Watch the Construction of a 10-MW Solar Power Plant in Germany

kristy Greentech

Watch the Construction of a 10-MW Solar Power Plant in Germany

Posted: 14 Jun 2012 08:19 AM PDT

The 10-MW solar power plant pictured above is located at the northern slope of a gravel and sand pit near the German city of Aachen. When the construction is finished, it will cover an area of roughly 75,000 square meters. In European terms: more than 10 soccer fields.

In order to achieve a capacity of 10 MW, a total of 44,000 solar modules are being installed. It will be the largest solar power plant in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and will produce enough clean electricity for about 3,000 average 4-person households.

The solar power plant will be operated by a new-founded joint venture consisting of the company that owns the gravel and sand pit and a regional power, gas and water supplier called EWV. The two companies shared the total initial investment cost of about ?12 million Euro evenly.

Both the solar power plant and the gravel and sand pit will end their operations about 30 years from now. At that time, in the 2040s, the solar modules will be recycled, the pit will be filled up with soil, and renaturalization of the area will begin.

Installation of the modules began on Monday and the opening ceremony is due on the 29th of June. Renewables grow up so fast.?

You can watch the ?show? live by following this link: (not a lot of action at the moment, but hopefully there is when you pop in).

Solar in the US: Policy & Promise (+ 9 More Solar Charts & Images)

Posted: 14 Jun 2012 08:00 AM PDT

I was on a conference call yesterday with Tom Kimbis, Vice President of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and Shayle Kann, Vice President of Research at GTM Research. The conference call was for the announcement of the latest US Solar Market Insight report (for Q1 2012), which Josh had a great summary of earlier this morning (link above). Luckily, I got to ask the last several questions in the Q&A period at the end (you can listen to the whole conference call here). Adding on to Josh?s summary, I just thought I?d add on some things I learned from those extra questions, as well as a few more key facts and graphs.

First, here are some more key stats and graphs, not included in Josh?s piece, that I think are worth a share:

§ We now have enough solar power capacity in the US to power 775,000 households!

§ The 2012 solar PV installation capacity projections (which Josh noted are 75% above last year?s total) are now actually 15% higher than previous annual forecasts for 2012 ? in other words, while many viewed previous SEIA projections as ambitious, those early projections were actually lower than the latest, most informed projections!

§ ?The increase in forecasted installations for 2012 is due to accelerated timelines for large-scale utility projects, greater-than-expected first quarter growth in the New Jersey commercial market, the number of safe-harbored projects that will still qualify for the U.S. government?s expired 1603 Treasury Program, and overall positive outlooks for the California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii markets.?

§ While solar installations were way up in Q1 2012 compared to Q2 2011, US solar panel production was way down. ?While the demand for solar energy in the U.S. grows, and the cost of solar falls, U.S. solar panel manufacturers continue to face increased global competition and uncertainty surrounding global trade disputes. In Q1 2012, U.S. solar panel production amounted to just 160 MW compared to 335 megawatts in Q1 2011.?

§ ?Installed prices fell in every market segment year-over-year compared to Q1 2011?. Residential installed prices fell 7.3 percent, commercial installed prices fell 11.5 percent, and utility prices fell 24.7 percent over Q1 2011?. The overall blended average installed price fell 17.2 percent year-over-year.?

Illustrating some of those points above, below are nine nice charts and images.
Current Solar Installation Project for 2012:

Preliminary Solar Installation Projections to 2016:

Installed Solar Price Drops (by Segment & as a Whole):

Solar Component Price Drops:

Quarter-by-Quarter Solar Installations by Market Segment:

Top Solar Installation States (with Segmentation):

US Solar Jobs & Value of Solar Installations:

Where US Solar Jobs Are (i.e. Almost Everywhere):

US Solar Policy:

Now, let?s get to the topics I asked about in the Q&A section. I asked about 3 things: PACE financing, solar leasing, and reliance on federal solar policies based on the tax equity market. Here?s what I learned:

PACE Financing

SEIA isn?t very involved, currently, in getting PACE financing going on local levels (e.g. cities and states). It seems to be working a bit with important federal agencies that were largely responsible for stalling/stopping PACE financing across the nation. However, the answer didn?t give me much hope that we?re going to see a PACE renaissance any time soon.

