Letting the sun shine in

By Ben Walsh
May 1, 2014

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The market is finally doing clean energy a favor. Kyle Chayka writes in Pacific Standard that the price of solar energy has been “falling like a meteor over the past several years, even dipping below” some fossil fuels. Last year, solar energy was already as cheap as conventional sources in Germany, Italy, and Spain, achieving what the energy industry calls grid parity. This scares traditional utilities, the Washington Post’s Matt McFarlandwrites:

Advances in solar panels and battery storage will make it more realistic for consumers to dump their electric utility, and power their homes through solar energy that is stored in batteries for cloudy days.

Falling costs are the best hope for solar and wind energy. Electricity is a commodity – price points beat moral arguments. Fossil fuels receive huge government subsidiesthat aren’t like to go anywhere soon, and while significantly increasing the comparatively miniscule subsidies for renewable energy would help a lot, that’s unlikely in the near term.

One way to stop, or at least slow, grid parity (to benefit fossil fuel owners and energy producers) is to make renewable energy artificially more expensive. Legislators inOklahoma and Arizona are doing exactly that by taxing solar and wind energy. The Week’s John Aziz calls this “the world’s dumbest idea… Renewable energy isn’t just any new technology — it is… our best and possibly only hope to mitigate dangerous climatic changes”.

Scaremongering about bald eagles getting diced up by wind turbines, it turns out, really is the last refuge of coal magnates. Bloomberg reports that data from the US Forest Service shows wind turbines are the “smallest threat to birds worthy of mention”. They kill 1% as many birds as the next smallest cause, communications towers. The two biggest killers of birds – high tension power lines and good old fashioned buildings and windows – account for a more than 7,000 times more bird deaths.

The good news is that the growth of energy demand in America slowing. The Energy Information Administration projects US electricity demand in 2040 might only be 7% higher than 2012 levels. Under that so-called “low electricity demand scenario”, by 2040 the share of energy generated in by coal will fall 12% and renewable energy will increase by 60%. — Ben Walsh

On to today’s links:

Charts
“Countries with very high levels of self-employment tend to be basket cases” - Flip Chart Fairy Tales

Tech
The death of the URL is coming (RIP) - Allen Pike

Ugh
“Prices are rising on the very things that are essential for climbing out of poverty” -Jordan Weissmann

Wonks
Macro wars: “The salt water really is brackish water!” - Cullen Roche
“Some expansive credit-related thoughts” - Dan McCrum

Yep
“Twitter’s role in media circles often skews the perception of Twitter’s size and role” -Charlie Warzel

Correlation of the Day
More money, more work email - Gallup

Pivots
Foursquare splits into two rectangles - The Verge

Data Points
1 in 3 New Yorkers have commutes an hour or longer, the worst in the nation -Bloomberg Visual Data

So Hot Right Now
Do Americans really care about income inequality? - Ryan Avent
Inequality and the arts - Crooked Timber

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