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The Next Decade: Renewable Energy

January 5th, 2010

Wind Power

Wind from wind-farms are inarguably the cleanest and simplest renewable energy source, and, as former Vice President Gore points out in his latest book, “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis,” wind is the only renewable that doesn’t require water, “an increasingly important advantage in dry regions.”

Scott Moor Wind Farm (Photo: Paul Anderson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

Scott Moor Wind Farm (Photo: Paul Anderson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

Wind also has been technologically proven and tested in several European countries, such as Germany, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Great Britain, as well as in China and India. Germany and the United States lead the world in wind capacity, but other nations, like China and India, are moving quickly on this technology.

Elizabeth Salerno, director of industry data and analysis for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), says that most projections for wind’s contribution to our overall U.S. power grid are quite conservative.

The Department of Energy’s projections look to wind to make  a 20-percent contribution — but not until 2030. “That study said we need to go from the 8,000 (new) megawatts per year (which we are currently producing) to 16,000 per year by about 2018 or 2020 and by …continuing at the same level – of 16,000 per year – we could be at 20 percent by 2030.”

But Salerno points out that we’re already ahead of the curve – despite last year’s financial meltdown, which essentially brought new investment and research and development to a halt, albeit briefly.

“We put 2,000 megawatts into the ground in 2006, over 5,000 in ’07 and over 8,500 in ’08,” she says.

And yet the DOE plan projected a max-out at 16,000 megawatts per year from 2020 to 2030. Why not more megawatts per year, sooner?

Salerno believes the DOE’s roadmap is not wind power’s ceiling, by any means. The report was based on a projection the DOE felt was reasonably attainable, she says, “but there’s no reason that we couldn’t do 30 or 40 percent by that time. We’d need different R&D, different policies, but that’s a good path to get on. That’s why we’re saying, ‘Okay, this is going to be our goal – 2030… ‘ But we’re already ahead of the curve. If we stay ahead of the curve, then it becomes a question of policy. And we have to have a consistent, comprehensive policy and put it in place today. … That will say (to manufacturers, entrepreneurs and investors), ‘This market is here to stay. Make your investment today, go ahead and retool, hire people, do the research…’ .”

She adds that we have the wind potential to exceed our nation’s needs, many times over.

“Wind resources is not a limiting factor. We have basically 8,000 gigawatts (potentially available) for this country… And we have 1,000 gigawatts of all kinds of power installed today, using coal, nuclear and other resources,” Salerno says. She mentions that last year’s installation of 8,500 megawatts was the largest one-year outlay of any country in wind-power history.

But, what does 8,500 megawatt hours per year translate to?

“A good rule of thumb is that 1 megawatt can power about 300 homes. What that means is, for the 8,500 that was put in the ground last year, they (wind turbines) could power about 2.5 million homes per year. … The most recent number is from the third quarter of ’09 – and we had enough wind in the ground to power the equivalent of about 9 million homes. It’s a lot of power… The big utility-scale turbines can put out a lot of power. And if we keep doubling it – and get to 16,000 a year much sooner than 2018 – we’ll be adding another 5 million homes a year.”

At that rate, wind power could easily exceed the DOE projections, within just a few years. Forget the 2030 scenario…

Solar Power

During the Copenhagen talks in mid December, the international solar energy sector presented a joint report based on data collected from 90 countries and represented in part by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). It stated that energy/electricity generated from the sun could provide at least 15 percent of America’s needs by 2020, projecting that the industry could also generate more than three-quarters of a million jobs in this country. Simultaneously, it could reduce the U.S.’s total energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent within the same time frame.

The SEIA, an American group, has proposed a “Solar Bill of Rights” for the U.S. Congress to consider, making solar power essentially a human right!

“The evidence is clear on the problem of climate change: We need to do more and do it quicker,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA. “Solar energy is our immediate solution (globally). The solar industry is ready now to do more, do it faster and create jobs. The only things holding solar back are antiquated policies developed over the last century that favor polluting sources of energy. Ultimately, it’s important to have a price on pollution, but U.S. policymakers need to enact the provisions in the Solar Bill of Rights to make an immediate difference in addressing climate change.”

The report proposed “accelerated deployment” for the United States, which would bring us to 15 percent solar by 2020. According to that plan, 12 percent would come from “solar electric power generated by photovoltaic solar power plants. Another 3% of electricity would be offset by solar water heating systems” on houses and businesses.

These projections are based on adherence to the Solar Bill of Rights, which would ensure that the solar industry has equal access to the electric-power marketplace in the United States, thereby leveling the playing field with conventional utilities.

Those rights are:

The right to put solar panels on homes and businesses (presumably without interference from homeowner’s associations or local government); the right to connect solar energy systems to the grid; the right to net meter and receive full retail rates (meaning you could get a rebate if the energy you generate exceeds what you use); the right to a fair and competitive environment; the right to equal access to public land; the right to build and interconnect new transmission lines; the right to buy solar electricity from utilities; and consumer rights to the highest ethical treatment from the solar industry.

According to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association secretary general, Adel El Gammal, “One of the main obstacles … is the definition of a sound process for appropriate technology transfer.”

Solar entrepreneurs are churning out new configurations with improved efficiencies. From rooftop collection systems disguised as shingles to window curtains with photovoltaics to massive solar units that don’t consume water to smaller, portable units that mimick commercial-size solar concentrators.

Sopogy's Portable Solar Reflector

Sopogy's Portable Solar Reflector

Honolulu-based Sopogy CEO Darren Kimura believes he can fill a niche for on-site solar with his company’s newest technology — a portable power unit, SopoLite, a 90-pound version of the traditional reflectors that Sopogy uses to collect solar-thermal energy. It’s one of the first portable solar-power systems – if not the first – and can also be used to desalinate water. This device could supplement existing (expensive and massive-sized) equipment by also ascertaining the potential of solar power at that any given location.

In a recent article Alex Salkever, senior writer at AOL Daily Finance, writes that the SopoLite “could prove to be a boon to the still nascent rooftop and commercial solar thermal power segment. Sopogy and another company, Chromasun, both have products in this area, which is expected to boom as more property owners and large chains roll out more comprehensive energy plans…”

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