By Kaamil Ahmed
Red-faced and with his hair still wet, Hani Abu Amirah's grandson sobbed as he shuffled over to where she sat, looking out on the Mediterranean Sea from Gaza's Shati refugee camp.
The boy's distress stemmed from his decision to go swimming a little earlier that morning, one that incurred his father's wrath when he was yanked out of the water and beaten for disobeying orders to stay away from the sea. A year ago, that childlike act of enjoyment would have gone unnoticed but today 80 percent of Gaza's Mediterranean Sea coastline is thought to be polluted and families who used to rely on it for livelihoods and leisure now fear its waters.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
500 million birds are staying put in parts of Israel that used to serve as a pit stop along their migration route south. Frequent droughts and desertification in Africa have made food scarcer for the birds.
For many people, the holidays are rich with time-honored traditions like decorating the Christmas tree, lighting the menorah, caroling, cookie baking, and sipping from the unity cup. But there's another unofficial, official holiday tradition that spans all ages and beliefs and gives people across the world hope for a better tomorrow: the New Year's resolution.
Benefits of Chamomile Tea<p><strong>Sleep More Soundly</strong></p><p>Pick your grandmother's brain about the best way to fall asleep, and she might tell you to down a nice glass of warm milk. But if you consult with science, research shows that chamomile might be a better option. That's because it contains an antioxidant called apigenin, which can <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia and other sleep problems</a>.</p><p>Two research studies even confirmed the power of chamomile throughout the day and before bed. In one of those studies, postpartum women who drank chamomile for two weeks <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26483209" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">experienced better sleep quality than the control group who didn't</a>. Another research effort measured how fast people could fall asleep. Those results illustrated that participants who consumed 270 milligrams of chamomile extract twice daily for 28 days <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198755/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fell asleep 15 minutes faster than the control</a>. The chamomile group also had considerably fewer sleep disruptions. </p><p><strong>May Be Able to Keep Your Gut Healthy</strong></p><p>Though the following studies used rats as the subjects, research shows that chamomile can potentially play a beneficial role in digestive health. According to that research, the anti-inflammatory properties in <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24463157" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chamomile extract may be able to protect against diarrhea</a>. Additionally, chamomile may be an effective way to <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4177631/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stop the growth of bacteria in our stomachs that contribute to ulcers</a>.</p><p><strong>Reduces Stress and Anxiety</strong></p><p>Few things are more relaxing than curling up with a good cup of tea, so it's logical that chamomile tea can serve a stress reducer. While it lacks the potency of a pharmaceutical drug, long-term use of chamomile has been shown to <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27912875" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">"significantly" reduce general anxiety disorders</a>. In general, chamomile can act almost like a sedative, and many people enjoy the tea because it puts them in a calm and relaxed state almost immediately. </p><p><strong>Boosts Immune Health</strong></p><p>Vitamin C and zinc are common over-the-counter supplements that people often turn to when they're hoping to avoid becoming sick. While scientists admit that more research must take place to prove chamomile's impact on preventing ailments like the common cold, the existing studies do show promise in this area. </p><p>One study had 14 participants drink five cups of the tea every day for two consecutive weeks. Throughout the study, researchers collected daily urine samples and tested the contents before and after the consumption of the tea. Drinking chamomile resulted in a significant increase in the levels of hippurate and glycine, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">both of which are known to increase antibacterial activity</a>. Inhaling steam from a pot of freshly brewed chamomile tea may also ease the symptoms of nasal congestion.</p><p><strong>Minimizes Menstrual Cramps</strong></p><p>This one may come as a surprise, particularly to readers who have tried every possible over-the-counter treatment to reduce period pain. Several research studies have proven that chamomile tea may be able to minimize the pain and cramps that occur during menstruation. Women in that same study also dealt with lower levels of anxiety that they typically felt because of menstrual cramps.</p><p><strong>Help Diabetes and Lower Blood Sugar</strong></p><p>For people with diabetes, regulating blood sugar levels can be a matter of life or death. And while chamomile will never replace prescription-strength drugs, it's believed that it can prevent an increase in blood sugar. A 2008 study on rats showed that chamomile could have a <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf8014365" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">moderate impact on the long-term risk of diabetes</a>.