Who Created the Renewable-Energy Miracle? 紐時賞析/誰創造了再生能源奇蹟？
As terrible as many things in the world are, climate is unique in posing an existential threat to civilization. And it's horrifying that so many political figures are dead set against any serious action to address that threat.
Despite that, there's still a chance that we'll do enough to avoid catastrophe — not because we've grown wiser but because we've been lucky. We used to believe that achieving big reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would be difficult and expensive. Over the past dozen years or so, however, we've experienced a technological miracle. The costs of solar and wind power have plunged to the point that quite modest incentives could lead to a rapid reduction in use of fossil fuels.
But was it really luck? Did this miracle — actually two miracles, since generating electricity from the sun and from the wind involve completely different technologies — just happen to arrive in our moment of need? Or was it a consequence of good policy decisions?
What's the justification for that conclusion? Start with the fact that neither wind nor solar power was a fundamentally new technology. Windmills have been in widespread use at least since the 11th century. Photovoltaic solar power was developed in the 1950s.
What we're looking at, instead, appears to be a situation in which growing use of renewable energy is itself driving cost reductions. Renewables appear to be subject to learning curves, in which costs fall with cumulative production.
And here's the thing: When an industry has a steep learning curve, government support can have huge positive effects. Subsidize such an industry for a few years, and its costs will fall with experience, and eventually it will reach a tipping point where its growth becomes self-sustaining and the subsidies are no longer needed.
That's arguably what has happened, or is on the verge of happening, for renewable energy.
In short, there's a really good case to be made that government support for renewable energy created a cost miracle that might not have happened otherwise — and this cost miracle may be the key to saving us from utter climate catastrophe.
California's Plan to Make New Buildings Greener Will Also Raise Costs 加州要新大樓更環保 拉高建築成本
California has led the nation in fighting climate change by encouraging the use of renewable energy and electric cars. Now the state is taking on an even harder challenge — reducing emissions from homes, businesses and other buildings that have to be heated, cooled and powered.
Last month, state regulators updated California's building code to require new homes and commercial buildings to have solar panels and batteries and the wiring needed to switch from heaters that burn natural gas to heat pumps that run on electricity. Energy experts say it is one of the most sweeping single environmental updates to building codes ever attempted by a government agency.
But some energy and building experts warn that California may be taking on too much, too quickly and focusing on the wrong target — new buildings, rather than the much larger universe of existing structures. Their biggest fear is that these new requirements will drive up the state's already high construction costs, putting new homes out of reach of middle- and lower-income families that cannot as easily afford the higher upfront costs of cleaner energy and heating equipment, which typically pays for itself over years through savings on monthly utility bills.
The median single-family home in California sells for more than $800,000 compared to about $360,000 nationwide, and businesses pay more for rent in cities like San Francisco and San Jose than anywhere else in the country. A big reason costs are higher in California is that the state is not building enough homes, something lawmakers tried to address this past week by advancing legislation that would allow more than one home on each parcel of land.
Adding solar panels and a battery to a new home can raise its cost by $20,000 or more. While that might not matter to somebody buying a million-dollar property, it could be a burden on a family borrowing a few hundred thousand dollars to buy a home.
"You're going to see the impact in office rents. You're going to see it in the cost of the milk in your grocery store," said Donald J. Ruthroff, a principal at Dahlin Group Architecture Planning in Pleasanton, California. "There's no question this is going to impact prices across the board."