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Tesla, Trump and South Australia: The top clean energy and climate stories of 2016

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In 2016, RenewEconomy was visited by two million readers, who read 5.2 million items over the 12 months. So which stories were the most popular, and what did they tell us about the year that just was?

It was, of course, dominated by Tesla. The other big themes were battery storage, the price falls in wind and solar, the big shift from centralised energy, and politics, politics, politics.

Tesla and the electric vehicle:

The most read story on our website during the year was Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk just killed the petrol car, and the unveiling of the first “mass market” EV, the Model 3. At $US36,000 in his home country, it changed the game, and since that time rival car-makers have invested billions to develop their own mass market EVs. The competition will be fierce. We don’t know who will win, but it could be all over for the internal combustion engine by 2020, as we wrote in Tesla, rivals, software may kill petrol car as soon as 2025.

Source: Tesla

Source: Tesla

Tesla and battery storage

The second big story was the plummeting price of battery storage. Utilities suggested that “maybe” battery storage costs might fall 50 per cent over the next five to 10 years. Tesla was bringing down prices overall, and then brought it down 50 per cent in 12 months, with the release of their double-powered-but-costs-the-same Powerwall 2, as we reported here Powerwall 2: Tesla doubles up on battery storage and slashes costs. This meant that Tesla’s price shock: Solar + battery as cheap as grid power, but it wasn’t just that. Research from Bruce Mountain found that solar and storage is already cheaper than grid power in some states.tesla_powerwall_2-640x360

Tesla was not the only battery storage of interest. Readers were keen to learn what the next generation of battery storage would be, so Sandy solution for renewable energy storageAustralian company buys 50% stake in “game-changing” graphene battery storage technology and Redflow’s Hackett: We’re better than Tesla’s home battery storage were also among our top 20 stories of the year. And there was also big interest in associated opportunities: Huge WA lithium mine set to go ahead, tapping battery storage market as well as upbeat market predictions: Morgan Stanley: Battery storage to grow four times quicker than market thinks. GCL Poly, LG  and Sonnen also attracted interest.

Tesla and the solar roof

Ever thought of free energy? That was the underlying theme of Tesla’s unveiling of their version of the solar roof. Like EVs, Tesla were not first into the market, but could be the first to make it a thing. Musk imagines a one-stop shop where you buy your roof, your car, and your storage. That could change things. Elon Musk’s first victim was the petrol car; now it’s old style utilities. And others were also on the free energy theme: Solar, wind, storage and big data: Why energy may soon be free. Whether it works or not time will tell, but clearly there is interest. An old story, Bluescope unveils “world first” solar roof with heat and power was again one of our top stories of the year.

The rise of solar and wind

The continuing reductions in the cost of wind and solar continued to dominate the news, with prices at record lows in Abu Dhabi and elsewhere. Looking to the future, Germany says solar and wind have won technology race. This is heralding a shift, and one of those discussions about the switch from centralised generation also attracted interest: “Base load” power: a myth used to defend the fossil fuel industry. And good news stories such as this: Iceland: A 100% renewables example in the modern era also grabbed attention.

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Ah, but the politics …

While positive stories on technology developments gathered most interest, the debunking of political and media myths about renewable energy also demanded attention. South Australia’s blackout proved the perfect forum for this myth-making, so these stories challenging that myth-making Is ABC’s Chris Uhlmann the new face of the anti-wind lobby? and Murdoch, Coalition go in guns blazing against wind and solar and Murdoch media gets it hopelessly wrong on wind energy. Again were among the most popular of the year.

And the rise of Trump, Inc.

And, of course, the biggest political story of the year was the election of Donald Trump as president of the US. We won’t know quite what this means until he takes office from January 20, as we reported here Abbott, Trump, Brexit: What happens when the dog actually catches the car. But it does not look good: Trump’s Day 1 plan to fire up US shale gas and “clean coal” industries with a cabinet comprised almost entirely of climate science deniers, and representatives of the fossil fuel industry and billionaires. That could have an impact on Australian politics too. This just about summed it up Trump: Ugly for world, ugly for climate, ugly for clean energy.  

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  • Geoff

    Thank you Renew Economy for a great year on reporting, comments and laughs. No doubt 2017 is shaping up to blow peoples minds, mine including. Keep up the fantastic work and see you all next year!

  • Ian

    The next big thing after a renewables grid and renewables powered transportation has got to be smart cities and communities. How do we reconfigure our built world to accommodate nature and make our lives harmonious with the whole of the biosphere whilst making them more safe enjoyable, peaceful etc,etc. I can see elements of this already. Urban communities with sporting or nature special focuses. Cities built around public transport. Farming communities. Sporting facilities and community facilities around purpose built mining towns. Shopping malls with entertainment and sporting attractions, recycling efforts to reduce the vast waste problem, repurposing mine holes for pumped storage and quarries for water attractions. Zoos that entertain both public and animals whilst trying to promote conservation. Some computer tech companies have tried to combine enjoyment and informality with productivity.