</p><p><strong>Might Improve Your Skin</strong></p><p>Ever wondered why there's been an influx of chamomile-infused cosmetic products? The reason why so many manufacturers now include chamomile in their lotions, soaps, and creams is because it <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5074766/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acts as an anti-inflammatory on our skin</a>. That means it may be able to soothe the puffiness that plagues us as we age. Those same anti-inflammatory properties can be vital in restoring skin health after we've received a sunburn. </p><p>Before discarding your used chamomile tea bags, try chilling them and placing them over your eyes. Not only will this help with the puffiness, but it can drastically light the skin color around the eye.</p><p><strong>Help With Heart Health</strong></p><p>Some of the most beneficial antioxidants we put into our bodies are what are known as flavones, and chamomile tea is chock full of them. Flavones have the potential to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which, when elevated, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4814348/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">can lead to heart disease</a>.</p>
Why Everyone Is Drinking Chamomile Tea<p>Now that you know so much about the wonders of chamomile, it shouldn't come as a surprise why the tea is so popular with people of all ages. In addition to tasting great, chamomile offers up benefits that boost the health of body parts both inside and out. As you ponder your own New Year's resolutions, think about how healthy and natural vitamins, supplements, plants, and oils can help guide you on your own personal path to improvement. Happy New Year!</p>
Construction of the world's tallest solar tower is underway. The 820-foot tower, which stands in the middle of a 121-megawatt concentrated solar complex in Israel's sun-drenched Negev desert, is slated for commercial operation by the end of 2017.
World's Tallest Solar Tower to Supply 120,000 Homes With Renewable Energy https://t.co/5Q7089t8de @SolarPowerWorld @votesolar— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1455836129.0
The Ashalim Solar Thermal Power Station, built and operated by Megalim Solar Power Ltd, consists of more than 50,000 computer-controlled heliostats, or mirrors, that track the sun and reflect its rays onto a boiler on top of the tower. The boiler creates superheated steam that then feeds a steam turbine for power generation.
Like other concentrated solar power (CSP) plants, the beauty of the Ashalim complex is that it's designed to produce energy even when the sun isn't shining.
"Compared to solar photovoltaic (PV) applications, direct steam CSP has the advantage of being able to produce electricity for longer periods of time during the solar hours," General Electric, a Megalim shareholder, explained in a brochure. "The ability to operate during peak demand times reduces the need for utilities to build power plants to operate only during peak times—thereby lowering the overall system's electricity production costs."
The electricity generated at the Ashalim facility will be enough to supply 120,000 homes with clean energy and avoid 110,000 tons of CO2 emissions each year.
The Ashalime solar tower in the Negev desert is surrounded by 50,000 heliostats over 1.22 square mile area. Bright Source
"When operational, the Ashalim Solar Thermal Power Station will help Israel achieve its goal of having 10 percent of its electricity production from renewable energy sources by 2020," the developers tout on its website.
As the Associated Press reported, the solar tower is a symbol of Israel's renewable energy ambitions. Renewable sources currently make up only 2.5 percent of the country's energy mix and the Ashalim plant will help increase Israel's energy security by reducing its dependence on fossil fuel imports from other countries.
The Ashalim plant is made of three plots in the Negev desert. It will expand to a fourth plot by 2018. Once the four plots are online, they are set to generate about 310 megawatts of power. That amount of energy can fulfill 1.6 percent of the country's energy needs, or about 5 percent of Israel's population.
"It's the most significant single building block in Israel's commitment to CO2 reduction and renewable energy," Megalim CEO Eran Gartner told the AP.
Israel's Finance Ministry told the AP that if Ashalim is successful, the government will aim to develop more of these facilities.
As Leehee Goldenberg, director of the department of economy and environment at the Israel Union for Environmental Defense said, "Israel has a potential to be a sunshine superpower."
By Noam Chomsky
What is the future likely to bring? A reasonable stance might be to try to look at the human species from the outside. So, imagine that you’re an extraterrestrial observer who is trying to figure out what’s happening here or, for that matter, imagine you’re an historian 100 years from now—assuming there are any historians 100 years from now, which is not obvious—and you’re looking back at what’s happening today. You’d see something quite remarkable.
For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves. That’s been true since 1945. It’s now being finally recognized that there are more long-term processes like environmental destruction leading in the same direction, maybe not to total destruction, but at least to the destruction of the capacity for a decent existence.
And there are other dangers like pandemics, which have to do with globalization and interaction. So there are processes underway and institutions right in place, like nuclear weapons systems, which could lead to a serious blow to, or maybe the termination of, an organized existence.
