Five Exciting Advances in Renewable Energy in 2016

shutterstock_360277295

Have you ever been to the ocean on a high-surf day, and watched the water at the shoreline be pulled away as a huge wave builds somewhere offshore? Well, that kind of “groundswell” is what we’re starting to experience in the renewable energy industry. And it’s very exciting! There were many significant developments in 2016, but the momentum really started building last year.

 A Record-Setting Year in 2015

Looking back, 2015 was a record year for renewable energy according to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) in its Renewables 2016 Global Status Report (GSR). There were a number of high-profile agreements signed by G7 and G20 governments to increase energy efficiency and pave the way for easier access to renewable energy.

With those commitments as a foundation, the world experienced its largest ever annual increase in renewable power capacity in 2015 — an estimated 147 gigawatts (GW). And despite the fact that the cost of fossil fuels remained low, people and companies continued to turn to renewable sources. For the second year in a row, solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind power had record growth.

Overall global capacity reached 1,849 gigawatts (GW), an increase of 8.7% over 2014. Capping 2015 was the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, where 195 countries reached an agreement to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius and most in attendance committed to increasing renewable energy production and energy efficiency.

Continued Growth: 2016 and Beyond

While the final numbers for this year won’t be available until early next, the data through the first six months of 2016 is very encouraging. The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) says that renewable energy in the U.S. (including hydroelectric, biomass, geothermal, wind, and solar) provided 16.9 percent of electricity generation in the first half of the year, compared to 13.7 percent in 2015.

In other words, renewable energy is beginning to prove itself as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. This may come as a surprise to many people who think of renewable sources as being on the “fringe” of the U.S. energy grid.

Beyond the energy production numbers, there were some incredible advances in the renewable energy field in 2016. Here is just a sampling:

  • Tesla’s Gigafactory. To support its mission of accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy, Tesla’s new facility (appropriately located in Sparks, Nevada) will be producing battery cells by the end of this year. The name Gigafactory comes from the factory’s planned annual battery production capacity of 35 gigawatt-hours (GWh).
  • Sweden’s fossil fuel-free declaration. Having invested heavily in renewable energy and climate change action in its 2016 budget, Sweden continues to move closer to ending its use of fossil fuels. The fact that a country is committed enough to this goal to publicly declare it is groundbreaking and inspiring.
  • Swiss scientists’ biofuel breakthrough. Biofuel is an important source of renewable energy, and researchers have now found a way to convert 80 percent of a previously unused component of biomass called lignin into valuable molecules for biofuel and plastics.
  • Tesla’s solar roofs. Energy provided by the sun in one hour is enough to meet our planet’s needs for an entire year. Tesla has developed roof tiles that resemble standard shingles and can supply 100 percent of a home’s electricity needs while also storing backup energy in what it calls Powerwall battery units. The first installations are expected next summer.
  • Washington State University’s advances in water splitting. Researchers have developed a method for more efficiently creating hydrogen from water using a low-cost catalyst. This discovery supports our ability to use the excess electricity generated from renewable sources to split water into oxygen and hydrogen for use in fuel-cell vehicles.

These are just a few of the dozens of significant developments in renewable energy this year. And with the momentum that’s being created, 2017 promises to deliver even more game-changing renewable energy solutions.

What would you do with the $5 Million Lose-A-Watt prize?

shutterstock_406496068What would you do with a million dollars?  What about FIVE million? Fort Collins may soon need to find an answer to that question!

Did you know, Fort Collins is finishing up the semi-finalist competition in Georgetown University’s national energy efficiency competition for a $5 million prize? At last check, Fort Collins was ranking within the top ten out of all communities participating. If we maintain our ranking, we’ll move on to the final competition which runs through mid-2017.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-8-55-45-am

How’d this happen?  What’s the criteria?

The top ten communities are evaluated based on additional criteria other than total savings, such as: program replicability and community engagement. To advance further, we’ll still need the help of our entire community. So download a tutorial, take action, and help us win $5 million for Fort Collins!

How can you help?  There are lots of ways, but the easiest and most fun is to check out the Lose-A-Watt app. This mobile app was created specifically for Fort Collins and aims to make energy savings and sustainability more simple and fun. Download it for free and log the energy-saving activities that you do every day!

Here's what you need to do:

  • Go into the app store for your phone or tablet and search for "Lose A Watt”
  • Get the app for your Apple device | Get the app for your Android device
  • Create an account, or log in with your Facebook account
  • Start logging your energy-saving activities!

You can even compete against your friends, neighbors and others in the community to see who the boss is when it comes to saving energy.

What should we do with the prize if we win?

$5 million is a lot of money.  Think about all we could do!  Really, think about it - we’d like to hear your ideas! That being said, keep in mind the City couldn't just spend the money any way it chooses – there are restrictions for the use of the $5M prize money:

  • It must be spent on energy efficiency programs that reward the community as a whole and provide for the long-term implementation of those plans. So, put on your thinking cap and let us know what the City should do with the money.
  • Prize money cannot be given to individuals. For example, it cannot be used to reduce taxes or for items that aren't related in some way to energy efficiency. If you were thinking of just putting your name in the hat, think again.  We’re looking for bona fide campaigns and plans that will impact the community as a whole, and create a more energy efficient Fort Collins in 5 million ways.

Check us out on Facebook and throw some suggestions our way.  It’s not every day we contemplate what to do with $5 million dollars!