Sunday, 3 January 2016

Top energy issues for 2015-2016: Looking back while going forward

The year 2015 will be remembered as much for its personalities as it has been for its issues. Indeed, Elon Musk and Don Blankenship dominated the energy news in spring and late fall, respectively, for very different reasons. The former is seen as an innovator while the latter is viewed as a symbol of industrial America.
He is also someone whom had ultimately been convicted of misdemeanor criminal charges, all stemming from a coal mining accident that killed 29 workers. Coal’s troubles, though, are giving new life to competing energy sources, namely natural gas and renewable energies. And while natural gas is replacing coal-fired generation, it has become so cheap and so abundant that it may not be worth the money to dig out of the ground. Ditto for oil. Together, those falling prices have diminished the economic need for the Keystone Pipeline, although President Obama officially nixed the line in November.
Then, of course, there’s the ongoing growth in green energies and the current distributed generation phenomenon, all facilitated further by the advancement of energy storage and microgrids that service enclosed campuses. And those are things that should continue in 2016, especially since the tax credits provided to wind and solar have been extended to 2019 and 2021, respectively.

Top Six Stories of 2015:

Number 6: The continued growth of rooftop solar generation. In 2014, about a third of all new power generation was installed using solar energy. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the plunge in solar photovoltaic prices has led to the installation of 1,393 megawatts of rooftop solar generation in the second quarter of 2015. It’s now 22,700 megawatts total, which is enough to service to 4.6 million American homes.

Solar panels cover the roof of a house at the Toau atoll, about 250 miles from Tahiti in the Tuamotu Archipelago in the French polynesia, on October 17, 2015. (GREGORY BOISSY/AFP/Getty Images)
And it’s not just the First Solar FSLR -1.52%’s and SolarCity’s of the renewable energy world that are supplying this need. It’s also the mainline utilities like NextEra Energy NEE -0.97% and Southern Co SO -2.17%., which is now selling and servicing solar panels in its home territory. It’s also testing a battery storage device with WGL Holdings to store the solar electrons and to release them when the sun is not shining.

“We need to let the market decide what is best for customers,” says Tom Fanning, chief executive of Southern, noting that his company been named the solar investor-owned utility of the year by a leading solar industry trade group. Number 5: Coinciding with the growth of onsite distributed generation using solar energy is the expansion of microgrids that service buildings or campuses.

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