How to Destroy a Planet Without Really Trying
The question is: What are people doing about it? None of this is a secret. It’s all perfectly open. In fact, you have to make an effort not to see it.
There have been a range of reactions. There are those who are trying hard to do something about these threats, and others who are acting to escalate them. If you look at who they are, this future historian or extraterrestrial observer would see something strange indeed. Trying to mitigate or overcome these threats are the least developed societies, the indigenous populations, or the remnants of them, tribal societies and first nations in Canada. They’re not talking about nuclear war but environmental disaster, and they’re really trying to do something about it.
In fact, all over the world—Australia, India, South America—there are battles going on, sometimes wars. In India, it’s a major war over direct environmental destruction, with tribal societies trying to resist resource extraction operations that are extremely harmful locally, but also in their general consequences. In societies where indigenous populations have an influence, many are taking a strong stand. The strongest of any country with regard to global warming is in Bolivia, which has an indigenous majority and constitutional requirements that protect the “rights of nature.”
Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous population, is the only oil exporter I know of where the government is seeking aid to help keep that oil in the ground, instead of producing and exporting it—and the ground is where it ought to be.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died recently and was the object of mockery, insult and hatred throughout the Western world, attended a session of the United Nations General Assembly a few years ago where he elicited all sorts of ridicule for calling President George W. Bush a devil. He also gave a speech there that was quite interesting. Of course, Venezuela is a major oil producer. Oil is practically their whole gross domestic product. In that speech, he warned of the dangers of the overuse of fossil fuels and urged producer and consumer countries to get together and try to work out ways to reduce fossil fuel use. That was pretty amazing on the part of an oil producer. You know, he was part Indian, of indigenous background. Unlike the funny things he did, this aspect of his actions at the UN was never even reported.
So, at one extreme you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster. At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the U.S. and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible. Unlike Ecuador, and indigenous societies throughout the world, they want to extract every drop of hydrocarbons from the ground with all possible speed.
Both political parties, President Obama, the media and the international press seem to be looking forward with great enthusiasm to what they call “a century of energy independence” for the U.S. Energy independence is an almost meaningless concept, but put that aside. What they mean is: We’ll have a century in which to maximize the use of fossil fuels and contribute to destroying the world.
And that’s pretty much the case everywhere. Admittedly, when it comes to alternative energy development, Europe is doing something. Meanwhile, the U.S., the richest and most powerful country in world history, is the only nation among perhaps 100 relevant ones that doesn’t have a national policy for restricting the use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t even have renewable energy targets. It’s not because the population doesn’t want it. Americans are pretty close to the international norm in their concern about global warming. It’s institutional structures that block change. Business interests don’t want it and they’re overwhelmingly powerful in determining policy, so you get a big gap between opinion and policy on lots of issues, including this one.
So that’s what the future historian—if there is one—would see. He might also read today’s scientific journals. Just about every one you open has a more dire prediction than the last.
“The Most Dangerous Moment in History”
The other issue is nuclear war. It’s been known for a long time that if there were to be a first strike by a major power, even with no retaliation, it would probably destroy civilization just because of the nuclear-winter consequences that would follow. You can read about it in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It’s well understood. So the danger has always been a lot worse than we thought it was.
We’ve just passed the 50 year anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was called "the most dangerous moment in history" by historian Arthur Schlesinger, President John F. Kennedy’s advisor. Which it was. It was a very close call, and not the only time either. In some ways, however, the worst aspect of these grim events is that the lessons haven’t been learned.
What happened in the missile crisis in October 1962 has been prettified to make it look as if acts of courage and thoughtfulness abounded. The truth is that the whole episode was almost insane. There was a point, as the missile crisis was reaching its peak, when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy offering to settle it by a public announcement of a withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba and U.S. missiles from Turkey. Actually, Kennedy hadn’t even known that the U.S. had missiles in Turkey at the time. They were being withdrawn anyway, because they were being replaced by more lethal Polaris nuclear submarines, which were invulnerable.
So that was the offer. Kennedy and his advisors considered it—and rejected it. At the time, Kennedy himself was estimating the likelihood of nuclear war at a third to a half. So Kennedy was willing to accept a very high risk of massive destruction in order to establish the principle that we—and only we—have the right to offensive missiles beyond our borders, in fact anywhere we like, no matter what the risk to others—and to ourselves, if matters fall out of control. We have that right, but no one else does.
