Credit: Department of Energy

Revolution…Now is an annual report prepared by the Department of Energy (DOE) detailing the progression of the nation's investments in five renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, namely wind turbines, solar technologies for both utility-scale and distributed photovoltaic (PV) systems, electric vehicles, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). These are far from emerging technologies. In fact, the current clean energy landscape is a reflection of “decades of investment by the federal government and industry.” The payoff has been a surge of progress in the deployment of each of these technologies.

The latest edition of the report takes a look back at 2015 and provides some remarkably encouraging figures and statistics regarding clean energy.

The report found that two-thirds of all new electricity-generating capacity installed in 2015 was wind and solar PV. Wind capacity grew 12 percent compared to 2014, bringing its total to 74,000 megawatts (MW)—enough to power 17 million homes. Wind energy’s affordability also saw a measurable improvement as power purchase agreements for the technology fell from rates of up to 7 cents/kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2009 to an average of 2 cents/kWh in certain regions of the country. A past DOE report projected that wind could “generate 20 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2030 and 35 percent by 2050.” Offshore wind farms, decreasing costs, improved designs, and technological advances could easily help wind energy reach its full potential.

The cost of utility-scale solar energy has declined 64 percent since 2008, and in 2015, the market could not have been brighter. Corporate-purchased solar power quadrupled from 2014 levels, equaling more than 1,000 MW for the year. Utility-scale PV generated enough electricity in 2015 to power more than 2 million homes.

More than 3 gigawatts of distributed photovoltaics (for residential and small business use) were installed in 2015, a 34 percent increase over 2014. A substantial 54 percent drop in the cost of installing solar panels since 2008 has been a key driver of this fast growth. Federal and state policies have also helped, by providing financial incentives for distributed solar power in 20 states and 42 of our 50 largest cities. Prospective homeowners are willing to pay $15,000 more, on average, for a home with an average-sized PV array.

Installations of A-type LED bulbs, which consume 85 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, exceeded 200 million through 2015. The next step, however, is to outfit all commercial and industrial light fixtures with LED bulbs; these locations disproportionately affect energy consumption due to their long hours of operation and large number of installations.

Low gasoline prices did not deter Americans from purchasing emission-free electric vehicles. Over 115,000 were sold in 2015 thanks to a unified effort between industry, federal, and state actors to reduce costs for consumers. Continual improvements to lithium-ion battery technology and the expansion of charging infrastructure across the country to support electric vehicles point to a promising future.

Revolution…Now not only catalogues the tremendous achievements of current clean energy technologies, but also provides an overview of emergent technologies that may be widely deployed in the near future. The 2016 report highlights hydrogen fuel cells, smart energy management, grid-connected batteries, and big area additive manufacturing as technologies to keep an eye out for.


Author: Dylan Ruan