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Renewables Beat Coal, Oil and Nukes by 35 Times in New Energy Capacity

Energy

Renewable energy may currently make up only a small percentage of U.S. energy generation capacity, but it's one of the fastest growing sectors.

Renewable energy generation—primarily wind and solar power—provided more than 40 percent of the new energy capacity in the U.S. in the first three quarters of this year, according to the latest U.S. Federation Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) Energy Infrastructure Update. Oil, nuclear and especially coal provided little new capacity, with renewables outstripping them more than 35 times. Only natural gas, driven by the growth of fracking, showed more growth, and many industry observers think its growth potential is finite.

Renewables are making up a larger and larger percentage of the new energy capacity in the U.S.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

The new installed capacity of natural gas declined compared to the first three quarters of 2013, from 6,643 megawatt (MW) to 5,153. Wind was the big winner, upping its installed capacity from 965 MW to 1,614 in that period. In September, new wind capacity led the way with 367 MW, followed by natural gas with 114. Coal showed no increase in existing capacity so far this year. Overall, new capacity from all forms of energy declined from 11,452 in the first three quarters of last year to 8,860 this year.

Among FERC's project updates is that Kern County, California's Techachapi Wind Energy Storage project is now up and running. The South California Edison Project, FERC says, "consists of an 8 MW-four-hour (32 MWh) lithium-ion battery and a smart inverter system, [and] will help store energy from the existing 5,000 wind turbines and any future additions in the Techachapi Wind Resource Area. Housed inside a 6,300 square foot facility, it is the largest battery energy storage in North America." Such projects bode well for the continued growth of wind power.

Natural gas still leads overall energy generation capacity in the U.S. by a long shot. It currently provides more than 42 percent of the total. But fracked natural gas and oil production is expected to fall off sharply, as extraction companies hit the most productive "sweet spots" first and then move on to areas with less accessible oil and gas that's more expensive to reach.

Despite its precipitous decline, coal hangs onto the second place spot for now, generating more than 28 percent of U.S. installed capacity. Nuclear comes in next with 9.3 percent, followed by water at 8.4 percent and wind at 5.3 percent. All other forms of energy generation capacity are far behind. Solar currently provides less than one percent. But PV Magazine, which serves the photovoltaic industry, points out that FERC's figures only include utility-scale solar, leaving out residential and business installations, which it says are among the fastest growing sources of renewable energy.

"The steady and rapid growth of renewable energy is unlikely to abate as prices continue to drop and the technologies continue to improve," said Ken Bossong, executive director of  the nonprofit research group the SUN DAY Campaign. "The era of coal, oil and nuclear is drawing to a close; the age of renewable energy is now upon us."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.