Kennedy did, however, accept a secret agreement to withdraw the missiles the U.S. was already withdrawing, as long as it was never made public. Khrushchev, in other words, had to openly withdraw the Russian missiles while the U.S. secretly withdrew its obsolete ones; that is, Khrushchev had to be humiliated and Kennedy had to maintain his macho image. He’s greatly praised for this: Courage and coolness under threat, and so on. The horror of his decisions is not even mentioned—try to find it on the record.
And to add a little more, a couple of months before the crisis blew up, the U.S. had sent missiles with nuclear warheads to Okinawa, Japan. These were aimed at China during a period of great regional tension.
Well, who cares? We have the right to do anything we want anywhere in the world. That was one grim lesson from that era, but there were others to come.
Ten years after that, in 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called a high-level nuclear alert. It was his way of warning the Russians not to interfere in the ongoing Israel-Arab war and, in particular, not to interfere after he had informed the Israelis that they could violate a ceasefire the U.S. and Russia had just agreed upon. Fortunately, nothing happened.
Ten years later, President Ronald Reagan was in office. Soon after he entered the White House, he and his advisors had the Air Force start penetrating Russian air space to try to elicit information about Russian warning systems, Operation Able Archer. Essentially, these were mock attacks. The Russians were uncertain, some high-level officials fearing that this was a step towards a real first strike. Fortunately, they didn’t react, though it was a close call. And it goes on like that.
What to Make of the Iranian and North Korean Nuclear Crises
At the moment, the nuclear issue is regularly on front pages in the cases of North Korea and Iran. There are ways to deal with these ongoing crises. Maybe they wouldn’t work, but at least you could try. They are, however, not even being considered, not even reported.
Take the case of Iran, which is considered in the West—not in the Arab world, not in Asia—the gravest threat to world peace. It’s a Western obsession, and it’s interesting to look into the reasons for it, but I’ll put that aside here. Is there a way to deal with the supposed gravest threat to world peace? Actually, there are quite a few. One way, a pretty sensible one, was proposed a couple of months ago at a meeting of the non-aligned countries in Tehran. In fact, they were just reiterating a proposal that’s been around for decades, pressed particularly by Egypt, and has been approved by the UN General Assembly.
The proposal is to move toward establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region. That wouldn’t be the answer to everything, but it would be a pretty significant step forward. And there were ways to proceed. Under UN auspices, there was to be an international conference in Finland last December to try to implement plans to move toward this. What happened?
You won’t read about it in the newspapers because it wasn’t reported—only in specialist journals. In early November, Iran agreed to attend the meeting. A couple of days later President Obama cancelled the meeting, saying the time wasn’t right. The European Parliament issued a statement calling for it to continue, as did the Arab states. Nothing resulted. So we’ll move toward ever-harsher sanctions against the Iranian population—it doesn’t hurt the regime—and maybe war. Who knows what will happen?
In Northeast Asia, it’s the same sort of thing. North Korea may be the craziest country in the world. It’s certainly a good competitor for that title. But it does make sense to try to figure out what’s in the minds of people when they’re acting in crazy ways. Why would they behave the way they do? Just imagine ourselves in their situation. Imagine what it meant in the Korean War years of the early 1950s for your country to be totally leveled, everything destroyed by a huge superpower, which furthermore was gloating about what it was doing. Imagine the imprint that would leave behind.
Bear in mind that the North Korean leadership is likely to have read the public military journals of this superpower at that time explaining that, since everything else in North Korea had been destroyed, the Air Force was sent to destroy North Korea’s dams, huge dams that controlled the water supply—a war crime, by the way, for which people were hanged in Nuremberg. And these official journals were talking excitedly about how wonderful it was to see the water pouring down, digging out the valleys, and the Asians scurrying around trying to survive. The journals were exulting in what this meant to those “Asians,” horrors beyond our imagination. It meant the destruction of their rice crop, which in turn meant starvation and death. How magnificent! It’s not in our memory, but it’s in their memory.
Let’s turn to the present. There’s an interesting recent history. In 1993, Israel and North Korea were moving towards an agreement in which North Korea would stop sending any missiles or military technology to the Middle East and Israel would recognize that country. President Clinton intervened and blocked it. Shortly after that, in retaliation, North Korea carried out a minor missile test. The U.S. and North Korea did then reach a framework agreement in 1994 that halted its nuclear work and was more or less honored by both sides. When George W. Bush came into office, North Korea had maybe one nuclear weapon and verifiably wasn’t producing any more.