Solar Leasing & PPAs

Shayle reiterated and emphasized my initial point that the biggest trend in the residential solar market in the past couple years has been 3rd-party financing and 3rd-party ownership of solar projects through solar leases and PPAs. He then went on to note that the model has been growing ?extremely rapidly? and has grown from just a few companies to at least 16, with the initial few companies greatly expanding their range as well. Basically, anywhere it?s introduced, it is doing very well. He expects to see fast growth through solar leasing and PPAs as such options become available in more and more places (they?re currently only available in a handful of states).

Federal Solar Policies Not Relying on the Tax Equity Market

John Farrell?s recent post highlighting the massive imbalance in supply and demand for tax equity financing for solar projects (what current federal policy is based on) was in my head at the end of the conference call, since the point is that there?s a lot more solar financing demand than supply in the tax equity market. So, I asked about the possibility of moving to federal policies that didn?t rely so much on the tax equity market.

Tom noted that there?s a new assistant secretary of energy in the federal government, Dr. David Danielson, who is ?very focused on alternative financing mechanisms for renewable energy? and that he ?understands very well what?s going on in the tax and equity markets, and where there could be potential shortages currently and going forward.? Basically, it sounds like he is looking into developing ways the federal government can provide the support for important alternative financing mechanisms. Sounds good.


This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Turning Carbon Dioxide Into a Green Fuel

Posted: 14 Jun 2012 06:15 AM PDT

A research team is working on turning carbon dioxide into methanol to use later as a green fuel.

The researchers from the Freiburg Materials Research Center (FMF), led by the chemist Prof. Dr. Ingo Krossing, have developed a new system that produces methanol from CO2 and hydrogen. They hope to eventually be able to harness the power of CO2 on a large scale and integrate it back into the utilization cycle as a sustainable form of energy production.

In order to produce methanol, Krossing?s doctoral candidates combine the carbon dioxide with hydrogen in a high pressure environment, a process known as hydrogenolysis.

Doctoral candidate Elias Frei has already been conducting research on methanol for several years. ?Our goal is to develop new catalyst systems and methods for accelerating the chemical reaction even more,? explains Frei.

The researchers at FMF use the metal oxides copper, zinc, and zirconium dioxide as catalysts, enabling the reaction to happen at lower temperatures. In this way, the gases don?t have to be heated as much. Together the catalysts form a so-called mixed system of surface-rich porous solid matter with defined properties. If the catalysts consist of nanoparticles, their activity is increased even more.

Frei and colleague Dr. Marina Artamonova have also been testing techniques by which the catalysts are impregnated with ionic liquids, salts in a liquid state that cover the catalyst like a thin film. This would help fix the CO2 and hydrogen to the catalyst and therefore remove methanol and water. This conversion would subsequently lead to the production of pure methanol. The researchers believe that in two years they will be able to produce methanol on a mass scale using this technique.

The theory runs that the CO2 would be filtered out of the waste gas stream of a combined heat and power plant and used to create methanol. This methanol would be used in motors, but because it was being used twice ? so to speak ? it would theoretically be possible to use 50 percent less CO2 to create the same amount of energy.

The amount of methanol that could be converted from 10 percent of the yearly CO2 emissions in Germany would cover the country?s yearly fuel needs.

?There is enough energy out there, but it needs to be stored,? says Frei. ?As a sustainable means of energy storage, methanol has potential in a wide range of areas. We want to use that potential, because the storage and conversion of energy are important topics for the future.?

Source: Freiburg Materials Research Center
Image Source: joezero5 on Flickr

A Safer Nuclear Future?

Posted: 14 Jun 2012 06:10 AM PDT

Replacing uranium with thorium could see currently installed nuclear reactors recycling their nuclear waste indefinitely.

