This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.
On October 11, the Australian state of South Australia powered itself entirely on solar power for a full hour. This may not seem like a significant accomplishment, particularly considering that there are 8,760 hours in a full calendar year. But it marked a global first. It was the first time an officially governed area as massive as South Australia — the state measures nearly 380,000 square miles, with a population over 1.7 million — has run entirely on solar for a full hour.
If you follow this column regularly, you’re accustomed to coverage of the economics of sustainability. And economically speaking, the news keeps getting better. The International Energy Agency released its annual report, the World Energy Outlook 2020, in October with a bombshell finding: Solar power is now officially the cheapest form of energy in the world.
This is because solar farms are now cheaper to build than other forms of power plants. Because they cost less to build and install, solar farms can be scaled more easily and thus drive down the cost of energy produced and sold to users. Other technological developments, like increased battery storage technology, will only amplify this effect in the coming years.
Of course, only 2 percent of global power came from solar in 2019. The report notes that global sustainability policies need to be increased and enforced in order to speed the decline in fossil fuel use by 2040. As a global society, we still have a long way to go to decarbonize our power systems and meet the targets of the Paris agreement — but cheap and plentiful solar energy is the best way to make that happen.
More climate wins this week
Amtrak unveiled its new high-speed, low-polluting train cars for its Acela line along the country’s northeast corridor. The new fleet will cut the line’s carbon footprint down nearly 50 percent while also cutting down the commute time for its riders — pushing transit speed from 150 to 160 miles per hour. On the inside, the cars will feature wifi and USB ports as well as enhanced dining and beverage options. The new cars come into service in 2021.
Arizona is upping its clean power pledge to 100 percent carbon-free by 2050, according to a report in the Arizona Republic. The plan, tentatively approved in a vote by the state’s utility regulators, also requires the state to generate half of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2035. The report noted that when officially approved by regulators, the plan would likely spur a rush of investment in renewable energy development in the state.
Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia released a Memorandum of Understanding last week stating that the three states will work together to develop offshore wind power projects. In addition to providing power for the three states, the memorandum notes the economic benefits of job creation throughout the region.