Climate change-related technology



Renewable energy is a socially and politically defined category of energy sources. Renewable energy is generally defined as energy that comes from resources which are continually replenished on a human timescale such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat.[2]

About 16% of global final energy consumption comes from renewable resources, with 10% [3] [discuss] of all energy from traditional biomass, mainly used for heating, and 3.4% from hydroelectricity. New renewables (small hydro, modern biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels) accounted for another 3% and are growing rapidly.[4]

The share of renewables in electricity generation is around 19%, with 16% of electricity coming from hydroelectricity and 3% from new renewables.[4]

While many renewable energy projects are large-scale, renewable technologies are also suited to rural and remote areas, where energy is often crucial in human development.[5]

Renewable energy sources, that derive their energy from the sun, either directly or indirectly, such as Hydro and wind, are expected to be capable of supplying humanity energy for almost another 1 billion years, at which point the predicted increase in heat from the sun is expected to make the surface of the Earth too hot for liquid water to exist.[6][7]

Overview


Renewable energy flows involve natural phenomena such as sunlight, wind, tides, plant growth, and geothermal heat, as the International Energy Agency explains:[9]

Renewable energy is derived from natural processes that are replenished constantly. In its various forms, it derives directly from the sun, or from heat generated deep within the earth. Included in the definition is electricity and heat generated from solar, wind, ocean, hydropower, biomass, geothermal resources, and biofuels and hydrogen derived from renewable resources.

Wind power is growing at the rate of 30% annually, with a worldwide installed capacity of 282,482 megawatts (MW) at the end of 2012, and is widely used in Europe, Asia, and the United States. At the end of 2012 the photovoltaic (PV) capacity worldwide was 100,000 MW, and PV power stations are popular in Germany and Italy. Solar thermal power stations operate in the USA and Spain, and the largest of these is the 354 MW SEGS power plant in the Mojave Desert. The world's largest geothermal power installation is The Geysers in California, with a rated capacity of 750 MW. Brazil has one of the largest renewable energy programs in the world, involving production of ethanol fuel from sugar cane, and ethanol now provides 18% of the country's automotive fuel. Ethanol fuel is also widely available in the USA.

As of 2011, small solar PV systems provide electricity to a few million households, and micro-hydro configured into mini-grids serves many more. Over 44 million households use biogas made in household-scale digesters for lighting and/or cooking, and more than 166 million households rely on a new generation of more-efficient biomass cookstoves.[10] United Nations' Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that renewable energy has the ability to lift the poorest nations to new levels of prosperity.[11] Carbon-neutral and negative fuels can store and transport renewable energy through existing natural gas pipelines and be used with existing transportation infrastructure, displacing fossil fuels, and reducing greenhouse gases.[12][13]

Renewable energy resources and significant opportunities for energy efficiency exist over wide geographical areas, in contrast to other energy sources, which are concentrated in a limited number of countries. Rapid deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency, and technological diversification of energy sources, would result in significant energy security and economic benefits.[14]

Renewable energy replaces conventional fuels in four distinct areas: electricity generation, hot water/space heating, motor fuels, and rural (off-grid) energy services:[15]

  • Power generation. Renewable energy provides 19% of electricity generation worldwide. Renewable power generators are spread across many countries, and wind power alone already provides a significant share of electricity in some areas: for example, 14% in the U.S. state of Iowa, 40% in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, and 49% in Denmark. Some countries get most of their power from renewables, including Iceland (100%), Norway (98%), Brazil (86%), Austria (62%), New Zealand (65%), and Sweden (54%).[16]
  • Heating. Solar hot water makes an important contribution to renewable heat in many countries, most notably in China, which now has 70% of the global total (180 GWth). Most of these systems are installed on multi-family apartment buildings and meet a portion of the hot water needs of an estimated 50–60 million households in China. Worldwide, total installed solar water heating systems meet a portion of the water heating needs of over 70 million households. The use of biomass for heating continues to grow as well. In Sweden, national use of biomass energy has surpassed that of oil. Direct geothermal for heating is also growing rapidly.[16]
  • Transport fuels. Renewable biofuels have contributed to a significant decline in oil consumption in the United States since 2006.[16] The 93 billion liters of biofuels produced worldwide in 2009 displaced the equivalent of an estimated 68 billion liters of gasoline, equal to about 5% of world gasoline production.[16]

