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GEO-6 Regional Assessment for North America Count


Projected


Figure 2.9.3: Oklahoma, US, earthquakes over time 1 000


200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900


100 0


109 1.6 1.0 0 3 0 2 2 3 1 2 20 35 64 35 Year Source: USGS 2015


Renewable energy technologies have matured to an extent that they can now be deployed at significant scale and be cost competitive in North America (Wiser 2015; IPCC 2014b). Recent decreases in wind and solar energy prices illustrate this trend: wind energy prices have fallen to an all-time low, pushed in part by improvements in technology and increasing production (Wiser 2015), while solar energy prices have also fallen, with solar photovoltaic (PV) module prices in 2014 around 75 per cent below their levels at the end of 2009. Between 2010 and 2014 the total installed costs of utility-scale PV systems fell by 29–65 per cent, depending on the location in North America (IRENA 2015).


For other renewable energy technologies, the story is similar to wind and solar, with electrical power generation costs competitive under many circumstances. Biomass, geothermal and hydropower provide electricity competitively with fossil fuel-fired power generation (Figure 2.9.4). These trends encourage forecasts of increasing renewable energy deployment and decreasing fossil-fuel electricity generation (IRENA 2015; BNEF 2015).


150


941


The ongoing transition to renewable energy has been dramatic in the US, where wind energy now provides about 5 per cent of total electricity demand and powers more than 17.5 million homes (EIA 2015a). However, the most striking change is that the price of wind-generated electricity is at historic lows and is lower than the wholesale price of electricity across many parts of the US (Wiser 2015).


584 267


Canada has also experienced a large increase in wind energy deployment. With more than 10 gigawatts of installed capacity, wind power in Canada can now supply 4 per cent of national electricity demand and power about 2 million homes (CanWEA 2015). In many instances, community resistance based on perceived human health risks has presented an obstacle to the further development of wind energy, not only in Canada, but also in the US (Songsore and Buzzelli 2014; Walker et al. 2014).


A mix of supportive policies, technological improvements and, increasingly, consumer choice, drives the growing rate of wind power installation. Technological improvements and increasing returns to scale contribute to price declines in wind energy, explaining why many technology firms are specifically requesting wind energy to power data centres. A key to technological improvement is the development of larger and taller turbines. Since higher wind energy is available at higher wind speeds and larger rotors capture more energy at lower wind speeds, these turbines produce more energy at lower costs. This trend has resulted in wind energy capturing a one-third share of all new electricity generating capacity built since 2007 in the US (EIA 2015a).


Solar deployment has also increased dramatically, capturing 40 per cent of the market for new electric generating capacity in the US in the first half of 2015. During the second quarter of 2015 alone, solar installations in the US were 1 393 megawatts and solar capacity now has reached 22.7 gigawatts nationwide. Solar now powers 4.6 million homes and individual homeowner and utility-scale installations are becoming more common (SEIA 2015; EIA 2015).


2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016


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