The state of renewable energy in 2013 can be summed up by one telling announcement this year: Solar panels are so cheap that Ikea is now going to be selling them.
After a rocky few years, renewable energy, in its many forms, made progress in the marketplace, especially as a growing number of cities, such as Los Angeles, seek alternatives to coal (often that is natural gas). Large solar service companies, such as Sunrun, Sungevity, and SolarCity, are starting to look and act a lot more like big and reliable electric utilities. (SolarCity had a successful IPO at the tail end of 2012.) And innovative business models are making it easier than ever for homeowners, towns, institutions, and cities to adopt these technologies.
Another trend we noticed in the last year is that innovation in energy can come from surprising places, whether from 17-year-old working on algae research in her bedroom to a former porn mega-shop that happened to be the perfect place to construct a net-zero energy building. It’s not as difficult as we think (read last year’s list for even more evidence of this).
Check out those amazing stories, and other innovations from from a $5 light for the developing world to the advance towards cheaper LEDs below:
The GravityLight gets power from the slow lowering of a weight. All it takes is enough elbow grease to hoist the bag, and you can light a room with nothing but a bag of sand.
Where there was once lube and lingerie, there are now solar panels and a “vampire energy kill switch.”
Promised Land, the new Matt Damon film about the consequences of drilling for natural gas, manages to get bad reviews from both gas moguls and environmentalists, who all say it misses the actual issues in what should be an important debate.
Cree’s new light costs just $10, will last for years and lower your electricity bill, and is basically indistinguishable from your old, energy sucking bulbs.
The city will reduce demand and convert to natural gas, showing that real work on better climate and energy policy might come from the city level, not the feds.
Sara Volz won the Intel Science Fair for her work on growing algae that’s more efficient at making biofuels–and she does all her work in her bedroom.
Now, in England, shoppers can buy PV panels with random Swedish names.
The company’s massive data centers require a huge amount of power, most of which comes from coal. And that’s not changing.
A simple coating to a building’s windows can redirect incoming sunlight to where it’s needed–say, on a ceiling for an ambient glow or to a desk fixture so you can get to work.
Read more of our best stories of the year in these categories: Top stories, infographics, photography, maps, buildings, design, cities, food, transportation, innovative workplaces, bikes, collaborative consumption, energy, crowdfunding, robots, environment, health, education