At the national level, at least 30 nations around the world already have renewable energy contributing more than 20% of energy supply. National renewable energy markets are projected to continue to grow strongly in the coming decade and beyond, and some 120 countries have various policy targets for longer-term shares of renewable energy, including a 20% target of all electricity generated for the European Union by 2020. Some countries have much higher long-term policy targets of up to 100% renewables. Outside Europe, a diverse group of 20 or more other countries target renewable energy shares in the 2020–2030 time frame that range from 10% to 50%.[17]

In international public opinion surveys there is strong support for promoting renewable sources such as solar power and wind power, requiring utilities to use more renewable energy (even if this increases the cost), and providing tax incentives to encourage the development and use of such technologies. There is substantial optimism that renewable energy investments will pay off economically in the long term.[18]

Climate change and global warming concerns, coupled with high oil prices, peak oil, and increasing government support, are driving increasing renewable energy legislation, incentives and commercialization.[19] New government spending, regulation and policies helped the industry weather the global financial crisis better than many other sectors.[20] According to a 2011 projection by the International Energy Agency, solar power generators may produce most of the world’s electricity within 50 years, dramatically reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases that harm the environment.[21]

History


Prior to the development of coal in the mid 19th century, nearly all energy used was renewable. Almost without a doubt the oldest known use of renewable energy, in the form of traditional biomass to fuel fires, dates from 790,000 years ago. Use of biomass for fire did not become commonplace until many hundreds of thousands of years later, sometime between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago.[22]

Probably the second oldest usage of renewable energy is harnessing the wind in order to drive ships over water. This practice can be traced back some 7000 years, to ships on the Nile.[23]

Moving into the time of recorded history, the primary sources of traditional renewable energy were human labor, animal power, water power, wind, in grain crushing windmills, and firewood, a traditional biomass. A graph of energy use in the United States up until 1900 shows oil and natural gas with about the same importance in 1900 as wind and solar played in 2010.

By 1873, concerns of running out of coal prompted experiments with using solar energy.[24] Development of solar engines continued until the outbreak of World War I. The importance of solar energy was recognized in a 1911 Scientific American article: "in the far distant future, natural fuels having been exhausted [solar power] will remain as the only means of existence of the human race".[25]

The theory of peak oil was published in 1956.[26] In the 1970s environmentalists promoted the development of renewable energy both as a replacement for the eventual depletion of oil, as well as for an escape from dependence on oil, and the first electricity generating wind turbines appeared. Solar had long been used for heating and cooling, but solar panels were too costly to build solar farms until 1980.[27]

According to the OECD Factbook 2011-2012, for all OECD countries taken as a whole, the contribution of renewables to total energy supply increased from 4.8% in 1971 to 7.6% in 2010. In general the contribution of renewables to the energy supply in non-OECD countries is higher than in developed OECD countries.[28] With the world average(including OECD countries and non-OECD countries) percentage of total energy supplied from renewable energy at 13% in 2010.[29]

Mainstream renewable technologies

Wind power

Main article: Wind power


Airflows can be used to run wind turbines. Modern utility-scale wind turbines range from around 600 kW to 5 MW of rated power, although turbines with rated output of 1.5–3 MW have become the most common for commercial use; the power available from the wind is a function of the cube of the wind speed, so as wind speed increases, power output increases dramatically up to the maximum output for the particular turbine.[30] Areas where winds are stronger and more constant, such as offshore and high altitude sites, are preferred locations for wind farms. Typical capacity factors are 20-40%, with values at the upper end of the range in particularly favourable sites.[31][32]

Globally, the long-term technical potential of wind energy is believed to be five times total current global energy production, or 40 times current electricity demand, assuming all practical barriers needed were overcome. This would require wind turbines to be installed over large areas, particularly in areas of higher wind resources, such as offshore. As offshore wind speeds average ~90% greater than that of land, so offshore resources can contribute substantially more energy than land stationed turbines.[33]

Hydropower

Energy in water can be harnessed and used. Since water is about 800 times denser than air, even a slow flowing stream of water, or moderate sea swell, can yield considerable amounts of energy. There are many forms of water energy:

Solar energy


Solar energy applies energy from the sun in the form of solar radiation for heat or to generate electricity. Solar powered electricity generation uses either photovoltaics or heat engines (concentrated solar power). A partial list of other solar applications includes space heating and cooling through solar architecture, daylighting, solar hot water, solar cooking, and high temperature process heat for industrial purposes.

