According to the United Nations Development Programme, renewable energy has a vital role to play in the global fight against climate change. A worldwide transition to sustainable sources of power will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also help to halt worsening air quality and related declines in human health.
Fortunately, 2017 stood out as a banner year for renewables. Over the course of the year, public and private initiatives around the globe succeeded in bringing humankind closer to a world where solar, biomass, and other clean power sources are accessible to all.
Among the regions in which renewable energy has taken on a heightened focus in recent years is the Americas. Latin America, for instance, employs nearly 2 million people in its growing renewable energy sector, while the United States continues to expand electricity production from sustainable sources. Solar and wind installations, in particular, have surged in the region, though other clean energy projects have found a place, too. Keep reading to learn about some of the most notable renewable energy projects that were undertaken across the Americas in 2017.
Tesla Solar Facility, Puerto Rico
The 2017 hurricane season devastated Puerto Rico, destroying the island’s power grid and leaving its residents without electricity. Of particular concern during this period was the San Juan-based Children’s Hospital, which lost power due to Hurricane Maria.
Responding to the humanitarian crisis was the Palo Alto, California-based company Tesla. Under the guidance of Elon Musk, Tesla installed a multifaceted solar energy system that paired panels and roof tiles with large storage batteries. The system, which restored electricity to the Children’s Hospital just over five weeks after Maria made landfall, showed the speed with which solar power can be implemented to help people in need.
Google, Offsetting Energy Consumption with US Wind Power
Responsible for facilitating trillions of Internet searches each year, tech giant Google uses a considerable amount of electricity. Seeking to mitigate the effect of its power consumption, the company announced in late 2016 that it would offset 100 percent of the power it requires with energy from renewable sources.
In December, Google fulfilled this promise by purchasing 536 megawatts of power from wind plants in the Midwest. With the purchase, Google now has a renewable energy supply of 3,186 megawatts, which is more than any other corporate buyer. The majority of this supply comes from wind power, and over two-thirds is produced by US sources.
Cerro Pabellon, Chile
South America’s first geothermal plant, Cerro Pabellon began producing energy in Chile’s remote Atacama Desert in March of 2017. The plant, which operates 24 hours a day, consists of two 24-megawatt units capable of generating approximately 340 gigawatt hours annually. This power has the potential to satisfy the energy needs of over 165,000 Chilean homes, all while reducing carbon emissions by more than 166,000 tons each year.
In addition to its geothermal components, the Cerro Pabellon facility includes an innovative hybrid storage system that integrates a lithium ion battery with hydrogen storage. This system, which links with on-site solar panels, provides around-the-clock clean energy to the technicians working at Cerro Pabellon’s base camp.
Wind Catcher, Oklahoma
Construction continued throughout 2017 on this sizable renewable energy facility, which is located in Oklahoma’s panhandle. Part of the broader Wind Catcher Energy Connection project, Wind Catcher will hold distinction as the country’s largest, as well as the world’s second-largest, wind farm when it opens in 2020.
A $4.5 billion collaboration between three companies, Wind Catcher Energy Connection will also incorporate an extra-high-voltage power line. Stretching for approximately 350 miles, this power line will deliver energy from the wind farm to in excess of 1.1 million homes.
Other benefits of the project include predicted savings for energy consumers of more than $7 billion over a span of 25 years. Construction on the wind farm and power line will also support thousands of jobs.
Smart Energy Oxford, Ontario
On the local level, one small Canadian city has taken it upon itself to address its long-term energy needs. By 2050, the rural Ontario community of Woodstock intends to leverage renewable energy sources to cover all of its transportation, heating, and electricity needs.
To meet this goal, Woodstock and surrounding Oxford County have established a plan dubbed Smart Energy Oxford. As part of this plan, Woodstock has already installed a solar-powered microgrid in its downtown. Other initiatives involve transitioning the county’s 20 snowplows to run on a biofuel mixture, lobbying the provincial government to support renewable energy projects, and organizing educational programs that teach local residents how to conserve electricity.
Through Smart Energy Oxford, Woodstock and Oxford County have garnered recognition as leaders in transitioning to renewable energy. Oxford mayor Trevor Birch spoke at the Renewable Cities Global Learning Forum in May, and representatives from others cities have visited the area to learn how to emulate the county-wide effort in their own municipalities.