Renewable Energy: The Facts

by Bryan Walker on December 14, 2010

Renewable Energy - The FactsGermany is a country which has attracted much attention for taking renewable energy technology seriously, not least because it has gained significant economic advantage in doing so. That lends interest to the publication of an English translation of the book, Renewable Energy: The Facts, by German writers Dieter Seifried and Walter Witzel. The authors write chiefly about the German experience, but the book is also relevant to an international audience. Renewable energy is often difficult to get a handle on. Claims and counter-claims jostle confusingly. Sober evaluations such as this book seeks to supply are helpful. The book sets out to provide straightforward information, albeit with the conviction that renewable energy can successfully replace the fossil-fuelled sources which have become so dangerous in their impact on climate change.

The authors write of the beginning of a Solar Age. Solar is an umbrella term which embraces also wind power, hydropower, biomass and geothermal power. They exclude nuclear energy from this new age for reasons of safety and problems of waste.  And there is certainly no future for fossil-fuelled energy.

Like its title, the book is relatively low key. Every page of print has a chart facing it and each topic is limited to a single page of explanation. A page may be a straight description of a particular technology, or a discussion of an underlying principle, or an explanation of a pricing or funding arrangement, but the overall direction of the separate pieces is clear: renewable energy technology is adequate to move us out of fossil fuel dependency if we take the appropriate steps to allow it.

A frequently sounded theme of the book is that renewable energy advance must go hand in hand with energy efficiency and conservation. They are twinned. The less profligate we become in our use of energy the higher the proportionate contribution renewable energy can make to our needs. The authors envisage renewable energy not to feed an ever more insatiable appetite for energy, but to adequately supply a demand which has been trimmed by sensible measures to conserve the use we make of energy resources. This includes simple things like taking energy costs into consideration when purchasing items with long service lives such as cars and refrigerators.

Cost calculations are often brandished by opponents to demonstrate that renewables are uneconomic. The book is quite clear that the cheapness of fossil energy is alleged, not real.  It may be relatively affordable for individuals but it costs society dearly because the environmental damage it causes is not priced in but externalised – that is, paid by someone else, which may be society as a whole. Selling energy at prices below what it should actually cost leads to more energy being consumed than necessary and discourages investment in efficient appliances and renewable energy. The authors surmise that external costs not contained in market prices can even exceed production costs.

To counter the advantages fossil-fuelled energy gains by its externalised costs, Germany has instituted forms of assistance to renewables, particularly the feed-in tariff system which has now been adopted by many countries. Like the wind and solar power equipment manufactured in Germany, the policy itself, expressed in the Renewable Energy Act of 2000, has become a hot export. The book explains the feed-in rates and other instruments in Germany designed to enable the fast development of renewables. It notes that these surcharges do not simply increase the price of electricity to consumers; rather they result in a paradoxical lowering of power prices on power exchanges. Other economic benefits include a lowering of the external costs imposed on society by fossil fuel and a substantial increase in employment opportunities in renewable energy. Assistance to renewable energy development thus brings wide economic benefit.

Much of the book offers information on the variety of technologies available for deployment in the various fields of renewables. Solar thermal has a chapter, as does solar electric. Photovoltaics are currently still expensive in Germany, but with support from feed-in rates considerable development has nevertheless occurred. Improvements in photovoltaic technology are being made and the book quotes expert opinion that grid parity is already being reached in parts of southern Europe and the southwestern US; even in Germany parity is expected by 2013. Interestingly, although the sun reaches Germany at only half the strength of sunlight in the Sahara the book points out that overall Germany receives more than 80 times more solar energy than it currently consumes from all energy sources.

Solar architecture is an area in which Germany has been prominent and the book explains some of the ways in which extraordinarily low energy consumption has been achieved in new buildings. It also points to the large potential for savings in energy through comprehensive renovation of existing buildings, claiming that roughly 20 per cent of overall current energy consumption in Germany could be offset through such renovation.

Wet and dry biomass receives cautious attention as an energy source, with a recognition of the pressure it can put on land use.  Wood-fired heating not only for individual apartments but for entire neighbourhoods holds promise if forests are sustainably managed. It can add value to the region in which the wood is grown, keeping transportation distance short, saving money on imported fuel and providing greatly expanded employment.

Wind power has been a boom market in Germany and the authors consider it likely to cover some 20-30 per cent of power consumption there by 2025. They note that opponents have consistently underestimated its potential. Minor changes in cultural landscapes they consider are compensated by the long-term nature conservation and protection of the biosphere which wind power offers. Repowering –  replacing small turbines with larger ones – and the development of offshore farms are the two developments which will enable further expansion in Germany. Export prospects for German manufactured components are positive, since wind power is growing strongly in many other countries. Between 2001 and 2009 worldwide installed wind power capacity grew eightfold. Wind power is a good provider of employment – in 2008 there were 85,000 jobs in Germany in the wind sector.

