Good news on renewable energy

RealClimate, my favourite way of keeping up with climate science, runs a monthly ‘open thread’ to which anyone is welcome to contribute a question or interesting bit of news. Two submissions which attracted my attention this month were about the development of renewable energy.

The first referred readers to BP’s annual Statistical Review of World Energy – still respected in spite of the company’s Gulf of Mexico disaster. Its section on renewables notes that:

  • Renewable power consumption grew by 15.5% in 2010, the fastest rate of expansion since 1990. While the share of renewable power in global energy consumption is still only 1.3% (up from 0.6% in 2000), renewable power now contributes a significant share of primary energy consumption in some individual countries. Eight nations have a renewables share of more than 5%, led by Denmark with 13.1%.
  • Solar power generating capacity grew by 73% in 2010, picking up the pace again after a brief slowdown in 2009. Total capacity grew by 16.7 GW to reach 40 GW, more than double the 2008 level. That is still only around 0.1% of total electricity generation but the rate of growth, which has averaged 39% pa over the past 10 years, suggests rapid changes in that figure.
  • Wind power generating capacity grew by 24.6% in 2010, with capacity increasing by a record 39.4 GW. The trend rate of capacity growth over the past 10 years is 27% pa, which implies a doubling of capacity every three years, and the fastest growth is occurring in China and India.

The second drew attention to a post on the highly-regarded ClimateProgress blog, ‘Ferocious Cost Reductions’ Make Solar PV Competitive. Exerpts:

There’s a joke in the solar industry about when “grid parity” – the time when solar becomes as cheap as fossil sources – will happen.

…The truth is, it will happen in phases – one market and one technology at a time. But according to two top solar executives – Tom Dinwoodie, CTO of SunPower and Dan Shugar, formerly of SunPower and current CEO of Solaria – “ferocious cost reductions,” are accelerating that crossover in a variety of markets today.

…Manufacturing costs have come down steadily, from $60 a watt in the mid-1970’s to $1.50 today. People often point to a “Moore’s Law” in solar – meaning that for every cumulative doubling of manufacturing capacity, costs fall 20%. In solar PV manufacturing, costs have fallen about 18% for every doubling of production. “It holds up very closely,” says Solaria’s Shugar.

…As SunPower’s Dinwoodie puts it: The 17 GW installed in 2010 is the equivalent of 17 nuclear power plants – manufactured, shipped and installed in one year. It can take decades just to install a nuclear plant. Think about that. I heard Bill Gates recently call solar “cute.” Well, that’s 17 GW of “cute” adding up at an astonishing pace.

…Here’s another important statistic: When SunPower built the 14-MW Nellis Air Force Base system in 2007, it cost $7 per watt. Today, commercial and utility systems are getting installed at around $3 per watt. In 2010 alone, the average installed cost of installing solar PV dropped 20%.

…So what does all this mean? It means that the notion that “solar is too expensive” doesn’t hold up anymore. When financing providers can offer a home or business owner solar electricity for less than the cost of their current services; when utilities start investing in solar themselves to reduce operating costs; and when the technology starts moving into the range of new nuclear and new coal, it’s impossible to ignore.

According to SunPower’s Tom Dinwoodie: “The cross-over has occurred.”

That is all talking about the USA, of course, but much of it applies here as well. And it is all good news.

A lucky escape

One of the great things about watching the wildlife in your own back yard is that you can observe individual creatures from one day (or month) to another. Wandering past my tough little spider’s web yesterday I saw that it had caught a little orange wasp.

Orange wasp caught in spider's web
Oops! This could be serious!

But had it?

No. As I watched (and took photos, of course), the wasp struggled free and flew up to a leaf above the web.

Orange wasp on macadamia leaf
Phew! That was close!

A tough little spider

Brown spider on dead leaf
Basket-web spider, probably Cyrtophora exanthematica, on a macadamia leaf

I took this photo just a couple of days before cyclone Yasi arrived and made a real mess of much of north Queensland, including our garden. It shows a small brown spider nestled comfortably inside a dead Macadamia leaf, which in turn is suspended inside the spider’s loosely-woven basket-shaped web. Some people call it a ‘Double Tailed Tent Spider’, ‘double-tailed’ for the two rounded points of its abdomen and ‘tent’ for its web, but that just goes to show the inconsistency of common names.

Anyway, cyclone Yasi came and went, and I had more important things on my mind for a while than spiders. When I did start to take an interest again, the web was either still there or had been replaced in exactly the same spot, so I assume it’s the same individual spider.

She is still there now. Here is yesterday’s photo of her – standing in the middle of her web on the remains of one of her captures, a sap-sucking bug, Poecilometis sp.

Spider and prey amongst dead leaves
Living the good life, Cyrtophora style

Afterword, 7.7.11:
Checking on the web last week I saw that it had fallen into disrepair. It was even more dilapidated early this week and I decided that its inhabitant was no longer with us. Today brought confirmation, in the form of a new Paper-wasp nest amongst the web’s remnants:

Paper wasp nest in macadamia foliage
Paper-wasp nest in macadamia foliage

The very red dragonfly

After my Morning on Mount Stuart I arrived in town at morning tea time. It was too nice a day to sit indoors without good reason and I still had some coffee and fruit with me so I stopped off in the parkland beside Ross River, looking back up to Mt Stuart (the lookout mentioned in my previous post is at the foot of the radio towers).

View of Mt Stuart from Ross River parkland
View of Mt Stuart from Ross River parkland

The insects were enjoying the sunshine as much as I was: innumerable tiny grass moths, so many that a dozen would fly up at every footstep; a couple of larger moths, Utetheisa and Nyctemera; half a dozen species of butterfly, including the Bush Brown and Eurema I had seen on top of the mountain; a couple of kinds of spider; a native bee, Amegilla sp., with its distinctive blue tail; green ants (I felt them before I saw them!); and several dragonflies.

One of the dragonflies was the reddest possible – bright red abdomen, thorax, face, eyes, and even some of the veins in its wings. Another, about the same size, was a dull orange-tan. When I got home I discovered that it was the female of the same species (the fine dark line down the abdomen, with wider blotches, was the confirmation). Here they are, then – the Scarlet Percher Dragonfly, Diplacodes haematodes, male and female. As usual, clicking on the pictures will take you to a larger image.

Bright red dragonfly, Scarlet percher male, on dry grass
Scarlet percher male
Scarlet percher dragonfly, female, on dry grass
Scarlet percher female