Solar technologies are broadly characterized as either passive solar or active solar depending on the way they capture, convert and distribute solar energy. Active solar techniques include the use of photovoltaic panels and solar thermal collectors to harness the energy. Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the sun, selecting materials with favorable thermal mass or light dispersing properties, and designing spaces that naturally circulate air.[34] Solar energy capture is also being linked to research involving water splitting and carbon dioxide reduction for the development of artificial photosynthesis or solar fuels.[35]

Biomass

Biomass (plant material) can be a renewable energy source, but importantly, only if the rate of extraction does not exceed the rate of production, as non-renewable biomass usage can easily occur, such as the historical Deforestation during the Roman period and the present Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest.

Through the process of photosynthesis, plants capture the sun's energy. When the plants are burnt, they release the sun's energy they contain. In this way, biomass functions as a sort of natural battery for storing solar energy.

In general there are two main approaches to using plants for energy production: growing plants specifically for energy use (known as first and third-generation biomass), and using the residues (known as second-generation biomass) from plants that are used for other things. See biobased economy. The best approaches vary from region to region according to climate, soils and geography.

The proportion of truly renewable biomass in use is uncertain, as for example peat, one of the largest sources of biomass, is sometimes regarded as a renewable source of energy. However due to peats extraction rate in industrialized countries far exceeding its slow regrowth rate of 1mm per year,[36] and due to it being reported that peat regrowth takes place only in 30-40% of peatlands,[37] There is considerable controversy with this renewable classification.[38] Organizations tasked with assessing climate change mitigation methods differ on the subject, the UNFCCC classify peat as a fossil fuel due to the thousand plus year length of time for peat to re-accumulate after harvesting,[38] another organization affiliated with the United Nations also classified peat as a fossil fuel.[39] However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has begun to classify peat as a "slow-renewable" fuel,[40] with this also being the classification used by many in the peat industry.[38]

Further controversy surrounding the classification of all biomass as "renewable" centers around the fact that depending on the plant source, it can take from 2 to 100 years for different sources of plant energy to regrow, such as the difference between fast growing switch grass and slow growing trees, therefore due to the high emission intensity of plant material, researchers have suggested that if the biomass source takes longer than 20 years to regrow, they argue the plant source should not be regarded as renewable from a climate change mitigation standpoint.[41]

As of early 2012, 85 of 107 biomass plants operating in the U.S. had been cited by federal or state regulators for violating clean air or water laws over the past five years.[42] The Energy Information Administration projected that by 2017, biomass is expected to be about twice as expensive as natural gas, slightly more expensive than nuclear power, and much less expensive than solar panels.[43]

Biofuel

Biofuels include a wide range of fuels which are derived from biomass. The term covers solid biomass, liquid fuels and various biogases.[44] Liquid biofuels include bioalcohols, such as bioethanol, and oils, such as biodiesel. Gaseous biofuels include biogas, landfill gas and synthetic gas.

Bioethanol is an alcohol made by fermenting the sugar components of plant materials and it is made mostly from sugar and starch crops. With advanced technology being developed, cellulosic biomass, such as trees and grasses, are also used as feedstocks for ethanol production. Ethanol can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but it is usually used as a gasoline additive to increase octane and improve vehicle emissions. Bioethanol is widely used in the USA and in Brazil. The energy costs for producing bio-ethanol are almost equal to, the energy yields from bio-ethanol. However, according to the European Environment Agency, biofuels do not address global warming concerns.[45]

Biodiesel is made from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled greases. Biodiesel can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but it is usually used as a diesel additive to reduce levels of particulates, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons from diesel-powered vehicles. Biodiesel is produced from oils or fats using transesterification and is the most common biofuel in Europe.