The book’s survey of renewables is rounded off with attention to water power and geothermal sources, including hot dry rock.

What does it all add up to? The book is cautious in its claims, and warns that without greatly increased efficiency and conservation in the ways energy is used renewables will not be able to provide for Germany’s energy needs. But the necessary efficiency gains are well within reach, and when renewable energy is coupled with those gains it should be able to provide 90% or more of Germany’s energy by 2050. This in a country which currently depends on fossil sources for 85% of its energy.

Examples of successful projects in renewable energy implementation on smaller community scales round off the book. They are cheering reminders that when a group of people is ready to take hold of the issue real and prompt outcomes can result. One hopes that such ventures serve as goads to the larger players who have it within their power to make substantial difference to the speed of transition to renewables.

The book has much to offer readers who want to build up a sense of what is possible in renewable energy, what is already happening, and how the potential can be assisted to realisation. “The future has already begun in Germany,” proclaims one page heading, with justification.

[Purchase via Hot Topic affiliates Fishpond (NZ), Amazon.com, Book Depository (UK, with free shipping worldwide).]

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob Bingham December 14, 2010 at 4:25 pm

New Zealand is nearly there in renewable electricity production. Out of eleven Gigabytes of electricity generation, only one comes from coal, at Huntley, and 500 megabytes from gas. Huntlley is nearing the end of its design life and we should shut it at that time. The problem is that every time there is a plan for hydro the Greens abd the locals come out saying they want to go canoeing on the river and there is a big anti campaign. We need to understand the damage that coal does and how much energy we need to keep going..

crf December 14, 2010 at 6:01 pm

“They exclude nuclear energy from this new age for reasons of safety and problems of waste”

Such a pointless conceit makes any analysis actually involving those assumptions likely not useful.

Gareth December 14, 2010 at 9:25 pm

The role that nuclear will play (note my use of “will”) will vary from country to country, partly because of differences in the power generation base, and partly because of political realities. For a country like Germany, where nuclear has been unpopular for years (and where events like Chernobyl are seared in public memory) other choices may be more workable. From a wider perspective, however, nuclear most certainly will be important, especially Gen 4 technology (see Brave New Climate for much more).

jno December 14, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Generation II and III are doing ok in France, Switzerland and Sweden- CO2 emissions per head nearly half of Germany’s, and the nuclear plants keep working through the current snowy weather while German solar is a joke, and wind just lipstick on a gas power pig. All the wind farms might cheer up the greens, but last I heard about twenty big new lignite burning power plants were planned there. Hydro flows are low in winter as well, so effectively it’s fossils or nuclear

Thomas December 14, 2010 at 11:05 pm

These nuclear stations – not unlike fossil fuels – run on credit, the credit is in future environmental cost of waste removal, plant decommissioning, stewardship over bomb grade material and a long list of other issues relating to these.

turnages December 17, 2010 at 7:04 am

You are misinformed. In the US, UK and France at least, all operating nuclear power companies pay levies to decommissioning/waste disposal funds which is expected to pay for the eventual shutdown and cleanup. France and the UK also reprocess the used fuel reducing the waste to a twentieth of its original volume.

A 1GW nuclear station produces about 20 tons of used fuel a year, which can be recycled. A 1GW coal-fired power station produces 6 MILLION tons of CO2, many thousands of tons of fly ash containing large quantities of toxic metals (mercury, arsenic etc).

So, nuclear stations are NOT like fossil fuels …

And the plutonium in the used fuel is completely unsuitable for bombs – very impure \nd quite the wrong isotope balance.

Of course we have to handle it carefully. The commercial nuclear industry has had many decades of doing just that.

cynicus December 14, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Strangely enough things always seem a bit more nuanced when people start writing about nuclear and calling everything else ‘a joke’, ‘lipstick’ etc.

You seem to forget that France is heavily dependent on French/Swiss hydro, Italian gas and German fossil generated electricity to balance their net every day of the year among other things.

jno December 15, 2010 at 12:06 am

‘France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity, and gains over three billion euro per year from this’ according to google. They use nuclear for baseload, hydro for peak, and close some plants down on weekends.Germany still produces between two and three times as much power from nuclear as from wind, even though the reactors had been throttled down because of a government mandate on lifetime kilowatt-hours allowed, while wind power has to be bought by the grid even if strong winds and low demand cause major grid management problems

quokka December 15, 2010 at 1:39 am

Nuanced or not, the article referred to has not been much of a crystal ball with regard to nuclear power outlook in non-western and developing countries. UAE now has a contract with Sth Korean companies to build four 1400 GW reactors of Sth Korean design. The article refers to deployment of nuclear in the UAE as “absurd”. Multiple middle eastern countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, possibly Jordan will probably make announcements over the next 12 months.