Since the development of nuclear power, many different strategies for the minimisation and disposal of nuclear waste have been considered. There are two types of nuclear waste: fission product waste and actinide waste. Fission product waste is generally easier to manage, because it has relatively short half-lives. By contrast, actinide waste has much longer half-lives; disposal strategies usually envisage that it will have to be stored in purpose-built facilities for thousands of years.

As a result, many researchers have begun to consider the actinides as a resource instead of a waste product, using the reactors themselves to recycle the actinide waste and then reuse it as nuclear fuel.

?The idea of taking actinide waste and getting rid of it in nuclear reactors rather than disposing of it in the ground is well-established, but this hasn?t been thought possible using current commercial reactor technology,? Dr Geoff Parks, of the Department of Engineering, said.

As well as the lack of suitable reactor technology, another issue with establishing an actinide recycling programme is the uranium which is used as fuel in nuclear power plants. The safety of nuclear reactors relies upon negative feedback coefficients, which stabilise the power level in the reactor if operating conditions change. What has been shown when recycling actinide waste in a uranium fuel cycle is that it can be recycled just once or twice before the recycled fuel develops a positive feedback coefficient, making it unsafe for use.

However, as one of Parks? undergraduate students found, if uranium was replaced by thorium as a fuel source, current reactor technology could be used and the actinide waste could be safely recycled indefinitely.

The idea of using thorium as a fuel source is not new; prototype reactors using thorium were operated in the United States in the 1960s.

?The reason why thorium was never seriously pursued as an alternative to uranium is believed to be because the uranium fuel cycle generates much more plutonium, which is the raw material used for nuclear weapons,? said Parks.

In addition to its greater resistance to proliferation than uranium, thorium is also about four times more abundant.

Ben Lindley, at the time a fourth-year undergraduate student, discovered that when recycling actinide waste in a thorium-based fuel cycle, the feedback coefficients stay negative, meaning that it can be continuously recycled, leaving only the much shorter lived fission product waste to be disposed of.

Thorium could, in principle, be exploited immediately in existing nuclear reactors, but in order to maximise efficiency, Lindley is looking at ways of reconfiguring the design of such reactors. Now in the first year of his PhD under the supervision of Dr Parks, Lindley is working with Cambridge Enterprise to commercialise his research.

There are issues with using thorium, however. There is currently no thorium industry, so a great deal of infrastructure needs to be put in place before existing power plants can make the switch. However, in order to address the dual concerns of electricity supply for an exponentially growing population and global warming, many contend that a major investment needs to be made in nuclear power. While Parks says nuclear is only part of the solution to those twin problems, he believes it is a key component. With the advantages that thorium presents, and finite resources of uranium, thorium is now being seen as a viable alternative.

?The reasons for choosing thorium are its abundance in comparison to uranium, its greater proliferation resistance and the possibility of a fuel cycle where the only waste is fission product waste,? said Parks. ?I think our vision of how nuclear power might work in the future addresses quite a lot of the concerns about it such as very long-lived radioactive waste which is a burden on future generations.?

With the 50% increase in global population which is expected over the next 50 years, in order just to maintain per capita electricity consumption, a major power station would need to go online every day somewhere in the world. ?The electricity-generating infrastructure to meet global energy demands is staggering when you think about it in those terms,? said Parks. ?And if it?s going to be low-carbon, then nuclear has to play a role in that.?

Source: University of Cambridge
Image Source: Brian Kong

U.S. Solar Installations Continue to Surge

Posted: 14 Jun 2012 05:38 AM PDT

A new report has shown that the U.S. installed a massive 506 megawatts of solar power in the first quarter of 2012, a record for first quarters, which are typically slower than others. It was also the second-best quarter overall, only behind the final quarter of 2011 (and it should be kept in mind that fourth quarters are typically very high due to companies working hard to get projects finished by the end of the year).

The data comes courtesy of the U.S. Solar Market Insight, 1st Quarter 2012 report conducted by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research, which found that the U.S. is still a solar growth market led by strength in the commercial sector in Q1.

