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Bernard McNamee is the Trump administration's pick to fill Robert Powelson's recently vacated seat on FERC. Screenshot / Sen. Martin Heinrich

By Kim Smaczniak

Most Americans probably don't know that an independent—and up to now nonpartisan—government agency has played a key role in our nation's transition to cleaner energy technologies. Under the radar and hidden beneath a layer of technical jargon, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has shepherded changes to electricity market rules that have gradually allowed the superior economics of clean energy technologies to out-compete clunky, old fossil fueled power plants. And it has done this for decades, under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

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Denver will get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Robert Kash / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Denver became the 73rd city in the U.S. to commit to 100 percent renewable energy when Mayor Michael Hancock announced the goal in his State of the City speech Monday, The Denver Post reported.

The commitment is part of the city's larger 80×50 Climate Action Plan unveiled by Hancock Tuesday, which seeks to reduce Denver's greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2050.

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A revolutionary battery has been successfully installed at the Hywind Scotland, the world's first floating offshore wind farm located about 15 miles off the Aberdeenshire coast.

With the 1.2-megawatt storage system known as "Batwind" in operation, it will be possible for the first time to store energy produced from an offshore wind farm, developers Masdar and Equinor touted in a press release Wednesday.

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Solar farm at the Topaz Solar Farm in California. Photo credit: Sarah Swenty / USFWS

Renewable energy has reached an important milestone. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has determined that in many parts of the world, solar energy is now the same price or even cheaper than fossil fuels for the first time.

In a handbook released this month, the WEF observed how the price of renewable technologies, particularly solar, has declined to unprecedented lows.

While the average global LCOE [levelized cost of electricity] for coal and natural gas is around $100 per megawatt-hour, the price for solar has plummeted from $600 a decade ago to $300 only five years later, and now close to or below $100 for utility-scale photovoltaic. For wind, the LCOE is around $50.

According to the WEF, more than 30 countries have already reached grid parity—even without subsidies. ("Grid parity" is the point when an alternative energy source, say solar, can generate power at a LCOE that's equal or even less than the price of traditional grid power.)

"It is relevant to note that the mentioned evolution, market share gain and continued potential for renewable energy do not hinge on a subsidy advantage," the report added. "In fact, according to [International Energy Agency], fossil-fuel consumption has received $493 billion in subsidies in 2014, more than four times the value of subsidies to renewable energy."

The WEF highlighted how the unsubsidized LCOE for utility-scale solar photovoltaic—which was not competitive even five years ago—has declined at a 20 percent compounded annual rate, "making it not only viable but also more attractive than coal in a wide range of countries."

Countries that have already reached grid parity include Chile, Mexico, Brazil and Australia with many more countries also on the same track. The WEF projects that two thirds of the world will reach grid parity in the next couple of years, and by 2020, solar photovoltaic energy is projected to have a lower LCOE than coal or natural gas-fired generation throughout the world.

"Renewable energy has reached a tipping point," Michael Drexler, who leads infrastructure and development investing at the WEF, told Quartz. "It is not only a commercially viable option, but an outright compelling investment opportunity with long-term, stable, inflation-protected returns."

The report follows a recent analysis from the IEA which revealed that total clean power capacity increased by 153 gigawatts, overtaking coal for the first time. To illustrate, about 500,000 solar panels installed were installed around the world every day.

A small village in France is now home to the world's first solar road, aka Wattway. French Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal officially inaugurated the 1 kilometer-long road covered with 2,800-square-meters of resin-encased panels in Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy on Thursday.

The French Ministry of the Environment invested €5 million ($5.2 million) to build the project engineered by French road construction company Colas.

According to the Guardian, about 2,000 motorists will drive on the roadway during a test period of two years to see if the project can generate enough energy to power street lights for the 3,400-resident village. The panels consists of extremely thin yet durable panels of polycrystalline silicon that can transform solar energy into electricity.