In India, the go ahead has been given for an initial two Areva EPRs in an installation planned to accommodate six making it the largest nuclear power station in the world. Areva is building two EPRs in China.

Bangledesh and Vietnam are each going ahead with two Russian VVER reactors and Vietnam is in talks with Japan for more capacity.

Sth Africa has 10 GW of nuclear in their 2030 plan and are negotiating with several supplier nations.

Developing countries can go for nuclear or they can go for coal to meet their requirements to keep the lights on and stabilize their grids. Lets hope they go for as much nuclear as possible.

crf December 16, 2010 at 8:36 am

Dismissing even Gen 3 is obviously something more than a peccadillo.

At this terrible juncture, analysis about preventing dangerous climate change shouldn’t mollycoddle any populace’s supposed cultural aversion to nuclear technology.

This is simply a form of the excuse politicians in the south-eastern US coal states use to avoid phasing out the use of coal: that it is part of their culture.

(There are better arguments against nuclear energy — but in my (albeit unconsidered) opinion, they also generally fall short, given the problem at hand.)

quokka December 14, 2010 at 8:10 pm

The performance of PV in Germany on a daily basis can be viewed here: http://www.sma.de/en/news-information/pv-electricity-produced-in-germany.html

I strongly recommend that anybody who maintains PV is useful for anything other than lining the pockets of PV panel manufacturers and installers in northern Europe scroll back over the days and months to build a picture of performance. The capacity factor in December would be no more than 2% at best. The much vaunted 15GW nominal capacity absurdly overstates the true output. The annualized capacity factor is probably no more than 10%.

Debating points about 80 times the annual German energy consumption falling in solar radiation entirely miss the point if that solar energy cannot be captured and perhaps more importantly stored at any reasonable economic cost, then it is not much use in addressing the climate problem.

About a year ago, George Mobiot estimated the cost of German PV at 50 billion euros. Recent estimates of cost run at over 100 billion euros by 2015-16. For 50 million euros you could have about 12 Areva EPR modern nuclear power plants with about 19 GW total capacity and 90% capacity factor. Electricity that would always be available and reliable. And most importantly taking a serious bite out of German CO2 emissions.

Like it or not, these are the grim realities.

Quoting from James Hansen’s comments on China reviewed here recently:

“I must start with a fundamental law: as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, they will continue to be burned. This law is as certain as the law of gravity.”

Bob Bingham December 14, 2010 at 10:13 pm

New Zealand is well placed for natural energy with an abundance of hydro and geothermal and even though I am not a big fan of wind we have plenty of west coast sites that are efficient producers. Morally we should get rid of coal quickly but more importantly we are passing through peak oil and when it starts to bite we will need loads of electricity to replace it. We won’t run out but when it will cost to $300 to fill the car we will have to think harder about transport.

Thomas December 14, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Yes. And $300 for a tank of gas will mean a lot more, such as an escalation of food prices and any other necessary goods. While (personal) transport is the first we think of as it affects our liberty directly, it is the cost for the necessities of life which we should worry about once peak oil has taken its toll. Many New Zealanders live from paycheck to paycheck at the moment already…….

quokka December 15, 2010 at 2:00 am

I have twice tried to post a link to a site with “real time” and historical PV performance in Germany but the board software seems to have a problem with the link.

Google for “sma performance of PV germany” to get the page and scroll back through the days and months to get a picture of whats going on. It’s very educational and distinctly unimpressive.

[Caught by the spam filter for some reason. Now released. GR]

Thomas December 15, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Quokka: Its winter in Germany. The application seems not to allow to go back for months into the summer time without clicking on each day (180 to get to get to June). I suppose the samples you looked at would all have been in December….

For a more realistic statistic look here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Germany

Germany had about 8.8 GW of installed PV capacity.
It generated an average of 710MW from that.
That is a capacity factor of 12%.
However if you know anything about solar energy you will know that capacity factors are simple a read herring in this regard as obviously there is no power at night (explains 50% of the NO output capacity factor … dugh!)
And during the day the solar output varies with the rise and fall of the sun.
In the best situations PV can get close to a 20% capacity factor (Arizona etc.)
So for a nation located around 50 Deg North (Germany) the 12% is actually really good and close to the theoretical maximum there considering also the mixed German weather.

The 3,200 GWh of electricity produced by Germany’s PC in 2009 equals 3.1 Million Tonne of Coal in energy equivalent.
Coal not mined and not burned.

These are the figures you should look at.

And before badmouthing PV do some research on how this actually works, what capacity factors are, how they are calculated and so forth.

quokka December 15, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I’ve been following German PV output for months. Summer output is typically something like 65% of nominal capacity at the best time of the day.

No disputing PV saves some emissions but that is not the point. The point is to decarbonize electricity supply on a time line extending over the next 30 – 40 years. There is no prospect of that happening if the technologies employed are not just too expensive but way too expensive.

