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As evidence of climate change mounts, President Obama has made it clear that tackling this issue will be a priority in his second term. Yet, as weeks go by, the administration has been slow to clarify its strategy. With each passing day, it becomes harder and more expensive to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

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Germany is in the midst of an unprecedented clean energy revolution. Thanks to the “Energiewende,” a strategy to revamp the national energy system, Germany aims to reduce its overall energy consumption and move to 80 percent renewable energy by 2050. The country has already made considerable progress toward achieving this ambitious goal.

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Over the past two decades, the world has witnessed a remarkable period of economic and human development: More than 2 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water; life expectancy has increased by approximately five years; more children are going to school, with 90 percent enrolled in primary education; and per capita income levels have doubled across developing countries.

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The global renewable energy industry has experienced dramatic growth in recent years. Renewable energy capacity (excluding hydropower) has more than doubled since 2005. In 2011, new clean energy investments reached a record $257 billion (a six-fold increase from 2004), and approximately half of the world’s new electric capacity came from renewable sources. These gains came despite the tumultuous backdrop of a global financial crisis and a rapidly changing clean energy technology industry - one that’s experiencing increased global competition, rapidly falling industry prices, and oversupply in the solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind sectors.

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How can policymakers deliver low-carbon development, particularly clean energy, at affordable costs? What strategies have countries used to attain the economic benefits of building a clean energy industry while keeping the burden to consumers low —and who is succeeding, and why? These are just a few of the questions that policymakers grapple with when tackling the challenges associated with transitioning to a green economy, one of the key themes of the Rio+20 conference. They’re also questions that WRI seeks to answer through our upcoming, cross-country analysis of clean energy industry development.

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I recently presented at the 7th Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) World Forum Summit, a gathering of experts brought together by Berlin-based think tank Thema1 “to foster and facilitate international discussion on how to assess, reduce, and communicate the impact of goods and services on the climate.” This group historically has focused on the life cycle of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and product-level emission inventories. But this year’s theme included an additional focus: whether and how renewable energy purchases should be reflected in corporate GHG emissions calculations.

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Google is backing it. So is Warren Buffett, America’s most-watched investor. GE, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers, is too. Each of these corporate icons is placing big bets and hundreds of millions of dollars on a future powered by wind and solar power. Apple just joined them, announcing plans to power its main U.S. data center in Maiden, North Carolina, entirely with renewable energy by the end of this year. So why - yet again - are pundits making dire warnings about prospects for renewable energy? The answer is that the clean tech industry is at a critical crossroads.

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Innovation in breakthrough energy technologies is notoriously challenging, despite having potentially large rewards. Individual innovations are embedded in larger systems where change is very hard. These innovations often carry significant capital costs to demonstrate, commercialize, or reach economies of scale. Unlike the latest cell phone, consumers are often unwilling to pay more for a new energy innovation, especially when the rewards are in the future.

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In his annual State of the Union address, President Obama declared: “I will not walk away from clean energy.” His words were a sharp rebuttal to critics harping on the Solyndra bankruptcy and others making dire predictions about the downfall of the renewable energy industry. So, who is right? Will 2012 be a breakthrough year for renewable, or will it collapse?

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As its negotiators head to Durban, South Africa for the next round of the UNFCCC climate negotiations, China can point to significant progress in domestic climate policy since the Cancun negotiations a year ago. March, 2011 saw the adoption of China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, binding domestically China’s first phase of its Copenhagen and Cancun commitments to reduce its carbon intensity 40 to 45 percent by 2020. In this first year of the new Five Year Plan, China also adopted a number of specific climate-related implementation measures (For a more exhaustive list, see China’s just published White Paper on its climate change activities):

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In the United States, there is a heated debate about how much government should support renewable energy innovation. While you won’t find anyone who says they don’t value ‘innovation’, the U.S. federal investment in energy innovation across both fossil and renewable technology is still anemic, badly trailing China and only about one third of the amount recommended by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. That’s unfortunate, because there are compelling reasons to accelerate innovation in the energy sector, and specifically in renewable energy.

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