Biofuels provided 2.7% of the world's transport fuel in 2010.[46]

Geothermal energy

Main article: Geothermal energy

Geothermal energy is from thermal energy generated and stored in the Earth. Thermal energy is the energy that determines the temperature of matter. Earth's geothermal energy originates from the original formation of the planet (20%) and from radioactive decay of minerals (80%).[47] The geothermal gradient, which is the difference in temperature between the core of the planet and its surface, drives a continuous conduction of thermal energy in the form of heat from the core to the surface. The adjective geothermal originates from the Greek roots geo, meaning earth, and thermos, meaning heat.

The heat that is used for geothermal energy can be from deep within the Earth, all the way down to Earth’s core – 4,000 miles (6,400 km) down. At the core, temperatures may reach over 9,000 °F (5,000 °C). Heat conducts from the core to surrounding rock. Extremely high temperature and pressure cause some rock to melt, which is commonly known as magma. Magma convects upward since it is lighter than the solid rock. This magma then heats rock and water in the crust, sometimes up to 700 °F (371 °C).[48]

From hot springs, geothermal energy has been used for bathing since Paleolithic times and for space heating since ancient Roman times, but it is now better known for electricity generation.

Renewable energy commercialization

Growth of renewables


From the end of 2004, worldwide renewable energy capacity grew at rates of 10–60% annually for many technologies. For wind power and many other renewable technologies, growth accelerated in 2009 relative to the previous four years.[15] More wind power capacity was added during 2009 than any other renewable technology. However, grid-connected PV increased the fastest of all renewables technologies, with a 60% annual average growth rate.[15] In 2010, renewable power constituted about a third of the newly built power generation capacities.[49] By 2014 the installed capacity of photovoltaics will likely exceed that of wind, but due to the lower capacity factor of solar, the energy generated from photovoltaics is not expected to exceed that of wind until 2015.

Selected renewable energy global indicators[50][51] 2008 2009 2010 2011
Investment in new renewable capacity (annual) (109 USD) 130 160 211 257
Renewables power capacity (existing) (GWe) 1,140 1,230 1,320 1,360
Hydropower capacity (existing) (GWe) 885 915 945 970
Wind power capacity (existing) (GWe) 121 159 198 238
Solar PV capacity (grid-connected) (GWe) 16 23 40 70
Solar hot water capacity (existing) (GWth) 130 160 185 232
Ethanol production (annual) (109 litres) 67 76 86 86
Biodiesel production (annual) (109 litres) 12 17.8 18.5 21.4
Countries with policy targets
for renewable energy use
79 89 98 118

Projections vary, but scientists have advanced a plan to power 100% of the world's energy with wind, hydroelectric, and solar power by the year 2030.[52][53]

According to a 2011 projection by the International Energy Agency, solar power generators may produce most of the world’s electricity within 50 years, dramatically reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases that harm the environment. Cedric Philibert, senior analyst in the renewable energy division at the IEA said: “Photovoltaic and solar-thermal plants may meet most of the world’s demand for electricity by 2060 -- and half of all energy needs -- with wind, hydropower and biomass plants supplying much of the remaining generation”. “Photovoltaic and concentrated solar power together can become the major source of electricity,” Philibert said.[21]

Economic trends


Renewable energy technologies are getting cheaper, through technological change and through the benefits of mass production and market competition. A 2011 IEA report said: "A portfolio of renewable energy technologies is becoming cost-competitive in an increasingly broad range of circumstances, in some cases providing investment opportunities without the need for specific economic support," and added that "cost reductions in critical technologies, such as wind and solar, are set to continue."[55]

Hydro-electricity and geothermal electricity produced at favourable sites are now the cheapest way to generate electricity. Renewable energy costs continue to drop, and the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) is declining for wind power, solar photovoltaic (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP) and some biomass technologies.[56]

Renewable energy is also the most economic solution for new grid-connected capacity in areas with good resources. As the cost of renewable power falls, the scope of economically viable applications increases. Renewable technologies are now often the most economic solution for new generating capacity. Where “oil-fired generation is the predominant power generation source (e.g. on islands, off-grid and in some countries) a lower-cost renewable solution almost always exists today”.[56]