While new coal fired capacity is being built or retired coal capacity being replaced, it is simply impossible to deem the German program to be successful.

Turboblocke December 17, 2010 at 7:01 am

PV and other renewables punch above their weight when it comes to reducing emissions because as they produce electricity the more expensive/ least efficient/most polluting fossil fuel plant goes off-line. That also explains the “…paradoxical lowering of power prices on power exchanges.” mentioned above.

Bob Bingham December 15, 2010 at 7:47 am

Nuclear power has a bad reputation with many people for its association with nuclear bombs and its radioactive waste. the Greens also promote the idea that it is a limited resource fuel.
Most nuclear technology uses uranium as a fuel so that plutonium can be extracted to make bombs, as that is where all the technology started. If the nuclear industry used Thorium as a fuel it would not have plutonium as a by product and the waste is not so toxic. Thorium is also more abundant.
There are a few Thorium plants running but it needs more research.

Dappledwater December 15, 2010 at 8:01 am

the Greens also promote the idea that it is a limited resource fuel.

It is. Nuclear will have to be part of the energy solution for some countries, but a “magic bullet” it isn’t.

John D December 15, 2010 at 12:09 pm

If Thorium turns out to be commercially viable, and there are thousands of years of it with little waste problem, and in abundant supply, then why is it not a magic bullet?

Sam Vilain December 15, 2010 at 1:23 pm

I agree that nuclear does start to look like a very good option with Thorium and especially the gen IV reactors which I hear burn old waste; they can’t be used everywhere though because they are expensive and require a massive grid, especially once you realise that they are not 100% active so you need some redundancy. The industry surrounding it is also very high tech and requires investment not just to build the new technology reactors, but to have a skilled nuclear industry. It also seems that no matter what the nuclear technology there is a way to use it in a way that assists nuclear weapons proliferation (even fabled P+B=3*He fusion reactors), and this complicates global geopolitics.

Also I remember reading about a much better way to dispose of the waste that is only newly becoming viable. Eg, very deep boreholes (1-2km) on stable geological points, eg the middle of continental plates. These could in principle quite happily hold the waste until it cools off (100,000 years). But this technology needs to be developed and proven; also proven not to trigger a nuclear version of a coal seam fire if it happens to be poured near a concentrated, deep Uranium deposit.

So yeah, while the newest technology might in principle have no waste problems, there’s all of the above pragmatic issues to worry about. Other technologies have fewer if any of these problems and will be, on balance, more suited to some areas.

If nuclear loses the economic argument to Wind in most countries because of the pragmatic difficulty in setting it up, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

John D December 15, 2010 at 2:08 pm

If nuclear loses the economic argument to Wind in most countries because of the pragmatic difficulty in setting it up, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

You cannot be serious.

That’s a bit like suggesting that NZ replaces its rail network with rickshaws, where the drivers turn up for work on a random basis.

Sam Vilain December 15, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Your analogy rests on Wind power being radically inferior to nuclear I believe; I’m not sure what that rests on: Peter Sinclair covers most of the counter-arguments here for instance, showing that with enough wind farms they are almost as good as being base load.

If Wind power is cheaper, all things considered, than Nuclear, why is it not a “magic bullet”?

John D December 15, 2010 at 7:20 pm

“Peter Sinclair covers most of the counter-arguments”

Ho ho ho.

Peter Sinclair is a movie maker specialising in climate change propaganda, “training by” Al Gore. Does that involve jumping for fish and biscuits?

Do you seriously expect me to take anything you say seriously?

Sinclair’s droning patronisiong Ad Hom style is enough to make any right thinking person want throw themselves under a bus.

Do you actually understand anything about electricity generation, or are you just another brainwashed ecotard?

Wind is a disaster.

[Less of the boring rudeness, please, or you will be placed on moderation. GR]

Sam Vilain December 16, 2010 at 1:53 am

Wind is a disaster

[citation needed]

…patronisiong Ad Hom style

Funny, that’s all your post was. That and empty rhetoric.

CTG December 16, 2010 at 7:44 am

The chances of the world reaching an agreement on how to fight climate change are smaller than the chances of a denier learning the true meaning of ad hominem. That is, bugger all.

John D December 16, 2010 at 12:51 pm

“Citation needed”, the great Sam pompously demands.

Let me remind you that Sam gave me a link to “just effing Google it” when I asked for evidence of extreme climatic events increasing in frequency. Let us remind ourselves that, when asked for the bird chopping characteristics of wind farms, I came back with over a dozen links to news articles on this.

Not one person had the grace to comment further.

“Citation needed”. Just effing Google it Sam.

RW December 16, 2010 at 1:11 pm
Sam Vilain December 16, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Let us remind ourselves that, when asked for the bird chopping characteristics of wind farms, I came back with over a dozen links to news articles on this.

