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Wind Could Be Leading Source of Electricity by 2050, Says U.S. Dept. of Energy Report
Wind power is one of the fastest-growing new sources of electrical power in the U.S.—the largest new renewable source of power since 2000. And within 35 years, it could be providing more than a third of the power in the U.S.
That's according to a new report, Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States, released today by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Wind and Water Power Technologies office. It updates a study released in 2008 under President George W. Bush, taking into account changes that have occurred in the energy industry since then, with improved technologies making wind more reliable and cost-effective. The 286-page report outlines the wind industry's assets and the challenges it faces in its efforts to increase its share of the total energy portfolio, as well as the positive benefits for the public and the environment of doing so. It provides a key piece of President Obama's Climate Action Plan.
"The wind industry can be characterized by the substantial growth of domestic manufacturing and the level of wind deployment seen in recent years," says José Zayas, director of the DOE Wind and Water Power Technologies office. "Wind power systems are now seen as a viable and competitive source of electricity across the nation. Wind power’s emerging role is an important option in a portfolio of new energy solutions for future generations."
The report draws on the knowledge and research of industry groups, academics, research labs, state and federal government agencies, and non-governmental organizations including environmental groups to document the current state of wind energy in the U.S. and to assess its future viability of wind power as a leading energy source.
Although it pointed out some caveats—uncertain government policies on renewable energy, drop in overall demand for electricity, and the increasing supply and decreasing price of natural gas—it said that wind could be poised to produce as much as 35 percent of the electricity in the U.S. by 2050. Currently wind provides about 4.5 percent of the energy mix but the report says that's expected to grow to 10 percent by 2020, reaching 20 percent—the goal set by the original 2008 report—by 2030. Realizing those levels, the report said, hinged on factors such as continued cost reductions, improved efficiencies, added transmission capacity, governmental policies friendly to the growth of the wind industry to attract investment and even improved weather forecasting.
“We can do this and save you money by doing it,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. “This definitive report provides the wind industry with aggressive targets for the growth of wind energy in America, and we stand ready to meet them. It starts with getting common-sense policies in place, so we can double U.S. wind energy in the next five years."
It's already had a big environmental payoff. In 2013, wind power reduced water consumption by 36.5 billion gallons and cut carbon emissions by 115,000,000 metric tonnes. Under the projected scenario, those benefits would vastly increase.
“This report documents how wind energy already provides major economic and environmental benefits to America, including protecting consumers against energy price spikes, and making deep cuts in pollution and water use,” said John Kostyack, executive director of the Wind Energy Foundation. “As wind becomes one of the country’s top sources of electricity,Wind Vision promises even bigger benefits for decades to come.”
The report also pointed out the potential for huge job growth in the wind industry, which currently supports about 50,000 jobs. It said that number could grow by 230,000 by 2030 and, if the 35 percent goal is reached, produce another 600,000 jobs by 2050. By contrast, the number of jobs in the heavily defended coal-mining industry, which has successfully pushed for the repeal of renewable energy standards in Ohio and West Virginia, is under 100,000 and continues to decline steadily. Currently, wind power is produced in 39 states, with Texas the leading state. That would expand to all 50 states under the scenario projected by the report.
"The Wind Vision analysis demonstrates the economic value that wind power can bring to the nation, a value exceeding the costs of deployment," says the report. "Wind’s environmental benefits can address key societal challenges such as climate change, air quality and public health, and water scarcity. Wind deployment can provide U.S. jobs, U.S. manufacturing, and lease and tax revenues in local communities to strengthen and support a transition of the nation’s electricity sector towards a low-carbon U.S. economy."
"The stakes for the nation are high," said Zayas. "I am confident that, with sustained leadership in innovation, U.S. wind power will continue to make a significant contribution to the ever-evolving energy landscape."
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?