According to the report, utility-scale will continue to drive U.S. solar growth, and if things continue in such good form, 2012 has the chance to be another banner year, with an increased forecast for 2012 of 3.2 gigawatts. The U.S. market grew 109 percent from 2010 to 2011 and will grow another 75 percent from 2011 to 2012.

Some more stats from the report:

§ The cumulative total of solar photovoltaics across America is 4,427 megawatts (4.427 gigawatts).

§ Adding CSP to that figure brings the total to 4,943 megawatts (4.493 gigawatts).

§ A total of 1.1 gigawatts (AC) of CSP are now under construction.

§ Blended module prices for Q1 2012 were down to $0.94 per watt, a staggering 47 percent lower than Q1 2011 levels of $1.78 per watt.

§ New Jersey edged out California in Q1 for the lead in solar installations with 174 megawatts. Sorry, California.

Shayle Kann, the Managing Director of GTM Research, saw the New Jersey number as surprising, given the plunging market price of SRECs in that state. Sadly, things do not look great for 2013, with an expired 1603 tax grant, impacts of an import tariff on solar cells from China, and a ?trough? in California and New Jersey loom large.

However, Kann expets ?the U.S. market to regain momentum thereafter and continue along its path to become a global PV market leader by 2015.?

Source: Green Tech Media

House Republicans Write Fossil Fuel Love Letter ? Harmful ?Domestic Energy and Jobs Act?

Posted: 13 Jun 2012 04:07 PM PDT

And the beat goes on ? below is another great piece on the simple fact that current Republican leaders in Congress actually do try to ?pick winners and losers? by doing everything they can to subsidize rich fossil fuel industries while attacking clean energy and energy efficiency programs. One quick question before the repost though ? how the heck are these guys in office?! Oh yeah, because they use buzzwords many voters like and emit lies like coal power plants emit greenhouse gases and other pollution, and too many people don?t check the facts.

Here?s the DeSmog Blog story by Farron Cousins:

Desmog Video
House Republicans Go All In With Dirty Energy Industry Bonanza Legislation (via Desmogblog)

The dirty energy industry might experience Christmas in June if House Republicans have their way. Earlier this month, members of the House Energy Action Team (HEAT) unveiled a ?package? of legislation that includes numerous bills that would give the industry everything that they?ve dreamt of?

House GOP Pushes for Huge Increase in Fossil Fuel Drilling While Cutting 13 Clean Energy & Energy Efficiency Programs

Posted: 13 Jun 2012 03:49 PM PDT

This article was originally published on Climate Progress and has been reposted with permission.

The GOP?s mantra on energy is ?we shouldn?t pick winners and losers.? But all one needs to do is look at Republican legislative priorities to see how hollow that slogan is.

A series of bills currently being considered in Congress make it very clear that House Republicans are attempting to stack the deck in favor of the fossil fuel industry.

Heck, they don?t even try to hide it.

They assume the ?we shouldn?t pick winners and losers? line provides enough of a distraction to give them room to write bills stripping funding for clean energy and promote massive increases in fossil fuel extraction.

Next week is a big one for the most anti-environmental House of Representatives in the history of Congress. As outlined in a recent memo from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), GOP leaders will attempt to pass a sweeping piece of legislation that will open up far more federal lands to drilling.

The bill, called the Strategic Energy Production Act, combines a variety of proposals to roll back EPA safeguards, require more drilling on public lands, and speed up leasing for oil and gas extraction. It?s part of a legislative drumbeat in support of fossil fuels that House Republicans are trying to maintain through the beginning of the summer.

Seeing as how Republicans don?t like picking winners and losers, opening up America to all that drilling would mean maintaining support of clean, renewable sources of energy, right?

Of course not.

Next week?s push for more drilling on public lands follows a series of anti-clean energy amendments adopted into a House water and energy spending bill last week. Those amendments include steep cuts to efficiency programs, a key wind R&D program, clean car rules for federal vehicles, and international commitments to developing countries. Heck, even energy efficiency targets for shower heads weren?t spared in the spending bill.

Rather than balance out these cuts with subsequent cuts to fossil fuels, the bill actually increases R&D spending on fossil fuel technologies by 60 percent.

Maria Gallucci of Inside Climate News documented the 13 different cuts to clean energy programs. Here?s a rundown of some of the programs that lawmakers want to get rid of (see the full story for background on the various programs on the chopping block):

§ National R&D initiative for wind technologies. Sponsor: Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

§ Federal requirements for zero-carbon buildings. Sponsor: Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.)

§ Federal ban on carbon-intensive fuels. Sponsor: Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas)

§ International spending on clean energy initiatives. Sponsor: Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.)

§ Federal efficiency standards for light bulbs. Sponsor: Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas)

§ 40-year old efficiency requirement for DOE grant winners. Sponsor: Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.)

§ 20-year old efficiency standards for showerheads. Sponsor: David Schweikert (R-Ariz.)

§ Efficiency standards for battery chargers. Sponsor: Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.)

As our lawmakers attempt to open up every square inch of America to more drilling rigs, they?re also working to systematically dismantle any program that helps reduce our energy intensity or helps us transition to cleaner sources energy. The remarkable thing is that some of these effective programs are decades old, have come from Republican administrations, and have never been seen as stripping away consumer rights.

This is the fantasy land that many House Republicans are living in today. By throwing around phrases like ?not picking winners and losers? and ?protecting individual choice,? they?re attempting to set up a smokescreen for their blatant promotion of fossil fuels and disdain for anything that would disrupt the status quo.

Those mantras are nothing more than political code for more dirty energy, less clean energy, and doing nothing about climate change.

IEA Report: Natural Gas Is Not The Answer To Climate Problem, Existing Cleantech Is ? And It Could Save $100 Trillion By 2050

Posted: 13 Jun 2012 03:41 PM PDT

When I repost an article, I don?t often include the same title, but in some cases, I see no better option. The title above says it all, in my humble opinion. Natural gas is not a wonder drug that is going to get us out of a hellish and catastrophic future (which all measurements indicate has already started). This is a topic we?ve covered before, but it?s worth repeating, especially when it?s coming from the mouth of the typically conservative International Energy Agency! And it?s good to see the agency also pointing out that cleantech could save us $100 trillion (yes, trillion with a ?t?) by 2050. We?ve already covered this story a bit, but here?s more from Joe Romm of Climate Progress:

The once staid International Energy Agency continues its string of blunt, must-read reports laying bare the reality of our climate and energy system.

While so many ?experts? and politicians make hand-waving pronouncements about how the primary solution to climate change is more R&D or how cheap natural gas is the answer to our problems, the IEA is one of the few international bodies with a comprehensive energy and economic model that cuts through the BS.

As their new report, Energy Technology Perspectives 2012, makes clear, new natural gas investments can play at best a limited, very temporary role ?if climate objectives are to be met.? The only viable response to the threat of catastrophic climate change is rapid deployment of existing carbon-free technology.

The Executive Summary offers the key conclusion that the extra investment needed to achieve the 2°C Scenario (2DS) would be a net money saver:

Achieving the 2DS would require USD 36 trillion (35%) more in investments from today to 2050 than under a scenario in which controlling carbon emissions is not a priority. That is the equivalent of an extra USD 130 per person every year. However, investing is not the same as spending: by 2025, the fuel savings realised would outweigh the investments; by 2050, the fuel savings amount to more than USD 100 trillion. Even if these potential future savings are discounted at 10%, there would be a USD 5 trillion net saving between now and 2050. If cautious assumptions of how lower demand for fossil fuels can impact prices are applied, the projected fuel savings jump to USD 150 trillion.