Far, far fewer than birds that die from flying into glass windows. Your dozen news articles are well countered by science, in fact in Sinclair’s video which I have already linked to (if I recall correctly there was a quantitative study cited).

Let me remind you that Sam gave me a link to “just effing Google it” when I asked for evidence of extreme climatic events increasing in frequency.

No, you missed the point; the link sent you to a specific search for a specific set of terms, on this site. The point I was making was that there is already ample evidence and support on this very site for the point that one of the site authors was making. They’ve already made their position clear and that time you were asking them to make it again in your space for the benefit of your little game.

This time, you’re just waving your hands and saying that the argument should form itself for educated readers. That is entirely different. It is an impotent, non-argument playing on the predisposition of the reader.

Not one person had the grace to comment further.

“Grace” ? You don’t know the meaning of the word; let me educate you on netiquette.

“Grace” when dealing with a troll such as yourself consists of one of:

1. no response; “not feeding” the troll.

2. “flaming”; responses which are (hopefully) enjoyable to the general, non-trolling readership of the blog.

Here’s your #2 – now get ready for a whole lot of #1.

bill December 17, 2010 at 12:40 am

Oh dear, from John’s side it’s bound to be a whole lot of #2s, that’s for sure!

quokka December 15, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Molten salt thorium fueled reactors look very attractive on paper and must surely be worthy of R&D funding as a matter of some urgency, but there is no realistic prospect of a commercial scale reactor of this type being proved in an operational environment in much less than 15 years. Which realistically means 20 years or more before such technology could have any significant effect on emissions.

There is an unfortunate tendency to over estimate the rate of technological and engineering change and substitute wishful thinking for a hard nosed, reality based attitude to energy. Another example is engineered geothermal systems which are completely unproved and have never had a commercial size operational plant. Realistically for EGS, you are looking at similar sorts of time frames even IF it is successful.

I am not saying that R&D for such technologies is not a very high priority for it clearly is. What I am saying is that need is to reduce emissions at the very earliest opportunity – not just to dream about it.

In the case of nuclear power, current Generation III thermal spectrum, uranium fueled reactors are a mature, well understood technology and the lowest cost low emission baseload technology. They can be and are being built right now and work well. They are the only low emission technology with a realistic prospect of displacing coal in baseload generation which is so critical to emissions reduction.

Uranium shortage is not a serious issue for several decades at least and very likely not an issue for very much longer than that. In any case, should shortages drive uranium price up to unacceptable levels, it is highly likely that there would be a move to fast spectrum reactors. Even if operated just as iso-breeders (produce only as much fissile material as they consume) there would be plenty of uranium for centuries at least.

Barry Brook December 15, 2010 at 1:17 pm

There is no significant difference between thorium and uranium in terms of sustainability, waste disposal etc. Both are abundant. Th-232 can be bred into fissile U-233 in a epithermal neutron spectrum, and U-238 can be bred into Pu-239 under a harder (fast) spectrum. Both options, with repeated recycling, can use virtually all of the energy in Th or U and thus provide energy for billions of years. I often say this:

“There’s no ‘silver bullet’ for solving the climate and energy crises. The bullets are made of depleted uranium and thorium.”

eltoro December 15, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Nuclear accounts for less than 10% of world energy currently, approximately 250 power stations. If you seriously think nuclear will fulfill any major part of supply in the near (or distant) future consider the logistics.
Lets say 50% by 2030 or 1000 new plants in 40 years and not accounting for increase in demand via population growth and redundancy of existing old plants. It currently takes approx 8 years minimum (in most western countries more like ten yrs +) to plan and build an average nuc. plant and an enormous amount of resource and expertise in the process.
Then there are the issues of the fuel supply, waist disposal and NIMBY reaction to deal with. And before you tell me, waist free or `traveling wave` technology is at least 30yrs away from reality. Silver bullet I think not, more a lead cannon ball.
We have solar energy in abundance, more than we will ever need to power the planet. Its free and clean. All that is needed is the technology to harness it economically. That technology is closer than you may think but I`ll tell you that story another day.

adelady December 16, 2010 at 4:00 pm

And one cost that seems to be overlooked for nuclear – the CO2 released over the lifetime. Construction uses masses of cement, mining and transport currently uses large amounts of FF.
http://www.stormsmith.nl/publications/storm_Van_Leeuwen_presentation.pdf
http://www.energybulletin.net/node/15345

I’m sure there are other, possibly better, sources out there. I just happen to have these 2.

John D December 16, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Building a nuclear power station requires a lot of concrete and construction.

So does building a coal or gas station , a wind farm or a dam.

Therefore, your point is, what exactly?

quokka December 16, 2010 at 10:17 pm

The IPCC assessment of CO2 emissions from the various technologies including nuclear is given here

sailrick December 16, 2010 at 5:07 pm

You’ve made some sweeping generalization about the supposed failings of renewable energy. Not sure those kind of arguments help much.

