THE COST OF RENEWABLE ENERGY VERSUS FOSSIL FUELS

Renewable energy—wind, solar, hydroelectricity and geothermal energy—is growing steadily worldwide. Countries leading the way in renewable energy include:

Iceland
Sweden
Costa Rica
Nicaragua
the U.K
Germany
Uruguay
China

GOING 100 PER CENT RENEWABLE BY 2050

Some countries have set targets and goals to be run by 100 per cent renewable energy in the near future. At a 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference, nearly 50 countries agreed to only use renewable energy by 2050. Countries like the Philippines and Colombia pledged to make their energy production 100 per cent renewable between 2030 and 2050, at the latest. The U.S. and Canada, however, are slowly catching up to the countries with such pledges that are leading the way. In the U.S. last year (2017), about 18 per cent of all electricity was from renewable sources. In Canada, the amount is about the same at 18.9 per cent, according to the Government of Canada.

tall wind turbine in Toronto shapes cityscape traffic long exposure motion blur car harbor water sunset moon skyscraper background

BARRIERS TO RENEWABLE ENERGY

Many agree more renewable energy is indeed worth striving for. But there are barriers stopping more renewable energy from being produced. One of those major barriers is cost. According to a U.S.-based organization, the bulk of renewable energy costs come from building the technology in the first place. A new natural gas plant might have costs around $1,000/kW (kilowatts are a measure of power capacity). While the average cost to install a solar system ranges from $2,000/kW to almost $3,700 for residential systems. Wind costs around $1,200 to $1,700/kW, according to the organization.

Cost is also an issue when it comes to transmission of the electricity—the power lines and infrastructure needed to move electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s consumed. Wind and solar farms aren’t all sited near old non-renewable power plants. This means that new systems need to be set up. Other barriers to renewable energy include market entry and political/government support.

Solar Power Plant in modern city,Sustainable Renewable Energy.

IS RENEWABLE ENERGY CHEAPER IN THE LONG-RUN?

New research shows that, in the long-run, renewable energy is more cost effective than non-renewable energy. Company Lazard considered costs over the lifespan of energy projects and found wind and utility-scale solar can be the least expensive energy generating sources. As of 2017, the cost (before tax credits that would further drop the costs) of wind power was $30-60 per megawatt-hour (a measure of energy). Large-scale solar costs are $43-53/MWh. For comparison: energy from the most efficient type of natural gas plants costs $42-78/MWh. Coal power costs at least $60/MWh.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reports that costs for renewable energy is down. In a recent report, IRENA noted that solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are more than 80 per cent cheaper than in 2009. In addition, electricity costs from solar photovoltaic panels fell by almost three-quarters from 2010-2017. IRENA notes their costs continue to decline.

Depending on the market, wind turbine prices have also fallen by about half over a similar period. These price drops are leading to cheaper wind power globally. By 2020, the renewable power generation technologies now in use will be at the lower end of the fossil-fuel cost range, or even cheaper than fossil fuels.

Although renewable energy is growing, it still needs extra investment up front in comparison to non-renewable energy. Many countries—and individuals—see the benefit of investing now for a more sustainable and greener future.

A running list of action on plastic pollution

Plastic bottles fill the famous Cibeles Fountain in Madrid during an exhibit that called attention to the environmental impact of disposable plastics.

The world is waking up to a crisis of ocean plastic—and we’re tracking the developments and solutions as they happen.

THE WORLD HAS a plastic pollution problem and it’s snowballing—but so is public awareness and action.

Each year, an estimated 18 billion pounds of plastic waste enters the world’s ocean from coastal regions. That’s about equivalent to five grocery bags of plastic trash piled up on every foot of coastline on the planet. All that plastic is causing harm to the creatures that live in the ocean, from coral reefs smothered in bags, to turtles gagging on straws, to whales and seabirds that starve because their bellies are so jammed with bits of plastic that there’s no room for real food.

New research is emerging apace about the possible long-term impacts of tiny pieces of plastic on the marine food chain—raising fresh questions about how it might ultimately impact human health and food security.

About 40 percent of all plastic produced is used in packaging, and much of that is used only once and then discarded. Less than a fifth of all plastic is recycled, though many countries and businesses are trying innovative solutions to increase that number.

National Geographic magazine devoted a special cover package to plastic in June 2018, and since then, the issue has received more attention from the media, public, and politicians the world over. Here, we track some of the developments around this important issue. We will update this article periodically as news develops.

PERU RESTRICTS SINGLE-USE PLASTIC
January 17, 2019

Visitors will no longer be allowed to carry in single-use plastics into Peru’s 76 natural and cultural protected areas, from Machu Picchu to Manu to Huascarán, or national museums. This ban is now going into affect and was announced as a Supreme Decree by Peru’s Environment Minister, Fabiola Muñoz, and signed by President Martín Vizcarra, back in November.

The decree says the goal is replacing single-use plastics with “reusable, biodegradable plastic or others whose degradation does not generate contamination by micro-plastics or dangerous substances.”

At world-famous Machu Picchu, tourists produce an average of 14 tons of solid waste per day, much of it plastic bottles and other single-use packaging.

In December, Peru’s Congress had also passed a law to phase out single-use plastic bags across the country over the next three years. According to Peru’s Environment Ministry, the country uses 947,000 tons of plastic each year, while 75 percent is thrown out and only 0.3 percent is recycled.

SAN DIEGO BANS STYROFOAM FOOD AND DRINK CONTAINERS
January 11, 2019

San Diego has joined a growing number of cities to ban containers made of polystyrene, better known as Styrofoam—the Dow Chemical trademark name for extruded polystyrene. The ban includes food and drink containers, egg cartons, ice chest coolers, aquatic toys for swimming pools, and mooring buoys and navigation markers. The ocean-side city is the largest in California to ban polystyrene.

Polystyrene’s popularity as a container stems from its low cost, strength, insulation, and feather-weight buoyancy. Those properties also made it a scourge of plastic waste because it easily breaks into tiny, often airborne particles that are difficult to clean up and is generally rejected by recycling centers as too much trouble to recyclable.

The San Diego City Council voted 6-to-3 on January 8 to approve the ban, despite objections from owners of small restaurants who complained that the costs of using environmentally degradable containers, such as cardboard or compostable paper, could be double. The council first approved the ban last October for a trial period. This week’s vote made the ban permanent.

D.C. PLASTIC STRAW BAN BEGINS
January 1, 2019

One New Year’s resolution, to use less plastic, is no longer optional for restaurants and other service businesses in Washington, D.C., as of January 1. By July, businesses in the district will begin receiving fines if they continue to offer plastic straws.

A number of local businesses have already started switching to reusable, washable straws or disposable ones made from paper or hay.

The law follows Seattle’s ban earlier in 2018 and aims to reduce the impact of plastic straws as litter. More than 4,000 of the disposed items were found in a recent cleanup of the Anacostia River in D.C. Straws are known to hurt wildlife and are difficult to recycle, often ending up as litter. They make up only a tiny fraction of the total marine plastic pollution problem, leading some critics to say they are a distraction, while others say they are an easy place to start.

(Learn about the travel industry’s war on straws and where plastic straws came from in the first place.)

250 GROUPS LAUNCH MASSIVE GLOBAL PLASTIC PARTNERSHIP
October 29, 2018

Two hundred and fifty organizations responsible for 20 percent of the plastic packaging produced around the world have committed to reducing waste and pollution.

The initiative is called the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, and it includes a diverse group of members including the city of Austin, clothing company H&M, Unilever, PespsiCo, L’Oreal, Nestle, and Coca-Cola.

The Global Commitment touts a number of high-profile partnerships. It’s a collaboration with the United Nations and is being led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Other partners include the World Wide Fund for Nature, the World Economic Forum, the Consumer Goods Forum, and 40 academic institutions.

Ultimately, it’s working to promote a circular economy for plastic, a concept that entails reusing or repurposing plastic instead of letting it sit in a landfill. The shift would require building or improving collection and processing facilities, and five venture capital firms have pledged $200 million toward the initiative.

Recycling used items into new products is one of the three targets set by the commitment. Corporations joining the commitment must also phase out single-use plastic packaging and ensure it can either be reused, recycled, or composted by 2025.

“While elements of the EMF Global Commitment are moving in the right direction, the problem is that companies are given the flexibility to continue prioritizing recycling over reduction and reuse,” said Ahmad Ashov from Greenpeace Indonesia in a press release. “Corporations are not required to set actual targets to reduce the total amount of single-use plastics they are churning out.”

Every 18 months, the targets will be reviewed, and participating businesses must publish data on their progress each year.

Governments that join the commitment are pledging to create policies that help support a circular economy.

Antarctica losing six times more ice mass annually now than 40 years ago

Climate change-induced melting will raise global sea levels for decades to come

 

Researchers from UCI and NASA JPL recently conducted an assessment of 40 years’ worth of ice mass balance in Antarctica, finding accelerating deterioration of its ice cover. Credit: Joe MacGregor / NASA

Antarctica experienced a sixfold increase in yearly ice mass loss between 1979 and 2017, according to a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Glaciologists from the University of California, Irvine, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Netherlands’ Utrecht University additionally found that the accelerated melting caused global sea levels to rise more than half an inch during that time.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak,” said lead author Eric Rignot, Donald Bren Professor and chair of Earth system science at UCI. “As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries.”

For this study, Rignot and his collaborators conducted what he called the longest-ever assessment of remaining Antarctic ice mass. Spanning four decades, the project was also geographically comprehensive; the research team examined 18 regions encompassing 176 basins, as well as surrounding islands.

Techniques used to estimate ice sheet balance included a comparison of snowfall accumulation in interior basins with ice discharge by glaciers at their grounding lines, where ice begins to float in the ocean and detach from the bed. Data was derived from fairly high-resolution aerial photographs taken from a distance of about 350 meters via NASA’s Operation IceBridge; satellite radar interferometry from multiple space agencies; and the ongoing Landsat satellite imagery series, begun in the early 1970s.

The team was able to discern that between 1979 and 1990, Antarctica shed an average of 40 gigatons of ice mass annually. (A gigaton is 1 billion tons.) From 2009 to 2017, about 252 gigatons per year were lost.

The pace of melting rose dramatically over the four-decade period. From 1979 to 2001, it was an average of 48 gigatons annually per decade. The rate jumped 280 percent to 134 gigatons for 2001 to 2017.

Rignot said that one of the key findings of the project is the contribution East Antarctica has made to the total ice mass loss picture in recent decades.

“The Wilkes Land sector of East Antarctica has, overall, always been an important participant in the mass loss, even as far back as the 1980s, as our research has shown,” he said. “This region is probably more sensitive to climate [change] than has traditionally been assumed, and that’s important to know, because it holds even more ice than West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula together.”

He added that the sectors losing the most ice mass are adjacent to warm ocean water.

“As climate warming and ozone depletion send more ocean heat toward those sectors, they will continue to contribute to sea level rise from Antarctica in decades to come,” said Rignot, who’s also a senior project scientist at JPL.