The panels are designed to withstand all types of traffic, including heavy-duty vehicles and in terms of efficiency, Wattway claims its panels have a 15 percent yield, compared to 18-19 percent for conventional photovoltaic panels.

The French government plans to eventually pave 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of its roads with solar panels.

"The maximum effect of the program, if successful, could be to furnish 5 million people with electricity, or about 8 percent of the French population," Royal said earlier this year about the iniative.

Critics, however, have concerns over the high price of the project.

"It's without doubt a technical advance, but in order to develop renewables there are other priorities than a gadget of which we are more certain that it's very expensive than the fact it works," Marc Jedliczka, vice-president of Network for Energetic Transition (CLER), told Le Monde.

Jean-Louis Bal, president of renewable energy union SER, added, "We have to look at the cost, the production [of electricity] and its lifespan. For now I don't have the answers."

Colas, however, said that expenses will eventually lessen as the technology is adopted elsewhere in the world, including an experimental site that launched earlier this month in the U.S. The site consists of of 50 square meters of Wattway solar panels installed at the Georgia Visitor Information Center in West Point, Georgia.

Colas CEO Hervé Le Bouc also told Les Echoes last year that the installation of Wattway panels is relatively non-disruptive.

"There is no need to rebuild infrastructure," Le Bouc said. "At Chambéry and Grenoble, was tested successfully on Wattway a cycle of 1 million vehicles, or 20 years of normal traffic a road, and the surface does not move."

Royal added, "It takes advantage of large swathes of road infrastructure already in use ... to produce electricity without taking up new real estate."

The solar roads concept is not new. EcoWatch has previously featured a similar Idaho-based project, Solar Roadways, whose Indiegogo campaign became extremely successful when their video went viral in 2014. Also, a solar bike path in the Netherlands called SolaRoad has been in operation since November 2014.

While solar roads have its detractors, the technology has been touted as an efficient way to harness the sun's energy while taking advantage of the world's expansive roadway network.

"Roads spend 90 percent of their time just looking up into the sky. When the sun shines, they are of course exposed to its rays," Jean-Lic Gautier, manager of the Center for Expertise at the Colas Campus for Science and Techniques, said in a statement last year. "It's an ideal surface area for energy applications."

Even though Elon Musk once said that Donald Trump "doesn't seem to have the sort of character that reflects well on the United States," the Tesla/SpaceX CEO is joining the president-elect's Strategic and Policy Forum, an advisory board for the president on business issues.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi were also named as strategic advisors on Wednesday.

"My Administration is going to work together with the private sector to improve the business climate and make it attractive for firms to create new jobs across the United States from Silicon Valley to the heartland," Trump said in a statement announcing the latest appointees.

Other high-profile CEOs on the 19-member Strategic and Policy Forum include Mary Barra of General Motors, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bob Iger of The Walt Disney Company, among others. The forum will be chaired by Stephen A. Schwarzman, who heads the investment firm Blackstone.

Members of the group will "be called upon to meet with the president frequently to share their specific experience and knowledge as the president implements his economic agenda," a media release explained.

Musk's willingness to take part in Trump's forthcoming administration—one that's filled with climate change deniers and fossil fuel barons, at that—is admittedly a head-scratcher. Similar questions were raised when Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore met with Trump and his daughter Ivanka. The Tesla boss is very outspoken on climate change issues and has built a renewable energy enterprise.

Musk is also a big proponent of a carbon tax to drive investments in clean tech. We have to "remove the effective subsidy of not pricing the damage done by carbon pollution," he said last year. Also, in an appearance in DiCaprio's climate change documentary Before The Flood, Musk said, "If governments can set the rules in favor of sustainable energy, then we can get there really quickly ... Only way to do that is through a carbon tax."

Trump, in contrast, famously believes that global warming is a hoax created by and for the Chinese. The hotelier has waged wars on windmills, calling them bird killers and a blight on the view of his luxury golf courses. As for solar, Trump said the booming sector is "so expensive" and "not working so good."

