By Michael Goggin
The data is in, and 2013 went out with a bang as wind energy output soared to new records across Europe. Electricity prices and air pollution dropped as wind energy drastically reduced fossil fuel use during high winter energy demand. Ireland, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and the UK all saw noteworthy wind output records broken with no electric reliability problems. Below, we summarize the news that has just broken.
The Emerald Isle is now green for two additional reasons, as wind energy reduced pollution and protected consumers’ pocketbooks from near-record natural gas prices by providing 24 percent of Ireland’s electricity for all of December. The Irish Examiner said on Monday that “The sustained wind volumes forced expensive gas powered plants off the system and this provided downward pressure on wholesale prices.” It quotes an energy trader noting that “The substantial contribution of wind energy helped reduce the monthly average wholesale electricity price by 5 percent.” The article further explains that wind energy played a critical role in driving the price of electricity down despite near-record natural gas prices. At times wind energy has reliably provided 50 percent of the electricity in Ireland, which is particularly impressive for an island power system without the advantage of large power lines to import and export power to neighboring power systems. On Dec. 5, the output from the country's wind turbines peaked at a record 1588 megawatts (MW), and another new record of 1769 MW was set at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 17.
Long a leader in wind energy use, Denmark’s wind energy set a new record by providing a staggering 54.8 percent of the country’s electricity consumption for the month of December, as reported yesterday by The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch. For all of 2013, wind energy provided around 33 percent of Denmark’s electricity. On certain days, such as Dec. 21, wind energy generated more than 100 percent of the country’s electricity use, with the remainder exported across Denmark’s strong transmission links to neighboring countries.
Electric sector carbon dioxide emissions plummeted more than 23 percent in 2013 as wind energy grew to be Spain’s largest source of electricity, as noted last week in The Guardian. Wind energy provided 21.1 percent of Spain’s electricity for the year, beating out all other fuel sources to provide the largest piece of the country’s electricity mix. Wind drove the dramatic drop in carbon dioxide emissions as natural gas power plant output dropped by 34.2 percent from 2012 and coal-fired generation fell by 27.3 percent, even though overall electricity use was relatively flat at a 2.1 percent decline.
Wind has been the dominant factor driving Europe’s carbon emissions downward. Even though coal use continues to decline across Europe, that hasn’t stopped fossil fuel industry groups, as well as some who should know better, from fabricating the myth of a coal resurgence by misleadingly exaggerating the completion of a few coal plants that were begun nearly a decade ago and a temporary blip in carbon emissions as Germany shut down its nuclear fleet.
Portugal generated over 70 percent of its power from renewables during the first quarter of 2013, driven by a surge in wind and hydro power output. At times, Portugal has reliably produced more than 90 percent of its electricity from wind. Shockingly, we still hear fossil fuel-funded groups and other naysayers in the U.S. claim that it is not practical to reliably or efficiently exceed 10 percent (or some other made up number) wind energy on the power system. With glaring counterfactuals in many European countries and now many parts of the U.S., it is becoming increasingly hard for them to keep their heads buried in the sand.
Germany's old wind generation record was blown away on Dec. 6, as wind-generated electricity peaked at slightly more than 26,000 MW. A news article explains: "The effect on [electricity] prices was also remarkable. In day-ahead trading, power prices on the exchange in Germany were only half of the levels in France and Switzerland, resulting in a large amount of power exports ... Perhaps the most interesting thing about the storm in terms of wind power is that it shows how much more wind power capacity we can withstand. The record peak was still not even one third of peak demand at the time, suggesting that Germany might be able to have three times the current level of wind power—100 gigawatts (GW)—installed before large amounts of wind power would have to be stored." On Dec. 24, German wind energy output came close to setting a new record.
Britain set a new wind record of 6,053 MW on the morning of Dec. 2, providing about 14 percent of the electricity on the U.K. system, according to Bloomberg News. The article said nearly 7,900 MW of gas-fired generation was shut down during the period of high wind, explaining that “wind and solar have no fuel costs, generally making them cheaper than coal or gas” and quoting an analyst that “it has given the chance for less efficient gas-burn facilities to drop output.”
A Business Green article this week provides additional updates on other wind records that were set in December.
“The facts speak for themselves—National Grid's records tumbled one after another. Over the course of the week, which began on Monday [Dec. 16], wind generated a record 783,886 MW hours—the highest ever for a seven-day period—providing 13 percent of Britain's total electricity needs that week.
On the Saturday before Christmas—a busy day for everyone and one when demand for electricity is high—we saw a record daily amount of power produced from wind with 132,812 MWh generated; a staggering 17 percent of the nation's total electricity consumption that day. Don't forget that every unit of clean electricity generated by wind means one less unit is generated using expensive imports of polluting fossil fuels, so this represents a significant economic and environmental benefit for all of us.
The good news is, in fact, even better when we consider that the smaller wind farms that feed into local networks where the output isn't recorded by National Grid would make the above figures at least 30 percent higher.
The record-breaking trend has continued into the New Year with the highest half-hour contribution from wind on the transmission system having been achieved on [Jan. 6].”
Where does the U.S. fit in?
American wind energy continues to grow quickly, and many parts of the U.S. are now reaching wind output levels comparable to those seen in Europe. Iowa and South Dakota now produce more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind, and another seven states are above 10 percent. However, as shown in the U.S. Department of Energy chart above, we could and should be doing more to cultivate the clean energy technologies of the 21st century.
Our wind plants are roughly 50 percent more productive than those in Europe on average, which yields a far lower cost of wind energy in the U.S. Our wind resource is far more diverse, and our power system far larger and more interconnected, making the reliable integration of large amounts of wind energy even easier. The total wind energy resource in the U.S., enough to meet our electricity needs roughly a dozen times over, is unmatched. Yet the lack of policy stability in the U.S. continues to inhibit the wind industry’s growth, as seen by the recent lapse of the wind production tax credit due to Congress’s inattention.
Fortunately, that problem is fixable.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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