This year’s outlook for cleaner fuels is bright, according to a recent report from the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). But it is much brighter for some technologies than others.
Solar and wind specifically, which remain the cleanest of the cleantechs in the emerging global renewables market, have a very promising future. The same cannot be said of less-efficient, more-vulnerable alternatives like biofuels, biomass, biodiesel and ethanol, which create cost-prohibitive emissions and demands for land and water on a planet increasingly succumbing to the expensive droughts, floods and storms wrought by climate change.
ACORE’s 2014 outlook — comprised of solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, marine energy, biomass, waste-to-energy, ethanol and biodiesel sector performance reports from their respective trade associations — found wide-ranging successes, improvements and opportunities “at the federal, state, and local levels for industry advancement and investment.” But one competitor stood out the most in the Obama administration’s “all of the above” renewable energy mix.
“Solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all new electric generation capacity installed in 2013, second only to natural gas,” said Ken Johnson, vice president of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “In fact, more solar has been brought online in the past 18 months than in the 30 prior years combined.”
Speaking of natural gas, it’s worth noting that the EPA has been underestimating methane emissionsfrom oil and gas drilling sites — by a factor of 100 to 1,000. In the SEIA’s final analysis, included within ACORE’s report after wind, it is solar that remains the hottest alternative. Given that it’s powered by the sun, it promises to only get hotter.
“All totaled, solar is generating enough electricity to effectively power nearly 2.5 million homes,” Johnson said. “That’s a remarkable record of achievement, and 2014 promises to be our best year ever with growth projected at nearly 40 percent.”
That growth could accelerate now that the Department of Energy has offered $4 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy. Johnson told SolarEnergy.net that the SEIA is still combing through the details of the offer, which, according to Reuters, will “specifically focus on advanced electric grid technology and storage, biofuels that can be used in conventional vehicles, energy from waste products and energy efficiency improvements.” Nevertheless, U.S. Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz specifically targeted the success of the administration’s solar investments as rationale for now “focusing on technologies that are on the edge of commercial-scale deployment today.”
Those bleeding-edge technologies are covered in ACORE’s report, most intriguingly waste-to-energy, which it noted could do better than recycling only 29 percent of the nearly 400 million tons of trash generated in the United States in 2011. But like biomass, biofuels and ethanol, waste-to-energy power is complicated by regulatory hurdles and therefore investment disincentives, involving everything from how much land and water it requires to how much carbon and methane it produces.
This is not the case with real-time renewables like solar and wind. Or even sensible-sounding upstarts like marine and thermal power, which ACORE quotes Secretary Moniz as naming the “forgotten renewables.” As climate change worsens, all are putting up numbers and attracting investment. But in the long stretch for Earth’s limited resources, solar and wind are the clear cleantech champs.
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