Top 10 Clean Energy Developments of 2014

2014 was an exciting year for clean energy. And we’re not just talking about Rocky Mountain Institute and Carbon War Room merging in a strategic alliance. Sure, that was exciting news, but there were many other remarkable clean energy developments that are helping bring us closer to a clean, prosperous, and secure energy future. Based on an informal poll of the RMI staff we list our top 10:

1. The U.S. and China sign climate accord
In November the United States and the People’s Republic of China reached an historic agreement in the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the impending consequences of climate change through commitments by President Obama and President Xi. The U.S. announced plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26–28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and China committed to peak its carbon emissions by 2030, and possibly sooner.

2. The EPA limits carbon emissions from power plants
In June the United States Environmental Protection Agency published the Clean Power Plan limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. In October the EPA issued a supplemental proposal to the Clean Power Plan to address carbon pollution from affected power plants on Native American lands and in U.S. territories. The proposed EPA rule aims to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels. It represents one of the most significant actions ever taken by the U.S. government to fight climate change.

3. New York and California get serious on regulatory transformation
New York launched its Reforming the Energy Vision proceeding—the most comprehensive such regulatory reform initiative in the country, which will make NY the first state in the nation to create a distribution system platform (DSP) and put it at the leading edge of creating the distributed, clean energy grid of the future. The California Public Utilities Commission also recently opened a proceeding that will set the ground rules for a multi-year transformation of distribution grid planning. Several other states are poised to follow suit.

4. Solar breaks records
Germany hit multiple solar records in June: solar energy met more than 50 percent of Germany’s total electricity demand for the first time, set a new peak power production record, and hit new highs for weekly total output. In the U.S., solar sales were over 1.1 GW in the second quarter of 2014, a new record and 21 percent over the same quarter in 2013.

5. Solar gets cheap
Solar has reached grid parity in 10 states and will soon reach grid parity in 36 states, according to a Deutsche Bank report published in October. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reported that the price of solar electricity sold to utilities has fallen by more than 70 percent from 2008. And Austin Energy announced it will buy solar electricity for less than 5 cents per kWh, the least expensive solar contract to date in the U.S. Residential PV costs should continue to decline as well, as installation labor and other soft costs decrease, a focus of RMI’s work studying Germany and Australia, countries which have PV installation costs at a fraction of what they are in the U.S.

6. Batteries go mainstream
Solar service providers like SolarCity and SunPower are offering energy-storage systems to their customers, with SolarCity announcing that every customer will get battery backup within five to ten years. Meanwhile, construction of the Tesla battery gigafactory began in Nevada, intended to double worldwide lithium-cell production and cut battery costs by more than 30 percent. And RMI’s Economics of Grid Defection report showed that solar-plus-battery grid parity is here already for commercial customers in Hawaii and coming within the next decade for many more customers.

7. Universities go green
More and more universities are buying renewable energy. In September the University of California system announced an 80-MW procurement contract for off-site photovoltaic electricity, the largest solar energy purchase by any U.S. higher education institution. In April Arizona State University unveiled two new large solar arrays bringing the amount of solar on the ASU campuses up to 25 MW. They are also the first arrays that the university purchased instead of leased. And at least 16 colleges and universities have committed to divesting from fossil fuels.

8. Net-zero buildings come of age
The number of net-zero buildings is growing significantly. And some major players are considering or adopting net zero/carbon neutral as a requirement, including the General Services Administration, Arizona State University, and the International Union of Architects, whose members signed a document which commits them to 100 percent net-zero energy design and construction by 2050. The state of California and the entire country of Japan are also considering net-zero requirements for new buildings.

9. EVs are everywhere
Electric vehicle sales surged in 2014, up 48 percent in the U.S. and 77 percent in Europe for the first six months of the year. The estimated number of EVs sold since 2010 crossed the half-million mark, and the Nissan LEAF broke an electric car one-month sales record in November selling 2,687 EVs. Thirteen new models of EVs were offered in 2014, and in Norway, where there are robust EV incentives, one in six cars sold is an EV.

10. Energy efficiency becomes “cool”
Google acquired NEST for $3.2 billion, proving that there’s money to be made in resource-saving technologies, and that energy efficiency is scaling way up. Meanwhile, Opower’s IPO signaled that investors also see the growth in efficiency, and that the convergence between IT and efficiency can attract a lot of investor dollars. A report from the International Energy Agency showed that global savings from energy efficiency are greater than the output from any other single fuel source.

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