A series of studies by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory modeled the "grid in the Western US under a number of different scenarios where intermittent renewables accounted for 33 percent of the total power." In the models, inefficiencies in cycling the fossil fuel plants to compensate for the variation in solar and wind energy resulted in an additional cost of "between $0.47 and $1.28 to each MegaWatt hour generated"; however, the savings in the cost of the fuels saved "adds up to $7 billion, meaning the added costs are, at most, two percent of the savings."[57]

Hydroelectricity

The Three Gorges Dam in Hubei, China, has the world's largest instantaneous generating capacity (22,500 MW), with the Itaipu Dam in Brazil/Paraguay in second place (14,000 MW). The Three Gorges Dam is operated jointly with the much smaller Gezhouba Dam (3,115 MW). As of 2012, the total generating capacity of this two-dam complex is 25,615 MW. In 2008, this complex generated 98 TWh of electricity (81 TWh from the Three Gorges Dam and 17 TWh from the Gezhouba Dam), which is 3% more power in one year than the 95 TWh generated by Itaipu in 2008.

Wind power development


Wind power is growing at over 20% annually, with a worldwide installed capacity of 238,000 MW at the end of 2011,[50][59][60] and is widely used in Europe, Asia, and the United States.[61][62] Several countries have achieved relatively high levels of wind power penetration, such as 21% of stationary electricity production in Denmark,[63] 18% in Portugal,[63] 16% in Spain,[63] 14% in Ireland[64] and 9% in Germany in 2010.[63][65] As of 2011, 83 countries around the world are using wind power on a commercial basis.[46]

Top 10 countries by nameplate windpower capacity
(2012 year-end)[66]
Country Windpower capacity
(MW)
 % world total
China 75,564ǂ 26.8
United States 60,007 21.2
Germany 31,332 11.1
Spain 22,796 8.1
India 18,421 6.5
United Kingdom 8,845 3.0
Italy 8,144 2.9
France 7,196ǂ 2.5
Canada 6,200 2.2
Portugal 4,525 1.6
(rest of world) 39,853 14.1
World total 282,482 MW 100%

As of 2012, the Alta Wind Energy Center (California, 1,020 MW) is the world's largest wind farm.[67] As of February 2012, the Walney Wind Farm in the United Kingdom is the largest offshore wind farm in the world at 367 MW, followed by Thanet Offshore Wind Project (300 MW), also in the UK. The London Array (630 MW) is the largest project under construction. The United Kingdom is the world's leading generator of offshore wind power, followed by Denmark.[68]

There are many large wind farms under construction and these include Anholt Offshore Wind Farm (400 MW), BARD Offshore 1 (400 MW), Clyde Wind Farm (548 MW), Fântânele-Cogealac Wind Farm (600 MW), Greater Gabbard wind farm (500 MW), Lincs Wind Farm (270 MW), London Array (1000 MW), Lower Snake River Wind Project (343 MW), Macarthur Wind Farm (420 MW), Shepherds Flat Wind Farm (845 MW), and the Sheringham Shoal (317 MW).

Solar thermal

Large solar thermal power stations include the 354 MW Solar Energy Generating Systems power plant in the USA, Solnova Solar Power Station (Spain, 150 MW), Andasol Solar Power Station (Spain, 100 MW), Nevada Solar One (USA, 64 MW), PS20 solar power plant (Spain, 20 MW), and the PS10 solar power plant (Spain, 11 MW).

The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility is a 392 MW solar power facility which is under construction in south-eastern California.[69] The Solana Generating Station is a 280 MW solar power plant which is under construction near Gila Bend, Arizona, about 70 miles (110 km) southwest of Phoenix. The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project is a 110 MW solar thermal power project currently under construction near Tonopah, about 190 miles (310 km) northwest of Las Vegas.[70]

The solar thermal power industry is growing rapidly with 1.3 GW under construction in 2012 and more planned. Spain is the epicenter of solar thermal power development with 873 MW under construction, and a further 271 MW under development.[71] In the United States, 5,600 MW of solar thermal power projects have been announced.[72] In developing countries, three World Bank projects for integrated solar thermal/combined-cycle gas-turbine power plants in Egypt, Mexico, and Morocco have been approved.[73]

