Four graphs from the US government which show the future is here for clean technologies

Reading time: 5 minutes
18 November 2015

NEW YORK: Costs for clean technologies are continuing to fall, greatly accelerating the deployment of clean energy in the US, a new report from the US Department of Energy shows.

Wind and solar energy in particular, coupled with the market explosion of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and electric vehicles, are reshaping the US energy landscape – driving a clean energy revolution that benefits businesses, consumers and citizens.


Costs of land-based wind power has plummeted under US$0.10 per kilowatt/hour (kWh) since the end of the Nineties, the report shows, spurring an exponential adoption of this technology in the new century. In particular, wind power accounted for almost a third of all new generation capacity installed in the US from 2008 through 2014.


Image: Land-based wind power costs and cumulative wind capacity in the US, from the US Department of Energy report “Revolution… now

Wind power cumulative capacity reached more than 65,000 megawatts (MW) last year, accounting for 4.4% of the total US energy mix – with 13,600 MW more deployed in the first quarter of 2015. This technology helped reduce annual CO2 emissions by more than 115 million metric tons in 2013, while at the same time providing more than 50,000 jobs.

With fossil fuel prices being so volatile and a growing social pressure to keep them in the ground, businesses are taking advantage of the stability of the low cost of renewables. Many leading companies have already joined The Climate Group’s initiative RE100, committing to switch to 100% renewable energy. Recent investments in wind technology have also driven down power purchase agreements from rates up to 7 cents/kWh in 2009 to an average of 2.4 cents/kWh in 2014.


Solar power is also leading the clean revolution in the US, with utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) growing by 68% in 2014 reaching 9.7 gigawatts (GW) in total – almost all installed since 2008. Distributed solar PV is also growing exponentially, with over 8 GW installed by 2014 – which is equal in capacity to 16 typical coal fired power plants, the report states.


Image: Utility-scale prices and cumulative installations in the US, from the US Department of Energy report “Revolution… now

Dramatically decreasing costs of solar power has been one of the main agents in driving clean technology to mainstream consumers. Between 2008 and 2014, the cost for a PV module declined from US$3.57/watt to about US$0.71/watt. Improvements in installation costs and business practices also led to solar technology reaching cost parity with fossil fuel electricity in many parts of the US.

But solar doesn’t just bring benefits to developed economies. Off-grid solar technology has the potential to alleviate poverty in parts of the world that lack energy access. Today “1.3 billion people in this world dread twilight, because when twilight comes, that is the end of their day,” Kerry AdlerPresident and CEO of SkyPower said in a recent Climate TV interview. The Climate Group has just concluded the first phase of our Bijli – Clean energy for all program, which has connected more than 60,000 people in rural India to affordable, clean energy.


However, sourcing solar and wind are not the only clean technologies fueling the low carbon economy. LEDs – which can cut CO2 emissions by 50-70% – saw a six-fold growth since 2012 in the US, where 78 million LED bulbs were installed. But outside buildings to highways and pathways, LED street lights also offer an unprecedented potential for energy and cost savings, as well as social benefits. For this reason, at Climate Week NYC 2015 The Climate Group called on every single city and utility around the world to schedule the switch of their street lighting to LED by 2025 – with the launch of the new major global campaign LED = Lower Emissions Delivered.


Image: Led prices and cumulative installations in the US, from the US Department of Energy report “Revolution… now

LED installations prevented 7.1 million metric tons of CO2 emissions and saved US$1.4 billion in energy costs in 2014 alone, the US government report states – and are projected to reach over 80% of all lighting sales by 2030.


The most visible progress in clean technology has been the boom of electric vehicles (EVs) though, with nearly 120,000 sold in 2014 – and a total of 300,000 EVs circulating today. Companies such as Tesla are helping boost this technology with innovative new products, and declining costs thanks to new research on batteries and components.

ev electric car

Image: Battery cost for electric vehicles and cumulative EVs sales in the US, from the US Department of Energy report “Revolution… now

The US government and many US states are also offering tax incentives to further increase the adoption of EVs, and many automakers plan to be able to deliver 200-milerange EVs for less than US$40,000 by around 2017.

Clean technology can help companies and citizens save emissions and money today, but there are still many barriers to mainstream adoption of these solutions. The climate negotiations in Paris later this month must provide a stable policy framework to spur investments in research and development, while at the same time incentivizing forward-thinking businesses to adopt the already existing and proven technology that will secure our low carbon future.

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by Ilario D'Amato

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