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Some of the Best Things to Happen to Renewable Energy in 2014

ClimateProgress analysts state that despite the whirlwind of negative events that severely affected the world economy the year 2014 was marked by a number of significant positive events in terms of renewable energy development. According to environmental NGOs, these positive technological accomplishments have the ability to create the foundation for a stable world economy.

The experts behind ClimateProgress (a climate-themed subdivision of ThinkProgress, a blog that provides a forum that advances progressive ideas and policies) created a list of the most positive events to happen to renewable energy in 2014. It is notable that the advancements of a ‘historical’ scale are associated mainly with solar power development.

World’s first solar bike lane paves the way to the future

In November, the Netherlands became home to the world’s first solar road — one that happens to be designed specifically for bikes. The 70-meter stretch of the SolaRoad contains enough safety-glass-protected solar cells to generate enough energy to power about three Dutch homes. As a concept, solar roads are in their beginning stages right now, but the Dutch example inspired a couple in the U.S. to start a project to eventually replace many traditional asphalt roadways with solar roads similar to the one in the Netherlands. Many people, it seems, want to see that dream reach reality: the couple’s crowdfunding campaign, which ended in June, raised $2 million.

World’s largest solar plant comes online

Though it has technically been operating since 2013, Ivanpah, the world’s largest concentrating solar plant situated in Mojave Desert in California, officially opened in February. The giant solar plant, which uses mirrors to focus the sun’s energy, can generate enough electricity to power nearly 100,000 homes.

Solar-powered cars: moving fast and long distance

Solar powered cars have long faced a dilemma: either they can be fast, or they can travel relatively far on a single charge. They could not do both. In June, one solar car that can travel nearly 800 kilometers on a single charge broke a speed record for electric vehicles, proving that the dilemma of solar cars may soon be defunct. Sunswift eVe, a solar car designed by students at the University of New South Wales, reached a top speed of 140 kilometers per hour in June. At that point, the car was not road-ready, but it might soon be: after raising about $28,600 in a crowdfunding campaign, the students behind the car are working to rebuild the vehicle to make it street-legal.

Researchers reach a record in solar conversion efficiency

Next, researchers from the same University of New South Wales achieved a record in solar efficiency in December, converting more than 40 percent of the sunlight that hit the test solar panels into electricity. The researchers achieved this feat by splitting four different cells, and by using concentrated solar photovoltaic technology. Previously, the solar converting efficiency hardly reached 25%. This achievement may give another boost to further solar energy development.

New solar-based materials

The solar industry is ripe for innovation, with researchers consistently coming up with easier, cheaper, and more versatile solar technologies.

In July, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology unveiled a “solar sponge,” a porous material that is able to efficiently convert sunlight (a whopping 85% of solar energy!) into steam. The sponge, if it can be produced commercially, could be used to produce potable water in impoverished areas.

The same year, a British start-up developed a lightweight solar cloth that can be stretched across parking lots or buildings with roofs that cannot hold much weight, such as sports stadiums. The cloth won the Solar U.K. Industry Awards’ Photovoltaic Solar Innovation of the Year in 2014.

The world’s largest tidal array gets the green light

Scotland announced in August that it had finalized plans to build what it is calling the world’s largest tidal array in the Pentland Firth in the northern part of the territory. Once the MeyGen tidal array is completed, it is predicted to be able to provide enough electricity to power 175,000 homes, and will also create up to 100 jobs. The total output power of underwater turbines is expected to be around 398 Megawatts, which is 144 Megawatts more than that of today’s world largest tidal power plant in Sihwa, Korea.

In August, a 156-ton tidal power generator opened in Wales for a 12-month trial. If the trial goes well, the company in charge of the generator hopes to set up nine more of these generators, a set that, in all, could produce enough electricity to power about 10,000 area homes.

World’s largest and most powerful wind turbine

Denmark stood out in 2014 by officially starting up the world’s largest and most powerful wind turbine. The turbine, which is located at the Danish National Test Centre for Large Wind Turbines in Østerild, is 220- meters tall with 80-meters blades. Moreover, it is an energy powerhouse, too: the turbine can generate enough electricity to power 7,500 average European households.

Alternative energy becomes cheaper than the traditionally produced one

One of the year’s most significant outcomes, according to analysts, is that the cost of electrical energy produced with renewable energy sources finally became cheaper than that of a traditional gas and oil-derived electricity. The fact was first recorded in the US, and it is important to mention that only the commercial cost was calculated, without consideration for any governmental subsidies whatsoever. The net cost of industrially produced solar power reached $72 for a Megawatt per hour, for wind power the cost is $37 and tends to decrease over time. At the same time, the selling price at coal power stations reaches $145 per Megawatts per hour, for gas power plants it is around $87 and has not changed in the past few years.

‘Unfortunately, in this long list of green energy break-throughs we fail to find any Russian examples of the same world- or even national scale’, says Olga Senova of Russian Socio-Ecological Union’s Climate Secretariat. ‘In Russia, there are both scientists working on renewable energy and business that is potentially interested in it, but the national goals still do not prioritize support for renewable energy development. Even the goal (for the share of renewables in the net energy balance, mentioned in the national energy strategy for 2020, has been reviewed and is now 2.5% instead of 4.5%. The type of technological break-throughs mentioned above, along with Russia’s uniquely varied potential of renewable energy sources, may really lay the foundation for the country’s future that is both environmentally and people-friendly, and economically sustainable.’