Photovoltaic power stations

Photovoltaic power
(GW)[74]
2005 5.4
2006 7.0
2007 9.4
2008 15.7
2009 22.9
2010 39.7
2011 67.4
2012 100
Year end capacities


Solar photovoltaic cells (PV) convert sunlight into electricity and photovoltaic production has been increasing by an average of more than 20% each year since 2002, making it a fast-growing energy technology.[75][76] While wind is often cited as the fastest growing energy source, photovoltaics since 2007 has been increasing at twice the rate of wind — an average of 63.6%/year, due to the reduction in cost. At the end of 2011 the photovoltaic (PV) capacity world-wide was 67.4 GW, a 69.8% annual increase. Top capacity countries were, in GW: Germany 24.7, Italy 12.8, Japan 4.7, Spain 4.4, the USA 4.4, and China 3.1.[74][77]

Many solar photovoltaic power stations have been built, mainly in Europe.[78] As of May 2012, the largest photovoltaic (PV) power plants in the world are the Agua Caliente Solar Project (USA, 247 MW), Charanka Solar Park (India, 214 MW), Golmud Solar Park (China, 200 MW), Perovo Solar Park (Ukraine, 100 MW), Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant (Canada, 97 MW), Brandenburg-Briest Solarpark (Germany, 91 MW), Solarpark Finow Tower (Germany, 84.7 MW), Montalto di Castro Photovoltaic Power Station (Italy, 84.2 MW), and the Eggebek Solar Park (Germany, 83.6 MW).[78]

There are also many large plants under construction. The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is a 550 MW solar power plant under construction in Riverside County, California, that will use thin-film solar photovoltaic modules made by First Solar.[79] The Topaz Solar Farm is a 550 MW photovoltaic power plant, being built in San Luis Obispo County, California.[80] The Blythe Solar Power Project is a 500 MW photovoltaic station under construction in Riverside County, California. The California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR) is a 250 MW solar photovoltaic power plant, which is being built by SunPower in the Carrizo Plain, northeast of California Valley.[81] The 230 MW Antelope Valley Solar Ranch is a First Solar photovoltaic project which is under construction in the Antelope Valley area of the Western Mojave Desert, and due to be completed in 2013.[82]

Many of these plants are integrated with agriculture and some use tracking systems that follow the sun's daily path across the sky to generate more electricity than fixed-mounted systems. There are no fuel costs or emissions during operation of the power stations.

However, when it comes to renewable energy systems and PV, it is not just large systems that matter. Building-integrated photovoltaics or "onsite" PV systems use existing land and structures and generate power close to where it is consumed.[83]

Carbon-neutral and negative fuels

Main articles: Carbon-neutral fuel and Methanol economy

Carbon-neutral fuels are synthetic fuels (including methane, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel or ammonia[84]) produced by hydrogenating waste carbon dioxide recycled from power plant flue-gas emissions, recovered from automotive exhaust gas, or derived from carbonic acid in seawater.[85] Commercial fuel synthesis companies suggest they can produce synthetic fuels for less than petroleum fuels when oil costs more than $55 per barrel.[86] Renewable methanol (RM) is a fuel produced from hydrogen and carbon dioxide by catalytic hydrogenation where the hydrogen has been obtained from water electrolysis. It can be blended into transportation fuel or processed as a chemical feedstock.[87]

The George Olah carbon dioxide recycling plant operated by Carbon Recycling International in Grindavík, Iceland has been producing 2 million liters of methanol transportation fuel per year from flue exhaust of the Svartsengi Power Station since 2011.[88] It has the capacity to produce 5 million liters per year.[89] A 250 kilowatt methane synthesis plant was constructed by the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research (ZSW) at Baden-Württemberg and the Fraunhofer Society in Germany and began operating in 2010. It is being upgraded to 10 megawatts, scheduled for completion in autumn, 2012.[90][91] Audi has constructed a carbon-neutral liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Werlte, Germany.[92] The plant is intended to produce transportation fuel to offset LNG used in their A3 Sportback g-tron automobiles, and can keep 2,800 metric tons of CO2 out of the environment per year at its initial capacity.[93] Other commercial developments are taking place in Columbia, South Carolina,[94] Camarillo, California,[95] and Darlington, England.[96]

