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Solar Is the Fastest-Growing Source of Renewable Energy in America

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Solar Is the Fastest-Growing Source of Renewable Energy in America

From the end of 2004 through the end of 2014, the deployment of solar energy in the U.S. grew at an unprecedented rate, according to a new video report, Solar Energy in the United States: A Decade of Record Growth, released yesterday by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

According to a detailed SEIA analysis, in 2004, there were 500 megawatts (MW) of solar energy installed nationwide. But by the end of 2014, there were 20,000 MW—enough to power more than 4 million homes—with 97 percent of that capacity added after passage of the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC). Over the same time period, the cumulative investment in installed solar installations in the U.S. soared from $2.6 billion to $71.1 billion.

And from an environmental perspective, by 2016, solar is expected to offset more than 45 million metric tons of damaging carbon emissions—the equivalent of removing 10 million cars off U.S. roads and highways, or shuttering 12 coal-fired plants.

Our new video report is not only filled with important information like this, but it tells solar energy’s tremendous success story in a fun and visually-interesting way. For example, did you know that in 2004 only two states had 10 MW of installed solar capacity, yet a decade later, 35 states had topped that threshold—and 20 states had more than 100 MW? But here’s the best news: we expect to double our total capacity in the next two years alone.

Here are some other key takeaways from SEIA’s analysis:

  • In 2004, approximately 15,500 homes had solar photovoltaic (PV) installations across the U.S. Through the end of 2014, that number had grown to 600,000.

  • From 2004 to 2014, the number of utility-scale solar projects in the U.S.—both PV and concentrated solar power (CSP)—increased by more than 10-fold, growing from 100 projects to nearly 1,100 projects spread across 30 states.

  • From 2004 to 2014, the amount of installed utility-scale solar capacity in the U.S. increased by more than 30 times, from 365 MW to 11,440 MW.

  • In 2004, the U.S. had 58 MW of total solar capacity.  In 2014, 14 states installed that much solar or more, with a record total 7,000 MW coming online nationwide.

  • Over the 10-year period studied, the average price of an installed residential PV system dropped by more than 60 percent, and utility-scale prices plummeted by more than 73 percent.

  • In 2014, for the first time in history, each of the three major U.S. market segments—utility-scale, commercial and residential—all installed more than 1 gigawatt (GW) of solar PV.

Most importantly, the tremendous growth of solar energy in the U.S. has translated into tens of thousands of new jobs. In 2004, there were less than 20,000 people at work in the U.S. solar industry. Through 2014, that number had soared to 174,000—with new jobs being added every day. Without question, effective, forward-looking public policies, like the solar ITC, Net Energy Metering (NEM) and Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), are helping to drive solar energy’s remarkable growth. Because of these polices, we should be generating enough clean electricity to power more than 8 million American homes by the end of 2016, benefitting both our economy and environment, while providing homeowners, businesses, schools, nonprofits and government officials at all levels with real choices in how they meet their electricity needs in the future.

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

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.

Hoy agreed.

"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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