Top Story: August 11, 2010

Renewables News

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There’s been a lot in the news this week about renewable energy.

California seems to lead the charge here in the US. Many of the stories are developing right here. KQED Quest has an entire series on renewables called 33x20—named for California’s goal to have 33% of our electricity come from renewables by 2020.

Earlier this week, the program had a great radio story about wind and solar energy development on Indian land. They site two examples in southern California, but there are several more. According to reporter Amy Standen,

Over the last two years, the pot of federal aid for Indian energy development has doubled to about $7 million a year. Tribes are also eligible for stimulus grants.

The people of the Campo Kumeyaay Nation have found a great way to use land that’s otherwise unusable:

This project… is an enormous source of pride for the Campo people, in part because it makes use of a resource that until recently, didn't seem to offer a lot of options.

MONIQUE LACHAPPA: Look where we're located. We're out here in the middle of nowhere. It makes it difficult for anybody who wants to be able to do more for their family, or send their kids to college.

The New York Times tackles unusable California land—salty or dry earth previously used for agriculture—in their recent article “Recycling Land for Green Energy Ideas”. In the San Joaquin Valley, a large project is underway to bring solar to 30,000 acres of land too salty from years of irrigation to support agriculture any longer. And it’s a win-win situation: landowners and regulators are on board as well as environmentalists:

Unlike some renewable energy projects blocked by objections that they would despoil the landscape, this one has the support of environmentalists.

The project helps ease ever-present drought conditions for farmers, as well:

For Westlands farmers, the promise of the solar project is not clean electricity, but the additional water allocations they will get if some land is no longer used for farming.

With water deliveries slashed because of drought and environmental disputes, he [Mark Shannon] could plant only 20 percent of his property with irrigated crops this year.

“Come hell or high water, there just is not enough water to farm this whole district,” Mr. Shannon, 41, said. “If I lease my land for solar, we can farm elsewhere.”

Finally, in another article, The New York Times looks at Portugal’s aggressive development of clean energy. This year, that country will get 45% of their electricity from renewables—solar, wind and more (Science In Action’s "Wave Power" story included many images from operations in Portugal). By 2011, there will be a national network in place for charging electric cars.

There’s a reason for this forward thinking:

Portugal’s venture was driven by necessity. With a rising standard of living and no fossil fuel of its own, the cost of energy imports — principally oil and gas — doubled in the last decade, accounting for 50 percent of the country’s trade deficit, and was highly volatile.

We can learn a lot of lessons from what they’ve done in such a short time, the article states. The country has developed new skills for new technologies, and they grab power from even the smallest producers—residential solar roof panels, for example. But there are drawbacks, too.

While Portugal’s experience shows that rapid progress is achievable, it also highlights the price of such a transition. Portuguese households have long paid about twice what Americans pay for electricity, and prices have risen 15 percent in the last five years, probably partly because of the renewable energy program, the International Energy Agency says.

Although a 2009 report by the agency called Portugal’s renewable energy transition a “remarkable success,” it added, “It is not fully clear that their costs, both financial and economic, as well as their impact on final consumer energy prices, are well understood and appreciated.”

Only time will tell how it all plays out on our soil. Let’s just hope the process of converting to cleaner energy continues to move swiftly forward.

Creative Commons image by Ceinturion

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