Such fuels are considered carbon-neutral because they do not result in a net increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases.[97] To the extent that synthetic fuels displace fossil fuels, or if they are produced from waste carbon or seawater carbonic acid,[98] and their combustion is subject to carbon capture at the flue or exhaust pipe, they result in negative carbon dioxide emission and net carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere, and thus constitute a form of greenhouse gas remediation.[99]

Such renewable fuels alleviate the costs and dependency issues of imported fossil fuels without requiring either electrification of the vehicle fleet or conversion to hydrogen or other fuels, enabling continued compatible and affordable vehicles.[13] Carbon-neutral fuels offer relatively low cost energy storage, alleviating the problems of wind and solar intermittency, and they enable distribution of wind, water, and solar power through existing natural gas pipelines.[13]

Nighttime wind power is considered the most economical form of electrical power with which to synthesize fuel, because the load curve for electricity peaks sharply during the warmest hours of the day, but wind tends to blow slightly more at night than during the day, so, the price of nighttime wind power is often much less expensive than any alternative.[13] Germany has built a 250 kilowatt synthetic methane plant which they are scaling up to 10 megawatts.[90][91][100]

Biofuel development

Biofuels provided 3% of the world's transport fuel in 2010.[46] Mandates for blending biofuels exist in 31 countries at the national level and in 29 states/provinces.[46] According to the International Energy Agency, biofuels have the potential to meet more than a quarter of world demand for transportation fuels by 2050.[101]

Since the 1970s, Brazil has had an ethanol fuel program which has allowed the country to become the world's second largest producer of ethanol (after the United States) and the world's largest exporter.[102] Brazil’s ethanol fuel program uses modern equipment and cheap sugarcane as feedstock, and the residual cane-waste (bagasse) is used to produce heat and power.[103] There are no longer light vehicles in Brazil running on pure gasoline. By the end of 2008 there were 35,000 filling stations throughout Brazil with at least one ethanol pump.[104]

Nearly all the gasoline sold in the United States today is mixed with 10% ethanol, a mix known as E10,[105] and motor vehicle manufacturers already produce vehicles designed to run on much higher ethanol blends. Ford, Daimler AG, and GM are among the automobile companies that sell “flexible-fuel” cars, trucks, and minivans that can use gasoline and ethanol blends ranging from pure gasoline up to 85% ethanol (E85). By mid-2006, there were approximately 6 million E85-compatible vehicles on U.S. roads.[106] The challenge is to expand the market for biofuels beyond the farm states where they have been most popular to date. Flex-fuel vehicles are assisting in this transition because they allow drivers to choose different fuels based on price and availability. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, which calls for 7.5 billion US gallons (28,000,000 m3) of biofuels to be used annually by 2012, will also help to expand the market.[106]

Geothermal development

Geothermal power is cost effective, reliable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly,[107] but has historically been limited to areas near tectonic plate boundaries. Recent technological advances have dramatically expanded the range and size of viable resources, especially for applications such as home heating, opening a potential for widespread exploitation. Geothermal wells release greenhouse gases trapped deep within the earth, but these emissions are much lower per energy unit than those of fossil fuels. As a result, geothermal power has the potential to help mitigate global warming if widely deployed in place of fossil fuels.

The International Geothermal Association (IGA) has reported that 10,715 MW of geothermal power in 24 countries is online, which is expected to generate 67,246 GWh of electricity in 2010.[108] This represents a 20% increase in geothermal power online capacity since 2005. IGA projects this will grow to 18,500 MW by 2015, due to the large number of projects presently under consideration, often in areas previously assumed to have little exploitable resource.[108]

In 2010, the United States led the world in geothermal electricity production with 3,086 MW of installed capacity from 77 power plants;[109] the largest group of geothermal power plants in the world is located at The Geysers, a geothermal field in California.[110] The Philippines follows the US as the second highest producer of geothermal power in the world, with 1,904 MW of capacity online; geothermal power makes up approximately 18% of the country's electricity generation.[109]