Like the article says – “Claims and counter-claims jostle confusingly”

The new meme seems to be that wind power is not good because it requires gas to back it up, somehow canceling out the low carbon energy it does produce. This is one of those truthiness claims that sound reasonable until you think about it.

You praise the nuclear power in France, but fail to mention that they have no solution for the waste. Funny, but Areva, the French nuclear outfit, recently bought solar thermal company Ausra, and says the solar thermal market will grow 30 fold in the next ten years. They also like that it can share a steam generator and power block with natural gas or biogas

Like Gareth said, different solutions will work in different countries. The U.S. for instance has enormous wind and solar potential. England probably not so hot for solar and has limited area for wind, other than offshore. For some, nuclear may be the only choice, or one of a few limited choices. For others it may not be needed at all.

One advantage of wind and solar is the short time they take to get up and running.
One problem for nuclear is the lack of qualified people to build and run them. Another reason America needs better science education.

“The United States is also richly endowed. In addition to having enough land-based wind energy to satisfy national electricity needs several times over, the National Renewable Energy Lab has identified 1,000 gigawatts (1 gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts) of wind energy waiting to be tapped off the East Coast and 900 gigawatts off the West Coast. This offshore capacity alone is sufficient to power the U.S. economy.”

http://peakenergy.blogspot.com/2009/10/turning-to-wind.html

Solar thermal (CSP) with molten salt heat storage

“Profit Maximization
Energy storage allows the plant operator to maximize profits. During periods of low hourly power prices, the operator can forgo generation and dump heat into storage; and at times of high prices, the plant can run at full capacity even without sun.”

“Peak Shaving
Solar generating capacity with heat storage can make other capacity in the
market unnecessary. With heat storage the solar plant is able to ‘shave’ the
peak load.”

“Reducing Intermittence
The ability of thermal solar plants to use heat energy storage to keep electric
output constant: (1) reduces the cost associated with uncertainty surrounding
power production; and (2) relieves concerns regarding electrical interconnection fees, regulation service charges, and transmission tariffs.”

“Increasing Plant Utilization
Solar plants equipped with heat storage have the ability to increase overall
annual generation levels by ‘spreading out’ solar radiation to better match
plant capacity.”

http://www.nrel.gov/csp/troughnet/pdfs/owens_storage_value.pdf

sailrick December 16, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Solar thermal with heat storage will facilitate the blending of intermittent sources like wind and PV solar into the grid. That’s because of its ability to produce large amounts of valuable dispatchable energy. If all goes well with permitting, we should see 15-20 GW of solar thermal come online in the next few years in the southwest U.S. About 6 GW are already underway. NREL gives parabolic trough solar thermal with heat storage a capacity factor of 50% and 70% for power tower type plants. Those numbers could be even higher, with additional heat storage. Those numbers are based on 6 hours heat storage if my memory serves me. Its possible to have them run all night, with enough heat storage. (Obviously, you need more solar collectors, and hence more land, for a given generating capacity if you want to store more energy.)

Earlier this year, nuclear advocates tried to have nuclear classed as renewable energy in Arizona, so it could get the same tax credits as solar. Exactly how many nuclear plants did they plan to build in Arizona? Just wondering, because Arizona has the potential for 285 GW of solar thermal with heat storage, the equivalent of roughly 150 nuclear power plants. And that is using only carefully selected land that doesn’t infringe on sensitive ecosystems or human endeavors.

Solar thermal can be air cooled, water cooled or closed loop Heller system cooled. Nuclear needs vast amounts of water for cooling. Water cooled systems can produce combined heat and power. Desalination can also be done with solar thermal. I like the simplicity of solar thermal and the fact that is uses ordinary building materials, as well as it’s versatility.

I’m not sure if it’s vaporware or for real, but I came across this a while back.

Canadian company claims they can produce four times the power at half the cost of todays CSP plants.

http://social.csptoday.com/qa/breaking-heat-barrier-shec-energys-red-hot-technology

sailrick December 16, 2010 at 5:18 pm

A few companies have developed Concentrated PV solar that also produces hot water (from cooling the solar cells).
Zenith Solar and Cogenra

http://www.zenithsolar.com/index.html

“Cogenra’s ‘Hybrid’ Solar System Captures 80% of the Sun’s Energy to Generates Electricity and Hot Water”

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/11/cogenra-hybrid-solar-system-80-percent-efficient-electricity-hot-water.php

http://www.cogenra.com/

Zenith claims to capture 75% of the sun’s energy.

quokka
I think you meant 1400 MW reactors in UAE, not 1400 GW. Thorium and Gen IV nuclear plants sound okay to me. So lets see a few pilot plants and more research if necessary. In the meantime, solar and wind should be deployed wherever and whenever they make the most sense. We don’t have the luxury of time to wait for other technologies to be ready for deployment. China for instance, may be building nuclear plants, but has also set a goal of 100 GW of wind energy by 2020. With 35 GW wind energy in the U.S. now, and half of that built in 2008-2009, we should be able to do better than that. Citing a few examples of wind and solar having low capacity factors is somewhat misleading, since they are not necessarily good examples. Here’s a few good examples for wind at the other extreme..