Bush immediately launched his aggressive militarism, threatening North Korea—“axis of evil” and all that—so North Korea got back to work on its nuclear program. By the time Bush left office, they had eight to 10 nuclear weapons and a missile system, another great neocon achievement. In between, other things happened. In 2005, the U.S. and North Korea actually reached an agreement in which North Korea was to end all nuclear weapons and missile development. In return, the West, but mainly the U.S., was to provide a light-water reactor for its medical needs and end aggressive statements. They would then form a nonaggression pact and move toward accommodation.
It was pretty promising, but almost immediately Bush undermined it. He withdrew the offer of the light-water reactor and initiated programs to compel banks to stop handling any North Korean transactions, even perfectly legal ones. The North Koreans reacted by reviving their nuclear weapons program. And that’s the way it’s been going.
It’s well known. You can read it in straight, mainstream American scholarship. What they say is: It’s a pretty crazy regime, but it’s also following a kind of tit-for-tat policy. You make a hostile gesture and we’ll respond with some crazy gesture of our own. You make an accommodating gesture and we’ll reciprocate in some way.
Lately, for instance, there have been South Korean-U.S. military exercises on the Korean peninsula which, from the North’s point of view, have got to look threatening. We’d think they were threatening if they were going on in Canada and aimed at us. In the course of these, the most advanced bombers in history, Stealth B-2s and B-52s, are carrying out simulated nuclear bombing attacks right on North Korea’s borders.
This surely sets off alarm bells from the past. They remember that past, so they’re reacting in a very aggressive, extreme way. Well, what comes to the West from all this is how crazy and how awful the North Korean leaders are. Yes, they are. But that’s hardly the whole story, and this is the way the world is going.
It’s not that there are no alternatives. The alternatives just aren’t being taken. That’s dangerous. So if you ask what the world is going to look like, it’s not a pretty picture. Unless people do something about it. We always can.
Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.
A broad coalition of Portlanders have resoundingly rejected fluoridation, by at least a 60-40 percent margin. In rejecting fluoridation, Portland voters agreed with the majority of western nations that there are safer, more effective and less intrusive ways to promote oral health than adding a chemical linked to thyroid disease, IQ loss and other ailments to the water supply, reports the Fluoride Action Network (FAN).
“We are proud of our Portland colleagues who used science and integrity to defeat fluoridation,” said Paul Connett, PhD, FAN's executive director.
Portland’s clean water campaign was spearheaded by Clean Water Portland (CWP), a broad coalition formed in August 2012 after a newspaper revealed secret ongoing fluoridation meetings with Portland City Council members that were illegally kept off the record. With virtually no public input, the city council mandated fluoridation for the city on Sept. 12. CWP then led an unprecedented effort that gathered over 40,000 signatures in less than 30 days to halt the mandate and force the referendum vote.
Fluoride chemicals are the only chemicals added to public water for the purpose of medication. Most western countries, including the vast majority of Europe, do not fluoridate their water.
“Most of Portland’s media falsely reported that fluoridation promoters had science on their side and that opponents used emotion,” said Connett. “Those opposed did their homework, relying on recent scientific findings from the National Research Council (NRC) and Harvard that raise serious questions about the safety of current fluoride exposures."
In 2006, the prestigious NRC warned that current fluoride exposures in the U.S. may increase the risk of thyroid disease, endocrine disruption, neurological disorders and bone damage–particularly among people who have medical conditions that increase their vulnerability to fluoride. The NRC called on scientists to investigate fluoride’s role in chronic disease, but government health authorities have opted against funding such research.
Portland’s vote comes just six months after voters in Wichita, KS soundly rejected fluoridation by a 20 percent margin, and follows close on the heels of an announcement this April that Israel will be ending its mandatory fluoridation program. In Ireland, legislation was proposed this spring that would make it a criminal offense to add fluoride to public water supplies, while in Canada, the number of people drinking fluoridated water has dropped by about 25 percent since 2008.
“The twenty-first century does not take well to anachronistic medical practices, and fluoridation is no exception. This is why more than 120 communities have rejected fluoridation over the past three years alone,” said FAN's Campaign Director, Stuart Cooper. "The trend is towards less fluoridation, not more."
In Portland, opposition to fluoridation included the regional Sierra Club, the Portland branch of the NAACP, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality employees union and more than 200 local medical professionals. National leaders also weighed in, including Ralph Nader, Lois Gibbs, John Stauber, Food and Water Watch, Organic Consumers Association and esteemed scientists Dr. Theo Colborn, Dr. William Hirzy and two members of the NRC's review.
The breadth of the coalition was reflected in polling data showing bipartisan opposition to fluoridation among Democrats, Republicans and independents alike, and overwhelming opposition among communities of color.
Voters who rejected fluoridation were concerned by research showing that low-income communities are at highest risk of fluoride’s adverse effects without any benefits. This fact was not lost on Portland’s low-income neighborhoods, which voted overwhelmingly against fluoridation.
Fluoridation proponents had a massive near-million dollar war chest. They used their nearly four to one funding advantage and media clout to flood Portland with misleading ads and editorials touting fluoridation as an urgently needed tool for solving the “dental crisis” in the city’s poor neighborhoods.
But there really wasn’t a dental crisis in Portland as the Oregon Department of Health’s own reports indicate. Fluoridationists tried to hide this inconvenient truth. The most recent Smile Survey shows that Portland children’s decay rates improved since five years ago without fluoridation and, in fact, are better than most fluoridated cites.
Furthermore, analysis of the 2012 Smile Survey showed that non-fluoridated places in Oregon like Portland actually had slightly fewer kids with dental decay than the fluoridated places.
“Fluoridationists had no evidence that any Portland child was fluoride-deficient; but did prove that some Portland children are dentist-deficient. We urge the legalization of Dental Therapists in Oregon who will treat the low-income children who dentists refuse to treat,” said Connett.
Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH page for more related news on this topic.
By J. Matthew Roney
Even amid policy uncertainty in major wind power markets, wind developers still managed to set a new record for installations in 2012, with 44,000 megawatts of new wind capacity worldwide. With total capacity exceeding 280,000 megawatts, wind farms generate carbon-free electricity in more than 80 countries, 24 of which have at least 1,000 megawatts. At the European level of consumption, the world’s operating wind turbines could satisfy the residential electricity needs of 450 million people.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
China installed some 13,000 megawatts of wind in 2012, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). This was a marked slowdown from the previous two years, when new installations averaged 18,000 megawatts annually. Reasons for the drop-off include concerns about project quality and inadequate electricity transmission and grid infrastructure, which prompted the government to approve fewer projects and to restrict lending. Still, all told, China leads the world with 75,000 megawatts of wind capacity: more than a quarter of the world total.
In a country more readily associated with coal-fired electricity and nuclear power ambitions, wind reached some impressive milestones in China’s energy mix in 2012. Wind-generated electricity increased more than coal-fired electricity did for the first time. Even more remarkable, the electricity produced by wind farms over the course of the year exceeded that produced by nuclear power plants. And this is just the beginning: with massive wind projects under development across its northern and eastern provinces, and 19 ultra-high-voltage transmission projects connecting windy rural areas to population centers (all to be completed by 2014), more milestones lie ahead in China. Consulting firms GTM Research and Azure International project that China will reach 140,000 megawatts of wind by 2015 and nearly 250,000 megawatts by 2020.
The U.S. wind industry made headlines too. More new wind electricity generating capacity was added in 2012 than any other generation technology, including natural gas—a record 13,100 megawatts. An incredible 5,200 megawatts, spread among 59 wind farms, came online in December alone as developers raced to qualify for the federal production tax credit before it was set to expire at the end of the year. The U.S. remains second only to China, with 60,000 total megawatts of wind capacity—enough to power more than 14 million U.S. homes.
Several U.S. states have more installed wind capacity than most countries do. The 12,200 megawatts in Texas and the 5,500 megawatts in California, for example, would rank them sixth and eleventh, respectively, on the world wind power list. In Texas, a further 21,000 megawatts of wind projects are under consideration, much of which could be accommodated by the “Competitive Renewable Energy Zones” high-voltage transmission projects scheduled for completion by the end of 2013. These new lines will connect wind-rich West Texas and the panhandle with high-demand markets to the east. (See data).
Wind farms generated at least 10 percent of the electricity produced in nine states in 2012, up from five states the year before. Iowa and South Dakota got nearly a quarter of their electricity from wind. Oregon’s 845-megawatt Shepherd’s Flat wind farm, commissioned in 2012, is North America’s largest. But in Carbon County, Wyoming, a project of up to 3,000 megawatts is under development.
To the north, Canada’s 6,500 megawatts of wind power are sufficient to meet the electricity needs of nearly 2 million households. As Ontario, the country’s most populous province, works to phase out coal-fired power by 2014, its wind generation is growing—in fact, Ontario’s wires carried more electricity from wind than from coal for the first time in 2012.
The European Union (EU) added more megawatts of wind in 2012 than it did natural gas, coal, or nuclear, even as fiscal austerity measures cut renewable energy incentives. Several EU member states lead the world in the share of electricity they get from wind farms. Spain and Portugal typically have a 16 percent wind share. In Germany, whose 30,000 megawatts of wind capacity are the third highest in the world, the national wind share is 11 percent. Four of Germany’s northern states now get roughly half of their electricity from wind.
But it is Denmark that sets the bar for wind’s role in electricity production. The Danish Wind Industry Association reports that wind farms generated 30 percent of Denmark’s electricity in 2012, up from 28 percent in 2011. The government pledged in late 2011 to boost this share to 50 percent by 2020.
Looking eastward, Romania and Poland each added roughly 900 megawatts of wind in 2012, reaching 2,500 and 1,900 megawatts, respectively. Turkey’s goal is to reach 20,000 megawatts of wind in the next 10 years, nearly 10 times its current capacity.
Aside from China, India is the other big Asian wind market. With more than 18,000 megawatts installed, India ranks fifth worldwide in wind capacity. The government plans to spend roughly $8 billion on grid and transmission upgrades by 2017 through its “green energy corridors” plan. This is sorely needed in a country where nearly 300 million people do not have access to electricity.
Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Oceania have enormous wind potential but little actual development thus far. Activity in each of these regions, however, indicates seriousness about harnessing the wind. In Latin America, Mexico more than doubled its wind capacity to almost 1,400 megawatts in 2012. Brazil, where wind installations grew 75 percent in 2012, could add another 1,500 megawatts in 2013 to reach 4,000 megawatts total.
Just 100 megawatts of wind were installed in all of Africa in 2012, split between Ethiopia and Tunisia. Kenya’s long-awaited 310-megawatt Lake Turkana wind farm, which could generate more than 10 percent of national electricity, has suffered multiple setbacks but may begin construction in 2013. No new wind projects came online in the Middle East. Jordan is looking to grow its currently negligible wind power to 1,200 megawatts by 2020, however, and plans are also under way in Israel and Saudi Arabia.
In Australia, the goal is to get 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Half of the country’s current 2,600 megawatts of wind is in the state of South Australia, where wind farms generated 24 percent of all electricity in 2012. The January 2013 commissioning of the 420-megawatt Macarthur wind farm in the state of Victoria gets the country halfway to its expected 30 percent wind growth for the year.
Most of the world’s installed wind capacity is land-based; just 2 percent—roughly 5,400 megawatts—has been built offshore. Recently, however, offshore development has accelerated, more than tripling over the last five years. Ten of the 12 countries with offshore wind farms are European. The United Kingdom hosts more than half of the world’s offshore capacity and aims for 18,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2020; its offshore wind resources are actually estimated to be 16 times larger than its electricity consumption. In Denmark, some 15 percent of electricity is expected to come from offshore wind farms by 2014.
China and Japan are the only offshore wind producers outside of Europe, hosting 390 megawatts and 25 megawatts, respectively. With 130 megawatts installed in 2012 alone, China has quickly amassed the world’s third largest offshore capacity figure; the country’s near-term offshore targets are 5,000 megawatts by 2015 and 30,000 by 2020. In the wake of the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan is looking to harness more of its offshore wind, a resource plentiful enough to meet national electricity needs nearly three times over. And in South Korea, numerous offshore projects are under way, as the country’s wind industry aims to reach 23,000 megawatts of wind power by 2030.
According to Navigant Research, new wind installations worldwide will fall to some 40,000 megawatts in 2013. This would be the first instance in at least 17 years when annual additions did not increase year-to-year. Much of this deceleration will likely be the result of a slowdown in U.S. development. Still, the annual market is expected to rebound in 2014 as costs continue to fall, as major players recover, and as newcomers in Africa, the Middle East and the Baltic region begin to realize their wind ambitions. GWEC and Greenpeace International project at least 425,000 megawatts of wind capacity worldwide by 2015—enough to generate electricity for all of Central and South America. The world is starting to realize that wind’s potential is almost without limit.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.