The president-elect also campaigned on slashing taxes across the board, axing President Obama's emissions regulations and exiting the historic 2015 Paris climate agreement.

However, a report from Recode suggests that Musk might use his clout to push for green initiatives. As Recode reporter April Glaser writes:

"Still, it's probably in Musk's favor to work with the incoming administration, especially as it starts to shape new policies that are dear to Musk's heart, like regulations to bring self-driving cars to U.S. roadways and whether to abide by the 2015 Paris climate agreement or pull out, a threat Trump made on the campaign trail.

"That doesn't sit well with Musk, who will likely urge the Trump administration to remain a signatory on the international climate accord. Reps for Musk did not immediately respond to request for comment."

Additionally, as Glaser notes, "Musk might be able to persuade the president-elect not to renege on the Paris agreement, which already lacks strong mechanisms for enforcement."

Glaser points out that secretary of state nominee/Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson—whose company announced its support of the Paris climate agreement and acknowledges the risks of climate change—also endorsed the idea of a national carbon tax.

But as the New York Times argues, Tillerson might only support the Paris agreement and a carbon tax if it does not harm his company's bottom line.

"Will Mr. Tillerson try to persuade Mr. Trump to support the international climate accord reached in Paris? He might, but he would probably stress the importance of natural gas and methods to bury carbon emissions—policies that would not hurt fossil fuel industries," the newspaper of record writes.

After all, Exxon sells a product that fuels climate change and the company has spent years and millions of dollars funding climate change denial.

Yesterday, a number of Silicon Valley executives gathered at Trump's "tech summit" at Trump Tower in New York. The group included Musk, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Timothy D. Cook of Apple, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt of Alphabet, Google's parent company, Satya Nadella of Microsoft and more.

"I'm here to help you folks do well, and you're doing well right now and I'm very honored by 'the bounce'—they're all talking about 'the bounce' and I know everybody in this room has to like me a little bit, but we're going to try and have that bounce continue," Trump said at the summit. "Perhaps even more importantly we want you to keep going with the incredible innovation. There's nobody like you in the world. There's nobody like the people in this room."

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NextGen Climate released a new video today starring Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman that urges millennials to exercise their vote on behalf of candidates who have concrete plans to address the climate crisis and transition our country to a clean energy economy. Watch here:

The video is backed by a six-figure ad buy and will run in battleground states to engage with millennials and encourage them to turn out and vote on Election Day.

"We already have the tools to stop climate change—not tomorrow, not in 10 years, right now. We can power our country with 100 percent clean energy, creating millions of new jobs, keeping carbon pollution out of our climate," said Portman in the new ad. "It all starts with your vote … I'll see you at the polls on November 8th."

With this new digital video, NextGen Climate is engaging millennials on and off campus to get them to turnout on Election Day. NextGen Climate's #WHYWEVOTE campaign is a series of targeted digital ads to engage millennials—a demographic that has historically been difficult for campaigns to reach—by meeting them where they are: online and on their phones. This campaign complements NextGen Climate's data-driven field program on more than 300 campuses across 13 battleground states.

"The Millennial Generation is a great generation—one that's very passionate about issues that impact their lives, like climate change—and it's critical that millennials make their voices heard at the ballot box this November," said NextGen Climate President Tom Steyer.

"Elections are about choices and this year we have the choice to elect candidates to the White House and Senate who will enact policies to fight climate change and transition to clean energy or we could elect candidates who would take our country backwards and put our health, safety and economy at risk"

NextGen Climate is running the largest campus initiative in the country. On 300 campuses in 13 battleground states, NextGen Climate is registering millennials to vote, educating them about where the candidates stand on key issues and getting them to the polls on Nov. 8 for climate champions.

Park City, Utah became the latest in a series of mountain communities to commit to 100 percent renewable electricity. Surrounded by city council members, key members of the community and partners, Park City Mayor Jack Thomas signed on today to Climate Reality's 100% Committed campaign.

I AM PRO SNOW Program Manager, Talya Tavor, stands with Park City City Council members and Mayor Jack Thomas just moments after Park City signed their commitment to go to 100% renewable electricity by 2032, and joined the100% Committed Campaign.I AM PRO SNOW

Thomas pledged that the city's electricity would come entirely from renewable sources by 2032. This announcement comes on the heels of a similar pledge from Salt Lake City and a recent commitment from Boulder, Colorado to transition to renewable electricity, showing that mountain communities are taking control of their energy future.

Park City, Utah became the latest in a series of mountain communities to commit to 100 percent renewable electricity.iStock

"Park City's commitment for 100% renewable electricity is driven by our community," Mayor Thomas said. "The passion for the natural environment and our responsibility to take care of it is part of the fabric of what makes Park City a very special place to live. Park City can't do it alone. I challenge other communities to across the nation join us in this goal."

Park City's announcement is grounded in a chilling reality. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record globally have occurred since the beginning of this century and 2016 is currently on track to be added to that list. All around the world, winters are changing and ski seasons are getting shorter and less predictable. In fact, by the end of the century, it is estimated that only six of the 19 cities that have previously hosted the Winter Olympics could be cold enough to host again.

"Park City recognizes that without snow, they cannot grow," Talya Tavor, I AM PRO SNOW program manager, said. "At Climate Reality we bring together the passion to fight climate change with the passion to protect our mountain communities to make an unstoppable force for change. That's why it is no surprise that mountain cities are leading the way on renewable electricity."

The good news is that the winter sports and mountain communities feeling the impacts of climate change are increasingly leading efforts to solve it. National businesses like Ski Butlers, which is headquartered in Park City, have made the commitment to switch to 100 percent renewable electricity, as well as international ski resorts, such as LAAX (in Switzerland). These commitments are yet another sign that business and government leaders at every level recognize the need to confront climate change and are embracing practical solutions to do so.

"What started as a far off distant goal, became a reality as local officials in Park City have committed to transition to 100% renewable electricity," Bryn Carey, president and CEO of Ski Butlers, said. "This leadership shows that changing the world starts at a grassroots level by setting a big goal, then lining up the dominos to turn the goal into a reality. Park City's success gives a blueprint to other mountain towns, cities, states and countries across the globe to be a part of the climate change solution."

The Sierra Club released a new report this week showcasing 10 U.S. cities that have made ambitious commitments to be powered by 100 percent clean, renewable energy. This report is the first from Ready for 100, a new Sierra Club campaign launched in 2016 challenging 100 cities in the U.S. to move away from dirty, outdated fossil fuels, step up and commit to 100 percent clean energy. Sixteen cities, including major cities like San Diego, have already made such commitments and a handful have already achieved 100 percent clean energy and are powered today with entirely renewable sources.

"Cities, long the hotbed of innovation, the drivers of change and the incubators of solutions to the world's biggest challenges, are ready for 100 percent clean energy," Jodie Van Horn, director of the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 campaign, said. "Other city leaders should take note from these examples and take the pledge to power their cities by 100 percent clean energy."

Among the cities highlighted in the report is San Francisco, the site of the first-ever North American Renewable Cities Dialogue. In mid-July this year, staff and public officials from more than 20 cities across the U.S. participated in this dialogue to discuss opportunities, challenges and tools available to help them move to 100 percent renewable energy across all energy sectors. Also featured are Aspen, Colorado, the site of the kickoff of the Sierra Club's #Readyfor100 National Tour and San Diego, the eighth-largest city in the country and the largest city to commit to clean energy.

"San Diego is known around the world for our beautiful environment, so it's only fitting that we help set the standard for how to protect it. We're moving in a big way toward renewable energy use because it fuels green jobs and will improve the quality of life for our residents," San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. "It's about handing down to our children a city that is cleaner than it was when we received it."

"Not only are cities ready for clean energy—it's ready for them. Clean energy keeps money in local government coffers, creates local jobs, saves people money, cuts pollution, and saves lives," added Van Horn. "Other cities would be wise to mirror these commitments coast to coast."

By Noah Long and Kevin Steinberger

Renewable energy is one of the most effective tools we have in the fight against climate change and there is every reason to believe it will succeed. A recent New York Times column seems to imply that renewable energy investments set back efforts to address climate change—nothing could be further from the truth. What's more, renewable technologies can increasingly save customers money as they displace emissions from fossil fuels.

The U.S. must continue—and accelerate—its clean energy growth and the transition to a low-carbon electric grid.

Wind and solar energy have experienced remarkable growth and huge cost improvements over the past decade with no signs of slowing down. Prices are declining rapidly and renewable energy is becoming increasingly competitive with fossil fuels all around the country. In some places, new renewable energy is already cheaper than continuing to operate old, inefficient and dirty fossil fuel-fired or nuclear power plants.

In fact, the investment firm Lazard estimates that the cost of generating electricity from wind and solar has declined by 58 percent and 78 percent, respectively, since 2009. Those cost trends are expected to continue and coupled with the recent extension of federal tax credits for renewable energy, wind and solar growth is widely expected to accelerate over the next several years, with capacity projected to double from 2015 levels by 2021. With careful planning, renewable energy and clean energy options like increased energy efficiency and storing energy for use later will help pave the way.

In the longer term, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan to establish the first national limits on carbon pollution from power plants will continue to drive renewable energy growth. Wind and solar energy will play a central role in achieving the emissions cuts required and carbon policies like the Clean Power Plan will be critical to ensuring that low-carbon resources are prioritized over higher-emitting power plants.

The Benefits are Huge

In addition to the climate benefits that they will help deliver, renewables already provide a wide range of market and public health benefits that far outweigh their costs. A recent report from the Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National (LBNL) Laboratory found that renewable portfolio standards—state policies that mandate that a specific amount of the state's electricity comes from renewables—provide a wide range of economic, health and climate benefits. The report concluded that in 2013 alone, renewable standards across the country saved customers up to $1.2 billion from reduced wholesale electric prices and $1.3 billion to $3.7 billion from lower natural gas prices (as a result of lower demand for natural gas across the power sector).

The non-market benefits of renewable energy also are considerable. The LBNL researchers estimated that renewables supported nearly 200,000 jobs, provided $5.2 billion worth of health benefits through improved air quality and resulted in global climate benefits of $2.2 billion. At the same time, according to a separate report by DBL Investors, the top 10 leading renewable states experienced lower electricity price increases than the bottom 10 states between 2002 and 2013.

The U.S. must continue—and accelerate—its clean energy growth and the transition to a low-carbon electric grid. There will be technical challenges to completing this transformation, but study after study concludes that integrating high levels of renewables into our electric grid is achievable. This is also being demonstrated in practice, as many states are already incorporating wind and solar, including in Texas, where wind has now supplied more than 45 percent of the state's total energy demand on multiple occasions and in Iowa, as the state now generates 31 percent of its total annual power from wind.

Change is Here

Much is said about the need to adapt the electric grid to the variability associated with integrating renewable energy into our electricity mix. Until recently, the huge costs of maintaining back-up generation and transmission in case they're needed to keep the lights on when large, inflexible resources like coal and nuclear plants suddenly and unexpectedly go offline has too often been ignored. Grid managers and planners are now appropriately as concerned about the need for flexibility and predictability, assets that large fossil and nuclear plants lack. Renewable energy production is variable, but predictable (we mostly know when it will be sunny or windy). However, it can be impossible to predict when large fossil or nuclear plant will have to shut down for critical maintenance.