Aruba’s New Windfarm
“at around 60%, it has one of the highest capacity factors in the world, with 50% more power output per turbine than European offshore windfarms…; located on the Eastern coast of the island, it is exposed directly to the trade winds, which are highly regular and almost always in the same direction (allowing to put the turbines very close to one another); their almost constant strength also mean that tear and wear is actually likely to be less than usual, as there are very few brutal changes in regime and torque;”

http://peakenergy.blogspot.com/2010/01/arubas-new-windfarm.html

“With an opportunity to make money in the market, wind turbine manufacturers brought down the cost of wind power dramatically. In Exhibit 44 we show that the levelized cost of wind power over the last 15 years has dropped by 70% from 150 $/MWh (15 ¢/kWh) in 1984 to 40 $/MWh (4 ¢/kWh) in 2000 and the cost continues to decline. Today, the energy cost of wind is beginning to compete with the cost of gas-fired generation at 45-48 $/MWh (assuming a natural gas price of 3.87 $/mmBtu).
This dramatic reduction in the cost of electricity from wind is driven both by reductions in capital cost as well as improvements in the capacity factor of turbines. For example, new wind turbines located in Texas have shown capacity factors of up to 48% over the initial months of operation, and capacity factors of newer turbines if located at the same site are estimated to be 52%.”

“In addition, we have mentioned that hydro generation in the West is energy-constrained, which in turn constrains capacity. On average, a dam cannot run at a higher capacity than the dam is replenished by water. However, wind generation in the Northwest could allow the dams to hold to back generation, thus temporarily filling the reservoir. When output from wind farms in a region drops, hydro generation could be increased. This would have a number of beneficial effects for both hydro and wind. In particular it would:
 mitigate the intermittence of wind;
 provide more stable river flows; and
 result in much better transmission line load factors in certain regions.”

“In a sense, wind and hydro generation in the Northwest could be used in tandem to deliver more reliable combined generation. This in effect would also allow a lower reserve margin in the region (and the Western Interconnection as a whole). An example of using hydro storage to firm up wind capacity is already underway in southeastern Washington. For the 48-MW Nine Mile Canyon Wind Project,6 the Bonneville Power Administration will utilize its vast hydroelectric system for storing excess production and making up shortfalls and provide transmission scheduling services for an additional $0.013/kWh.”

http://www.nrel.gov/csp/pdfs/33233.pdf

I wouldn’t consider Germany a good proxy for the potential of solar since it doesn’t really have very good solar resources, compared to many other countries.

quokka December 16, 2010 at 10:10 pm

“I think you meant 1400 MW reactors in UAE, not 1400 GW”

Indeed I did ;)

sailrick December 16, 2010 at 5:45 pm

“The IEA expects CSP to become competitive for peak and mid-peak loads by 2020 in the sunniest places if appropriate policies are adopted. Its further expansion will depend on the development of dedicated transport lines that will bring CSP electricity to a greater number of large consumption centres.”

“Thanks to thermal storage, CSP can produce electricity around the clock and will become competitive with base load power by 2025 to 2030. North America will be the largest producer of CSP electricity, followed by North Africa and India.”

“Mr. Tanaka concluded in noting that “solar PV and CSP appear to be complementary more than competing. The firm capacity and flexibility of CSP plants will help grid operators integrate larger amounts of variable renewable electricity such as solar PV and wind power”

http://cleanergy.blogspot.com/2010/05/iea-solar-to-account-for-25-of-world.html

“China building ambitious “Solar Valley City” to advance solar industry
According to reports, around 800,000 people in Dezhou are employed in the solar industry, or one in three people of working age.”

http://www.watthead.org/2010/04/watch-china-building-ambitious-solar.html

“Hard drives are made using a process called sputtering, that deposits materials in layers on a disk. Applied Quantum Technologies has developed a process that uses dry sputtering to make an entire solar cell.”

http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/08/a-novel-way-to-thin-film-solar/

“Black Silicon makes solar cells cheaper
simple chemical treatment could replace expensive antireflective coatings, bringing down the cost of crytalline slicon panels. says NREL”

http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/24968/?a=f

NREL
“And as the population in the western states continues to grow, energy demand will continue to increase. With the addition of thermal storage, concentrating solar power technologies can provide power during periods when demand on the utilities is at its peak, even if the sun isn’t shining. This ability to provide dispatchable power during periods of peak demand establishes concentrating solar power technologies as a viable energy choice for the West.”

