Colorado ranks eighth for the capacity of its solar infrastructure, according to a new report from the Environment Colorado Research and Policy Center. The state has 398 megawatts of total capacity, or 74 watts per person. The state did not keep pace with new installation, however, installing 67 megawatts in the last year, ranking it 13th for growth in the sector.

The United States solar industry achieved record growth in 2014, installing almost 7,000 megawatts of solar capacity, a 34 percent increase. This growth was led by an unprecedented 51 percent increase in residential installations, followed by a 38 percent increase in utility installations. The United States currently has 20,500 megawatts of cumulative capacity, enough to power 4 million average U.S. homes.

“Our analysis shows that policy choices are a key driver of solar energy growth,” said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, report co-author, in a press release. “State and local government policy leadership is closely aligned with success in growing solar energy.” Policy plays a key role in enabling the industry to generate the demand to achieve critical economies of scale. Since the beginning of 2010, the average cost of solar PV panels has dropped more than 60 percent.

Drivers for growth in the solar industry include energy resiliency and diversification, but they are mainly attributable to the environmental benefits of solar technology. Even when emissions from manufacturing, transportation and installation of solar panels are included, solar power produces 96 percent less global warming pollution than a coal-fired power plant over its entire life-cycle.

—Sarah Haas


The historic 2013 September floods brought a year of rain in five days, displacing the equivalent of hundreds to a thousand years of sediment, according to a recent study from researchers at the University of Colorado. The findings contrast with the slow long-term erosion rate for the area, about two-tenths of an inch per century. Such a minute rate is not observable and the aftermath of the floods provided an opportunity for researchers to directly measure sediment movement.

The large storm generated over 1,100 landslides of which the researchers examined 120 over a 39-square-mile area west of Boulder. The individual landslides studied ranged from small (around 350 cubic feet of sediment removed) to large (about 740,000 cubic feet removed). Large landslides grow bigger and gain speed as they sweep down slopes, incorporating additional water and sediment and creating fast-moving debris flows that leave a lasting impression on the landscape.

“We estimated the velocities of some of these debris flows at about 10 meters per second, which is as fast as sprinter Usain Bolt runs,” said Suzanne Anderson, a research fellow at the Institute for Alpine and Arctic Research (INSTAAR), and co-author of the new study in a press release. “They’re incredibly destructive because they happen so quickly and there’s no warning system once a flow is triggered.”

The findings of the study, published in Geology, suggest that erosion is not always a slow and steady process, but it may occur as large events, like the September 2013 storms. This finding also complicates the application of published erosion rates used in geologic timelines of the Front Range.

—Sarah Haas