In a sign of the declining status of large, inflexible base load resources, PG&E recently announced it will close the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California and replace it with 100 percent clean energy (NRDC is a signatory), PG&E explains: "California's electric grid is in the midst of a significant shift that creates challenges for the facility in the coming decades. Changes in state policies, the electric generation fleet and market conditions combine to reduce the need for large, inflexible baseload power plants."

As we move forward, there are a number of grid planning practices and technologies that will help facilitate America's transition to higher and higher amounts of renewable energy. For example, as more and more cars on the road become electric, those vehicles can help store electricity and manage peak demand so that supply and demand can be better aligned. Demand response (compensating customers for altering their electricity use at specific periods) and time of use electricity pricing can provide similar support. Leading states are currently contemplating how to design policies and market structures that support a modernized, low-carbon grid. Planning for the future can and must be done in parallel with promoting strong renewables growth in the present.

Renewable energy is already helping address climate change. It's time to put our feet on the accelerator.

Noah Long is the director of the Western Energy Project and Kevin Steinberger is policy analyst for the Climate & Clean Air Program at Natural Resources Defense Council.

Plans for the world's first "Tesla town" are underway. YarraBend, a suburb-to-be located just outside of Melbourne's city center, is under development by local property group Glenvill.

The world's first "Tesla town" is coming to Melbourne, Australia. Glenvill

The developers have already put the first 60 homes on the market. The eco-friendly abodes will have rooftop solar, Tesla's battery storage system, electric car recharging points and energy efficient lighting as standard design features.

"Tesla Powerwalls are being installed in Park Precinct premium homes at YarraBend as part of our sustainability plan. Powerwall is a home battery that charges using electricity generated from solar panels," Glevill wrote on an Instagram post. "Automated and safe, the Powerwall enables you to maximize household usage of solar power generation."

Elon Musk's game-changing suite of batteries for businesses, homes and utilities were designed to help wean the world off fossil fuels. The batteries store electricity generated from solar panels. (If everything goes to Musk's plan, the batteries will be charged with Tesla's own solar panels). Australia received its first shipment of Tesla Powerwalls roughly six months ago.

Living in this high-tech town, however, does come at a price. According to Australia renewable energy website One Step Off The Grid, the 16.46 hectare development will ultimately be home to 2,500 new residences, with three to five bedrooms houses, townhouses and apartments ranging from $1.48 million to $2.1 million in price.

It is not yet clear how many Powerwalls will be installed at YarraBend but based on the number of dwellings, it could number in the thousands, One Step Off The Grid reported.

The high price tag does include a number of amenities though. YarraBend's future residents will belong to a "Smartwired" community, Glenvill boasts on its website. The town will have high-speed internet and a "complimentary tech-concierge," a service that assists with tech-related tasks, from smart wiring to household WiFi set ups. Residents can also download the YarraBend app that provides community information such as public transport timetables, home delivery menus, carpooling arrangements and social events.

While the suburb is technologically advanced, it's also incredibly green. The landscape is surrounded by the tree-filled Darebin Parklands and Yarra Bend Park. The community will be home to a number of gardens, trails and parks, including an elevated park called The Paper Trail.

Public transportation is also encouraged, as the roads are inspired by Scandinavian bike-friendly cities. Bus stops and the Alphington train station are within walking distance.

"YarraBend will achieve the highest possible ESD (ecologically sustainable development) rating under the UDIA (Urban Development Institute of Australia) Envirodevelopment scheme, a first for an infill development site in Melbourne," Glenvill sales and marketing manager Nick Marinakis told the Heidelberg Leader.

UDIA's Victorian chief executive Danni Addison also told the Heidelberg Leader that YarraBend is one of the most environmentally sustainable developments in Australia with a water reduction of 43 percent, landfill reduced by 80 percent and the potential to reduce energy use by 34 percent.

"The Powerwalls, combined with solar panels (also standard), will mean that future residents will be able to benefit in a variety of ways, including dramatically smaller power bills and knowing that the majority of their energy usage is coming from a clean and renewable source," Addison said.

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