“During a meeting organized by the Department of Energy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in November 2001, a review panel asked representatives of the national labs, industry, and independent experts to identify the obstacles to be overcome before solar power can provide significant amounts of western electricity. The consensus among the experts was that only one thing prevented the solar power industry from providing larger amounts of renewable, clean, and domestic energy from the sun-political will.”

“Even though some solar generating technologies could benefit from research and development, it was made clear that solar resources are abundant; are located where they are needed; that efficiencies from concentrating solar power (CSP) are good enough to justify deployment; and cost projections are very promising. All that solar power required, in the opinion of the experts, is an incubation period, where incentives are put in place that allow the transition of this emerging generating technology into the mainstream. It is our view that providing such an incubation period is not a leap of faith, but a proven recipe of success, as the emergence of wind generating technology in Europe has shown.”

“The success of an incubation period for solar power is all but guaranteed. This is because, unlike similar promises by the industry to introduce electric cars, CSP plants have already achieved a level of performance that makes them practical. They have proven their merit in over a decade of operation in the Mojave Desert, and cost-reduction projections for CSP technologies are based on the fact that they use ordinary technology in an extraordinary way.”

http://www.nrel.gov/csp/pdfs/33233.pdf

“Gasifying Biomass with Sunlight”

“Sundrop Fuels, a startup based in Louisville, CO, says it has developed a cleaner and more efficient way to turn biomass into synthetic fuels by harnessing the intense heat of the sun to vaporize wood and crop waste. Its process can produce twice the amount of gasoline or diesel per ton of biomass compared to conventional biomass gasification systems, the company claims.”

http://peakenergy.blogspot.com/2010/03/gasifying-biomass-with-sunlight.html

An NREL study for the Western Governors Association projected power prices from CSP at below 10 cents/kWh after about 4 GW was built and online. They futher projected prices of 3.5-7 cents/kWh after the industry gets up to scale.
WGA study of CSP
http://www.nrel.gov/csp/pdfs/32160.pdf

sailrick December 16, 2010 at 6:04 pm

There is a U.S. company that has developed a process for forming silicon wafers for solar cells, that basically skips the ingot stage, making the thin wafers directly. For one thing, this cuts down on waste from cutting.
This is claimed to reduce wafer costs by up to 40%.

sailrick December 16, 2010 at 6:06 pm

The past decade saw twice as many record high temperatures as record low temperatures. This ratio has been climbing for the past 3 decades.
Every year since 2001 has been warmer than any year in the records before 1998.

Current extreme weather events
World Meteorological Organization
Last updated: 11 August 2010

http://www.wmo.int/pages/mediacentre/news/extremeweathersequence_en.html

3D. North Atlantic Tropical Storms
This figure shows the number of named tropical storms in the North Atlantic, per year, smoothed out over a 10-year running average to minimize the noise in year-to-year variation. Since 1996, tropical storm frequency has exceeded by 40% the old historic maximum of the mid-1950s, previously considered extreme

http://www.pewclimate.org/global-warming-basics/facts_and_figures/impacts/storms.cfm

Most Ever Heat:
Record Temperatures on 19 Percent of Earth’s Surface
17 countries with new national temperature records

“These nations comprise 19 percent of the total land area of Earth. This is the largest area of Earth’s surface to experience all-time record high temperatures in any single year in the historical record. Looking back at the past decade, which was the hottest decade in the historical record, 75 countries set extreme hottest temperature records (33 percent of all countries.)

For comparison, fifteen countries set extreme coldest temperature records over the past ten years (six percent of all countries).”

http://solveclimate.com/blog/20100816/most-ever-heat-record-temperatures-19-percent-earths-surface

“NASA reports hottest January-July on record, says that 2010 is “likely” to be warmest year on record and July is “What Global Warming Looks Like”
WMO: “Unprecedented sequence of extreme weather events … matches IPCC projections of more frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming.”
August 12, 2010

http://climateprogress.org/2010/08/12/nasa-hottest-year-on-record-what-global-warming-looks-like/

“Clearly, this July has been significantly hotter than previous years in the record. In fact the average daily high temperature for July 2010 is 3.6 standard deviations above the mean of all recorded July values. For a normally distributed random variable, the chance of being so extreme is only 0.0003 — less than 1 chance in 3000. Which agrees with statements from Russian meteorological officials that such a heat wave hasn’t been experienced in Moscow in at least 1,000 years.”

“And that means that the suggestion that this heat wave is just a natural variation, not due to global warming, is implausible. Or as we say here in Maine, t’aint likely.”

http://tamino.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/red-hot/

Sam Vilain December 17, 2010 at 9:13 am

Two articles from Ecogeek.org on the benefits of Wind:

Wind Turbines Could Help Surrounding Crops – by aeration effects

Offshore Wind Turbines Help Sustain Marine Life – by acting as a habitat

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: