Anyone watching the solar market has seen an amazing increase in solar photovoltaics (PV) sales over the past nine years, and GTM Research reports that the industry is still growing during the first quarter of 2017. In just under a decade, the solar market has experienced a 30-fold increase, and 2016 alone saw a notable surge in annual global PV demand in excess of 50 percent over the previous year.
At one point in March, the share of California’s power demand going to solar actually topped 50 percent for the first time. This was no fluke. For a few hours just last week, 40 percent of the state’s power demand was filled by utility-scale solar generation, according the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
This doesn’t account for the fact that some homes and businesses use rooftop PV to generate power — about “4 million kilowatthours (kWh) during the peak solar hours,” the IEA calculates, “suggesting that the total solar share of gross demand probably exceeded 50 percent during the mid-day hours.”
It was the hottest year on record in 2014…and then again in 2015…and that’s right, you guessed it, again in 2016. For the third consecutive year, it was the hottest year in all of recorded history. Now, don’t dwell on these past years for too long because, as you might be disappointingly anticipating, 2017 is promising to be even warmer.
The record temperatures of last year didn’t just cause some of us to sweat a little bit more, they actually led to the severe wildfires that ran rampant in Alberta, Canada. These wildfires cost insurers $3.58 billion and came as a result of the combination of both record dryness and temperatures.
There have also been major heat waves in the Arctic, contributing to rapidly rising sea levels and the destruction of Arctic wildlife. Climate change, which has led to these environmental and temperature changes, has also caused the continued bleaching of the coral reefs. In fact, as of recently, scientists have listed the reefs as “terminal,” with many portions well beyond repair.
In Haiti, people are experiencing first hand the deadly toll that climate change can take. Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc throughout the country, and its citizens are still picking up the pieces. These consistently warming temperatures are not going to wait fifty, twenty, or even five years to take effect. As the Earth warms and sea levels rise, we will quickly see more and more of the effects of climate change.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that last year, temperatures increased to 1.1°C above what was recorded in the pre-industrial era. Global temperatures increased consistently and drastically. Now, many people see 1.1°C and it’s difficult to see why this temperature variation would cause such mass mayhem.
To put things in perspective, during the last Ice Age, global average temperatures were only approximately 5°C different from what they are today. So, when looking strictly at the numbers, it can seem like these increasing temperatures aren’t that big of a deal, or at least they’re a problem for the future. But, when we look at the past and see what can happen when global average temperatures are altered even slightly, we can see just how serious climate change is.
As Canada repairs the damages of the wildfires and Haiti mends the wounds of Hurricane Matthew, we need to take the threat of climate change more seriously. According to WMO spokesperson Claire Nullis in an interview with CBC, “We need to bear in mind that the [UN’s] Paris climate change agreement commits us to keeping temperatures well below two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era. We are already halfway there and this is indeed very worrying.”
It is essential that renewable energy resources start to be used more instead of fossil fuels. And, through education and research, we can innovate and continue to create new and better ways to power our lives that don’t put the planet in danger. It is our planet to enjoy, and our planet to protect.
The Tesla Gigafactory produces lithium ion batteries, supporting the Tesla vehicles and providing low-cost batteries using alternative energy sources. And, in a recent video, CEO and founder Elon Musk was actually quoted as saying:
“We actually did the calculations to figure out what it would take to transition the whole world to sustainable energy. You’d need 100 Gigafactories.”
Leonardo DiCaprio met with Musk at the Gigafactory this past year to discuss renewable resources and the future of energy as it relates to climate change. Leo is no stranger to discussions about alternative energy and climate change. In fact, he recently used his first Oscar acceptance speech as an opportunity to discuss the grave realities of our changing climate and warming planet.
One main goal of the Gigafactory is to reach and maintain net zero energy. A leader in advancement and innovation, they claim that “By 2018, the Gigafactory will reach full capacity and produce more lithium ion batteries annually than were produced worldwide in 2013.” The Gigafactory also aims to continue to drive down the price of these batteries, financially incentivizing the use of alternative energy sources.
As Leo enters the factory, he is struck by the sleek efficiency, exclaiming, “Holy crap, that’s a good robot.” He and Musk continue on, with Musk emphasizing that “the sooner we can take action, the less harm will result,” in regards to man-made climate change.
As put simply by Musk in the video, “the sun doesn’t shine all the time, so you’ve got to store it in a battery.” And, if we are able to shift more completely towards alternative and renewable energy sources, Musk claims that, “you could avoid building electricity plants at all.”
When some people think about alternative energy, they think of outdated, bulky solar panels that lack efficiency and are a massive financial drain. However, alternative energy technology is far beyond that. As the realities of climate change set in, it is becoming more and more obvious that we cannot wait. We cannot go another ten years using fossil fuels at the rate that we currently do and not experience the effects.
Solar cells are more efficient than ever. In fact, inspired by photosynthesis, researchers recently combined the principles of quantum physics and biology to drastically improve current solar capabilities. Solar cells are no longer even necessary to capture solar energy, as scientists have created a synthetic leaf that does just that, while converting carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.
There is no question: alternative energy is the future. We will not progress without it, and, as recent advancements have shown, it is becoming a more possible and powerful option with each passing day. If Musk is right, and these low-cost, green batteries could help to support a future where alternative energy is the majority, then his Gigafactory could be one of many steps in the right direction.
President Trump, congressional Republicans, and most American farmers share common positions on climate change: they question the science showing human activity is altering the global climate and are skeptical of using public policy to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
But farmers are in a unique position to tackle climate change. We have the political power, economic incentive, and policy tools to do so. What we don’t yet have is the political will.
As a fifth-generation Iowa farmer and the resilient agriculture coordinator at the Drake University Agricultural Law Center, I deal with both the challenges and opportunities of climate change. I also see a need for the agriculture community to make tough choices about its policy priorities in the face of dramatic political shifts in Washington.
Pundits, agriculture groups, and President Trump have identified farmers as a key demographic in the Republican victory. How we leverage this influence remains to be seen. Trade and immigration policy and the president’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal are already creating disagreements between farmers and the Trump administration. We will need to be strategic in using our political power to shape agriculture policy.
Prior to 2009, thousands of farmers across the United States participated in two large-scale projects designed to maintain or increase carbon storage on farmlands: the National Farmers Union Carbon Credit Program and the Iowa Farm Bureau AgraGate program. These programs paid farmers for limiting the number of acres they tilled and for maintaining or establishing grasslands. Payments came through the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), a voluntary market in which businesses could buy and sell carbon credits.
But after Barack Obama became president in 2009, farmers overwhelmingly joined the opposition to climate change action. As agriculture journalist Chris Clayton documents in his 2015 book The Elephant in the Cornfield, farmers viewed Obama’s climate strategy — especially the push for cap-and-trade legislation in 2009-2010 — as regulatory overreach by a Democratic Congress and president.
For example, after the Environmental Protection Agency briefly mentioned livestock in a 2008 report on regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, farmers and agriculture trade groups erupted in outrage at the prospect of a “cow tax” on methane releases from both ends of the animal. When Congress failed to enact the cap-and-trade bill in 2010, the CCX went out of business.
The election of President Trump and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress eliminates the regulatory “bogeyman” that many farmers organized to reject in 2009. In our opposition, farmers rejected an opportunity to be paid for providing environmental services. Forgoing new sources of income might have made economic sense during the historic commodity boom between 2009 and 2013, but it no longer does.
Recently the farm economy has soured. After several years of historic profitability, 2017 looks to be the fourth straight year of declining income. American farmers face forecasts of stagnant to declining revenues.
Farmers may now be willing to consider new ways of generating income by adopting environmentally friendly practices, such as planting cover crops, extending crop rotations or eliminating tillage. Many farmers are already using these practices on a small scale. To combat climate change, we need to apply them on nearly all of our acres. And we need to develop new environmentally friendly practices.
Farmers are motivated by economic incentives to implement environmental practices. As an example, they recently enrolled nearly 400,000 acres in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program CP-42 which pays farmers to take land out of production and establish habitat for pollinators. Ironically, today we may need to embrace a source of revenue that just eight years ago seemed to many like regulatory overreach.
Opportunities under the Paris Agreement
The world came together in December 2015 to complete the Paris Agreement, which signals a major advance in global commitments to address climate change. All participating countries commit to lowering their greenhouse gas emissions. A number of American businesses have started to support putting a price on carbon.
Agriculture was noticeably absent from global climate discussions, but farmers could profit from policies that monetize carbon and create new markets for carbon emission allowances. At the Paris conference, the French government introduced the 4 per 1000 Initiative, which challenges farmers to increase the carbon in their soils. Other national governments, universities and agricultural organizations have joined this effort to advance agriculture that captures and stores carbon.
Now American farmers face a choice. Do we want to explore ways of providing environmental services to fight climate change? Or will we sit back and allow farmers in other parts of the world to develop these agricultural solutions? California is already showing the way by inviting farmers to participate in public-private efforts to address climate change.
Leveraging the 2018 Farm Bill
The Trump administration rejects policy efforts to protect the climate and indicates the United States may pull out of the Paris Agreement. Therefore, farmers will need to flex our political muscle to support climate solutions. Fortunately, we have powerful policy tools at our disposal.
Agriculture organizations and lawmakers are developing the 2018 farm bill, which will guide U.S. agriculture policy for several years, likely through 2022. Forward-thinking farmers can use this legislation to develop programs to pay for climate-friendly environmental services without radically changing the way we farm. Relatively small innovations can deliver payments for environmental services, which initially would be supported by American taxpayers but later could be funded by carbon markets.
For example, conservation programs currently target soil erosion. Policymakers would need to add rewards for reducing emissions and sequestering carbon. As a starting point, the next farm bill can identify practices that produce these outcomes and incorporate them into existing programs. The bill could also develop new programs to accelerate farmer innovation.
Farmers have a history of working together. Federal programs supporting ethanol and biodiesel production and wind turbines on farmlands all came about because farmers advanced public policies to support these products before clear market demand existed. In the same way, we can use the farm bill to increase farm income by monetizing the public benefits of climate services.
How farmers can lead
When the CCX collapsed in 2010, farm groups had already lost money trying to develop a program before there was enough public support to sustain it. We learned that it requires both government action and business leadership to successfully reward farmers for environmental services.
By advancing payments for climate services in the next farm bill, we can make our farms more resilient and align American agriculture with global business interests. If history is a good predictor of our future, no one is going to do this for farmers. We will have to do it for ourselves.
Working to find a solution to these problems, researchers have developed a sunlight-powered device that can extract water from even the driest desert skies, in the hope that the technology may one day supply even the poorest, driest areas of the world with clean drinking water. The basis for the device is a type of novel, porous material called metal-organic frameworks that pulls large amounts of water into its pores. The research, published in Science, shows that a kilogram of the material can trap several liters of water per day, even in the standard 20 percent humidity levels of arid regions.
The chemical character and size of the material’s pores can be altered to either allow the flow or capture of different kinds of molecules. The material is able to bond with huge quantities of particles thanks to its massive surface area, which is equivalent to about a football field per gram. The process is entirely passive and does not require additional energy or materials. Unlike other water-harvesting technologies, it can operate in arid conditions. It’s similar to a humidifier, but does not need an initial supply of water in order to operate.
The material needs more refinement, but Evelyn Wang, head of MIT’s device research laboratory, told MIT Technology Review that a viable product is “not that far away.” Similar materials are already being affordably mass-produced by the German chemical company BASF. Hopefully, this device will be able to provide a stable source of clean water to millions.
Word just came straight from Elon Musk himself: Tesla will unveil the production version of the Model 3 in July.
It will be the third and final part of the unveiling for the highly anticipated mass market Tesla vehicle, and this is the first time the Tesla CEO has announced a definitive month for its arrival. His announcement came as a reply to an inquiry made on Twitter.
Demand for Tesla’s mass market model has been unprecedented. The Model 3 is priced at $35,000 before tax incentives and will have a range of at least 346 kilometers (215 miles) per charge. Right now, around 400,000 people have signed up for pre-order, prompting Tesla to set ambitious production targets.
According to the company, they are planning to produce 500,000 cars annually by 2018 and reach one million by 2020. To date, Tesla has only been able to produce 76,000 vehicles since 2016. But given that the Model 3 is actually easier to produce than any of their higher-end models, it shouldn’t be too difficult for Tesla to achieve this objective.
The Model 3’s arrival in the market will also be a milestone in the mass adoption of autonomouselectric vehicles. Once they’re fully integrated into our society, electric self-driving cars will not only help Musk in his pursuit of a fully sustainable world, but also significantly improve road safety.
Lucid Motors just unveiled its luxury Lucid Air and an Alpha Speed Car prototype during the annual New York International Auto Show. Now, the California-based luxury automaker has shared a video of the vehicle’s first high-speed stability test.
During the test at the Transportation Research Center test track in Ohio, the all-electric Alpha Speed Car clocked a speed of 350 kmh (217 mph). That’s the same as a Ferrari LaFerrari.
These tests are relevant to the engineering process of the vehicle as they will allow the team to combine computer simulation models with real-world data to improve performance. According to Lucid Motors’ website:
The test, software-limited to 217 mph (350 km/h), was successful in demonstrating the capabilities of the car and in finding areas for improvement that could not be properly evaluated in static bench tests […] The collected data will now be used to finesse thermal and aero computer simulations and to make further performance improvements that will be tested later this year at higher speeds.
The company assures potential drivers, however, that the Air is more than just fast: “High-speed capability does not compromise our mission to develop a highly efficient vehicle. On the contrary, the focus on maximizing range provides the high power and aerodynamic efficiency that enables higher speeds.”
The Lucid Air is scheduled for production in 2019 and is largely considered a strong competitor for Tesla’s Model S. Priced at $52,500, the vehicle is expected to come equipped with autonomous-ready hardware. It will have a 400-mile range, a 1,000-horsepower engine, and a strong focus on passenger comfort and luxury.
Rise of Electric Vehicles
The diversity of electric vehicles (EV) coming onto the market demonstrates the increased demand for electric alternatives to traditional high-performance transport.
If we really want to reduce carbon emissions, ending our reliance on traditional forms of transportation is one way to do it, so the arrival of numerous EV options is certainly welcome. In addition, many of these cars are being built with advanced autonomous capabilities, which could mean that traffic jams, a perennial problem in urban areas, will be considerably reduced.
Furthermore, the government’s support for self-driving technology is drawn from its potential to help address common pedestrian and road safety issues. Given that most traffic-related accidents and fatalities are caused by human error, the rise of autonomous vehicles on the road would ultimately save lives.