Perhaps because people have misinterpreted their recent reports on natural gas ? as I discuss in my May 30 post, ?IEA Finds ?Safe? Gas Fracking Would Destroy A Livable Climate? ? the IEA has tried to be clearer here. And they have succeeded. Consider the how the report was covered in the NY Times by Matthew Wald, who is no greenie:

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions by enough to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is ?still within reach,?? the International Energy Agency reported on Monday, but at the moment, trends in energy use are running in the wrong direction.

In the latest version of Energy Technology Perspectives, a report issued biennially by the agency, it said the technology to achieve that goal is available. But as Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the agency, put it, ?we?re not using it.?? Since the agency published its first Energy Technology Perspectives in 2006, the evidence of climate change has only grown stronger, she said, but ?if anything, it has fallen further down the political agenda.??

Point #1: Delay makes no sense, since we have the technology to start aggressive emissions reduction and delay is very costly. The IEA explains here that ?every additional dollar invested can generate three dollars in future fuel savings by 2050.? It has previously explained that, ?Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.?

Point #2: If natural gas is a bridge fuel, then the bridge is really, really short one. Here?s the NY Times again:

Coal consumption, for example, is still rising around the world, and that is ?the single most problematic trend in the relationship between energy and climate change,? the report said. Building more efficient coal-fired plants operating at higher temperatures could cut emissions by 30 percent per kilowatt-hour. But to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, coal use would have to fall by 45 percent from 2009 levels, the report said.

Natural gas is not the answer to this problem, the report points out. Gas-fired plants may emit only half as much carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour generated than coal-fired plants, but by 2025 the amount emitted will be higher than the average for the entire electric system, it said.

The United States and some other countries are feverishly building new natural-gas-fired generating equipment, the report adds, but the level of emissions from gas raises ?questions around the long-term viability of some gas infrastructure investment if climate objectives are to be met.?

The report expands on that point, to make clear that post-2030, natural gas must increasingly play a supporting role to renewables:

Post-2030, as CO2 reductions deepen in the 2DS, gas-powered generation increasingly takes the role of providing the ? exibility to complement variable renewable energies and serves as peak-load power to balance generation and demand ?uctuations. Natural gas will remain an important fuel in all sectors in 2050, and demand is still 10% higher in absolute terms in 2050 compared to 2009. The speci?c emissions from a gas-?red power plant will be higher than average global CO2 intensity in electricity generation by 2025, raising questions around the long-term viability of some gas infrastructure investment if climate change objectives are to be met. If near-term infrastructure development does not sufficiently consider technical flexibility, future adaptation to lower-carbon fuels and technologies will be more difficult to achieve.

In other words, either we plan now for the transition off natural gas, or our expanded investment in gas infrastructure is going to complicate any effort to preserve a livable climate.

Point #3: ?It is difficult to overstate the importance of energy efficiency, which is nearly always cost effective in the long run, helps cut emissions and enhances energy security.?

Point #4: We need to price carbon:

Ensuring that the true price of energy ? including costs and bene?ts ? is reflected in what consumers pay must be a top priority for achieving a low-carbon future at the lowest possible cost. Putting a meaningful price on carbon would send a vital price signal to consumers and technology developers.

Point #5: Finally, the IEA makes clear that renewable energy can play a dominant role in supplying electricity by mid-century, indeed, it must:

Low-carbon electricity is at the core of a sustainable energy system. Low-carbon electricity has system-wide benefits that go beyond the electricity sector: it can also enable deep reductions of CO2 emissions in the industry, transport and buildings sectors. ETP analysis shows how emissions per kilowatt-hour can be reduced by 80% by 2050, through deployment of low-carbon technologies. Renewable energy technologies play a crucial role in this respect. In the 2DS, their share of total average world electricity generation increases from 19% currently to 57% by 2050, a sixfold increase in absolute terms. In fact, low-carbon electricity generation is already competitive in many markets and will take an increasing share of generation in coming years. Integrating a much higher share of variable generation, such as wind power and solar PV, is possible. In 2050, variable generation accounts for 20% to 60% of total electricity capacity in the 2DS, depending on the region.

It?s time for governments and journalists and opinion-makers to actually read IEA reports and stop pretending that our current energy policies are rational.

