Wind and Solar Power Will Soon Be Cheaper Than Coal Globally, New Research Shows
A new report shows that investments in coal plants may be a waste of money as renewables are cheaper than new coal plants, according to new research from the financial think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative.
The new research, released today, shows that nearly $640 billion of investment in coal power capacity worldwide is at risk because it is less expensive to generate electricity from wind and solar power, as Reuters reported.
The report also found that more than 60 percent of global coal power plants are generating electricity at a higher cost than it could be produced by building new renewables. The researchers found that by 2030, at the latest, it will be cheaper to build new wind or solar capacity than continue operating with coal, according to a statement from the Carbon Tracker Initiative.
Right now, in all major markets, including the U.S., Europe, China, India and Australia it is cheaper to invest in renewables, according to The Independent. The report casts doubt on the future of the many countries who have investments in coal, including Australia's $26 billion thermal coal export industry, as The Guardian reported.
The authors of the report suggested the report should be a signal to policy makers to shift their priorities toward investments in renewables.
"Renewables are outcompeting coal around the world and proposed coal investments risk becoming stranded assets which could lock in high-cost coal power for decades," Matt Gray, Carbon Tracker co-head of power and utilities and co-author of the report, said in a statement. "The market is driving the low-carbon energy transition but governments aren't listening. It makes economic sense for governments to cancel new coal projects immediately and progressively phase out existing plants."
Despite the economic reality and the environmental impact of coal, many governments around the world are artificially propping up coal power with incentives and underwriting new plants. Governments are either giving subsidies to the industry or passing the cost down to consumers, as The Guardian reported.
The report found that a country like Japan, which invests heavily in coal power, is wasting its money. As The Guardian reported, in Japan, wind power costs less than new coal plants and is expected to be cheaper than existing coal by 2028. Solar power in Japan is forecast to outperform new coal plants by 2023 and existing coal by 2026.
The story was the same for China, which relies on a tremendous amount of coal power, and for South Korea. The report found that wind power is already cheaper than coal in China, and solar power will be cheaper by the end of this year. In South Korea, renewables will be cheaper than coal in two years, according to The Guardian.
Institutional investors have started to run away from coal since it is not returning the profits it once did. Furthermore, the capital recovery period for new investments in coal plants is usually 15 to 20 years, making it a risky investment when cleaner, cheaper and more efficient power generation is starting to flood the market, as Reuters reported.
Reuters also noted that ditching coal is a mandatory step to putting a stop to global heating. According to a major UN report in 2018, the share of coal power in electricity generation needs to fall to under 2 percent by 2050 for global warming to stay within a 1.5 degree Celsius limit.
The new report echoed the UN's findings, noting that keeping global warming within a 1.5 degree Celsius limit, to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, means coal use to generate electricity will have to fall by 80 percent from 2010 to 2030 around the world. Essentially, one coal plant has to shut down every day until 2040, the report said, as The Independent reported.
The Carbon Tracker report found that if the coal market were deregulated, market forces would drive it out of existence, as renewable energy developers would capitalize on the growing price gap.
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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