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Kohler Co. among state’s public, private entities participating in global transition to clean energy economy

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The original version of this article was published in the Energy on Wisconsin December Newsletter by Sherrie Gruder, University of Wisconsin – Extension.

The year 2018 has been a fast-paced year in transition to a clean energy economy, with big milestones in all sectors at less cost. Utilities were able to replace large coal generation plants with renewable generation at lower cost. While primarily due to an 88% decrease in the price of solar modules on the world market between 2001 and 2017, it turns out that by the end of 2018, photovoltaic (PV) module prices are expected to fall by 20 percent to $0.37 per watt in spite of the 30 percent federal tariff, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance note. Now, approximately 500 kilowatts (one half a MW) of solar energy are installed in the U.S. every 25 minutes.

The world surpassed the 1 terawatt (TW) wind and solar capacity milestone in June 2018. The next TW is expected to be added within 5 years at half the cost. U.S. wind capacity crossed the 1 gigawatt (GW) threshold with larger, more powerful and less costly turbines (79% increased capacity factor at 33% less cost). And a recent U.S. offshore wind auction broke records with $405 million in bids to lease thousands of acres off the Massachusetts coast projected to host up to 4.1GW of wind generation.

U.S.plug-in electric carshit the 1 million milestone in October 2018. In July, Tesla reached the 200,000 electric vehicle sales threshold, triggering a reduction in the federal income tax credit financial incentive for subsequent Tesla buyers. Meanwhile, California passed the first all-electric bus law.

By June 2018, corporate renewable energyprocurement achieved a record 3.57 GW of clean energy projects, as many corporations took the RE100 pledge to purchase 100% renewables (EnergyOnWI news, Aug.). Apple achieved 100% clean energy in April. Closer to home, Kohler Co. pledged zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2035, and in 2018 purchased 100 MW of new wind and is now offsetting all electricity in its North American operations (EnergyOnWI news, Feb/Mar.). Organic Valley was responsible for 31 MW of new solar development in rural Wisconsin in 2018. IKEA’s record setting 1.64 MW rooftop solar PV array was installed on its new Wisconsin store in May.

In 2004, 70% of Iowa’s MidAmerican Energy’s generation capacity came from coal and nothing came from wind. At year-end 2016, 48% of its generation capacity came from wind and only 31% came from coal. In 2018 MidAmerican continued its progress toward 100% renewables. Xcel Energy, one of the largest utilities in the U.S., has committed to becomingcarbon-free, 100% renewables by 2050. WPPI Energy doubled its wind power in July with a 132 MW wind center in Illinois. Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) and Alliant Energy are building 66 MW and 150 MW wind projects in Iowa. Alliant’s is designed to expand by another 100 MW. New utility scale solar developments include 300 MW to be built in Iowa and Manitowoc Counties and purchased by WPS and MGE, and 100 MW by WPPI in Manitowoc County (EnergyOnWI news, May/June). Plus, there’s solar in the pipeline from solar developers initiating another 450 MW of projects in Kenosha, Richland, and Iowa Counties.

The milestone of 100 U.S. cities and towns committing to transition to 100% renewable energy was reached in December with Eau Claire, Madison, and Middleton among them. The States of California and Hawaii, and this week the District of Columbia, passed legislation mandating aggressive 100% goals.

In Wisconsin, in the last decade, residentialinstallations have increased by a factor of 12 according to Public Service Commission of Wisconsin data. Wisconsin Community Solar Group Buy programs exceeded 1.4 MW with 227 new solar residential and farm PV installations in 2018 (EnergyOnWI news, Oct.).

This is just a sample of the broad transition to renewable energy sources. Also worth noting are the number of well-paying jobs that have been created as a result. Over 75,000 are employed in the clean energy sector in Wisconsin alone, and this number continues to grow. (EnergyOnWI news, Aug.).

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