projects?

  4. How can we build capacity for citizen monitoring of corporate power and influence, while expanding the space for democratic discussion?

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A Team Cools the Planet by Sending Heat to Outer Space

desert and stars

Aaswath Raman, a material scientist at UCLA, has looked into the past to solve today’s problems. He has led a team that’s created an impressive device that uses radiative cooling to help cool anything by sending heat into outer space. This sounds like it’s right out of science fiction, but it is very real and is based on sound science that’s been ignored for decades. A basic example of radiative cooling is how temperatures drop on buildings overnight due to the lack of sunlight, in this case the heat just goes into the atmosphere. Using Raman’s new device the heat can get transferred into outer space because the material used reflects a very particular wavelength which won’t get trapped in the atmosphere.

In a few years the Stanford group had its first prototype. Placed outside in the hot California sun, it felt cold to the touch. It was a giddy, counterintuitive sensation, even to Raman.

Yet even after he convinced himself that daytime radiative cooling was possible, it wasn’t until a trip to visit his grandmother in Mumbai that Raman started to see how it could also be useful.

A growing number of homes in Mumbai had air conditioners in their windows, something he rarely saw during childhood visits. That’s an unqualified victory for people’s health, Raman said; exposure to extreme heat can lead to a range of illnesses, from respiratory illness to psychological distress.

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Floating Trash Bins a Great Success, May Influence Policies

ocean shore

We’ve been following the installation and study of Seabins in Toronto for a while now. Good news just keeps happening from these floating garbage cans!

Floating trash collectors were put in the Toronto harbour a few years ago and the research team behind the project keeps finding interesting things. The University of Toronto’s Trash Team has realized that beyond keeping the water clean the bins can help identify sources of pollutants. With this increase in knowledge of how trash flows in water we can craft better policies to protect nature from human waste.

Since the Seabins were first installed, it’s been U of T Trash Team co-founder Chelsea Rochman’s job — along with team members like U of T student Cassandra Sherlock — to comb through what comes out of them.

Rochman is working on guidelines for classifying the waste that will eventually be put to use in communities around the province.

“Any type of trash trap does one thing really well… divert our plastic waste out of the Great Lakes,” she told CBC Toronto.

“But it also can involve policy because what we find tells us something about the source.”

Take those pre-production pellets that Fisher found all over an island beach in Lake Superior, which Rochman says also turn up regularly in the Toronto Seabins after blowing away from industrial sites.

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Art Can Help us Understand the Climate Crisis

blank billboard

The world of art may one way to help people understand issues around the climate crisis. The impacts of climate change are diverse and interconnected, which makes it difficult to conceptualize. Single use plastic use is connected to the tar sands, inequality is connected to palm oil production. It’s all so overwhelming.

Artists can help us get an understanding on what the climate crisis is to humans in practice through their works. Some artists try to capture the anthropecene while others make art to rile up politicians to act. Art and artists provide another way to understand the changing world around us.

While it’s hard to know what effect any one work has on the audience, creators — from authors to filmmakers to visual artists — are making a case for their role in tackling climate change: to engage people’s emotions and imagination in ways that straight data just won’t.

“Film … has the capacity to move people in a number of ways simultaneously … intellectually, emotionally, viscerally, all at the same time,” said filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal in an interview with Lynch.

“Using that medium to open up that consciousness, to move people in that way is our goal. Whether it works or not is another matter.”

Read more.

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