GOP Leaders? Current Tactic: Call the Majority of Americans Extremists

Posted: 13 Jun 2012 03:21 PM PDT

First of all, before I get into this piece, I want to be sure to point out one thing: many Republican voters are worlds different from current GOP leaders (as should be evident from the title above).

Unfortunately, it seems that hasn?t gotten through to enough Republican voters yet (or hadn?t in 2010). But hopefully that will change soon.

Anyone who?s been in this space for at least a few years knows that clean energy and other cleantech once had strong bipartisan support. Actually, anyone who follows energy polls knows that it still does among the public. However, anyone who follows energy politics and policy these days (yes, a wickedly masochistic thing to do) knows that GOP leaders are attacking clean energy and energy efficiency left and right.

This is, again, obvious. But a recent piece by Stephen Lacey over on Climate Progress drove home that point for me just a few moments ago. The post mentions how supporters of Global Wind Day who decided to go fly kites on the beach in support of wind energy were labelled ?environmental extremists? with a ?radical agenda? by Americans for Prosperity (AFP) ? a powerful right-wing group with a lot of influence over GOP congresspeople ? and that the organization would be working to ?combat? that radical agenda.

I?m sorry, but, What?! Supporters of clean wind energy (i.e. representative of the majority of Americans) who organize a completely peaceful, fun day at the beach flying kites to show their support for that energy option are ?environmental extremists? with a radical agenda? I feel like this is a story from the Onion or something.

While this particular story is crazy enough that I could spend the whole post on it, I think more important is how this fits into the grand scheme of things.

The thing is, GOP leaders (which AFP is one of) have gone so far off to the right that things supported by the majority of the public are now considered extreme by them. This is a very sad state of affairs, and it is a very important reason why the US has fallen behind on some important world matters, threatening itself and human society as a whole.

Wind isn?t the only hugely popular clean energy sector AFP and others steering the current GOP consider ?radical? and in need of combating. Solar energy is also a prime target. I was on a conference call with the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) today in which Vice President Tom Kimbis made note that solar energy shouldn?t be a political football and shouldn?t be sacrificed due to political fighting. Well, it?s clear from polls that it shouldn?t be, but, unfortunately, we now have one party consistently try to weaken, water down, or kill solar energy policies while protecting fossil fuel subsidies vehemently.

I put together a few charts and rankings of solar energy countries the other day, based not on absolute numbers like such rankings always are, but on relative installation numbers (i.e. per capita, per GDP, and relative to electricity production). Unfortunately, what that showed is that, while the US is #4 and #5 in absolute terms for newly installed solar power (2011) and cumulative solar power capacity (end of 2011), respectively, it is far down on the list when compared to these other important metrics (i.e. #31 and #22 for new and total solar power per capita, #23 and #26 for new and total solar power per GDP, and #23 and #22 for new and total solar power relative to electricity production). Hardly a world leader.

As one commenter noted, ?Considering that PV panels are a brain child of the US, it?s embarrassing, to say the least, to be so far down on the list. With our political-economic system controlled by those who seek to exploit the last drop of oil it?s no surprise, but shameful none the less. Truly disheartening.?

Yes, truly disheartening.

We need to regain our footing, lift our heads again, and look to the future, as generations before us once did in this country. We need to regain leadership, true leadership, in the fast-growing industries of the 21st century. And the bottom line is: politicians tied to the purse strings of old, rich fossil fuel industries aren?t going to help us with those things. Check the source of your political representatives? funding, and consider well who you help to put into office in this coming election season. This is a big one. I would hate to see us fall further behind in this critical time due to there being too many politicians in office who think flying kites is environmental extremism, and supporting wind and solar energy is radical.

Update: apparently, a Republican Virginia lawmaker has also determined ?sea level rise? (a pretty straightforward technical term) a ?left wing term? and omitted it from, get this, a study on the impacts of climate change on Virginia?s shores. Oh, and ?climate change? and ?global warming? were also omitted. You can?t make this stuff up.