Developing countries


Renewable energy can be particularly suitable for developing countries. In rural and remote areas, transmission and distribution of energy generated from fossil fuels can be difficult and expensive. Producing renewable energy locally can offer a viable alternative.[111]

Technology advances are opening up a huge new market for solar power: the approximately 1.3 billion people around the world who don't have access to grid electricity. Even though they are typically very poor, these people have to pay far more for lighting than people in rich countries because they use inefficient kerosene lamps. Solar power costs half as much as lighting with kerosene.[112] An estimated 3 million households get power from small solar PV systems.[113] Kenya is the world leader in the number of solar power systems installed per capita. More than 30,000 very small solar panels, each producing 12 to 30 watts, are sold in Kenya annually. Some Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are also turning to solar power to reduce their costs and increase their sustainability.[114]

Micro-hydro configured into mini-grids also provide power. Over 44 million households use biogas made in household-scale digesters for lighting and/or cooking, and more than 166 million households rely on a new generation of more-efficient biomass cookstoves.[10] Clean liquid fuel sourced from renewable feedstocks are used for cooking and lighting in energy-poor areas of the developing world. Alcohol fuels (ethanol and methanol) can be produced sustainably from non-food sugary, starchy, and cellulostic feedstocks. Project Gaia, Inc. and CleanStar Mozambique are implementing clean cooking programs with liquid ethanol stoves in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Mozambique.[115]

Renewable energy projects in many developing countries have demonstrated that renewable energy can directly contribute to poverty reduction by providing the energy needed for creating businesses and employment. Renewable energy technologies can also make indirect contributions to alleviating poverty by providing energy for cooking, space heating, and lighting. Renewable energy can also contribute to education, by providing electricity to schools.[116]

Industry and policy trends


U.S. President Barack Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 includes more than $70 billion in direct spending and tax credits for clean energy and associated transportation programs. Clean Edge suggests that the commercialization of clean energy will help countries around the world pull out of the current economic malaise.[118] Leading renewable energy companies include First Solar, Gamesa, GE Energy, Q-Cells, Sharp Solar, Siemens, SunOpta, Suntech Power, and Vestas.[119]

The military has also focused on the use of renewable fuels for military vehicles. Unlike fossil fuels, renewable fuels can be produced in any country, creating a strategic advantage. The US military has already committed itself to have 50% of its energy consumption come from alternative sources.[120]

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is an intergovernmental organization for promoting the adoption of renewable energy worldwide. It aims to provide concrete policy advice and facilitate capacity building and technology transfer. IRENA was formed on January 26, 2009, by 75 countries signing the charter of IRENA.[121] As of March 2010, IRENA has 143 member states who all are considered as founding members, of which 14 have also ratified the statute.[122]

As of 2011, 119 countries have some form of national renewable energy policy target or renewable support policy. National targets now exist in at least 98 countries. There is also a wide range of policies at state/provincial and local levels.[46]

United Nations' Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that renewable energy has the ability to lift the poorest nations to new levels of prosperity.[11] In October 2011, he "announced the creation of a high-level group to drum up support for energy access, energy efficiency and greater use of renewable energy. The group is to be co-chaired by Kandeh Yumkella, the chair of UN Energy and director general of the UN Industrial Development Organisation, and Charles Holliday, chairman of Bank of America".[123]

100% renewable energy

Main article: 100% renewable energy


The incentive to use 100% renewable energy has been created by global warming and other ecological as well as economic concerns. Renewable energy use has grown much faster than anyone anticipated.[124] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that there are few fundamental technological limits to integrating a portfolio of renewable energy technologies to meet most of total global energy demand.[125] Mark Z. Jacobson says producing all new energy with wind power, solar power, and hydropower by 2030 is feasible and existing energy supply arrangements could be replaced by 2050. Barriers to implementing the renewable energy plan are seen to be "primarily social and political, not technological or economic". Jacobson says that energy costs with a wind, solar, water system should be similar to today's energy costs.[126] Critics of the "100% renewable energy" approach include Vaclav Smil and James Hansen.

Emerging technologies

Other renewable energy technologies are still under development, and include cellulosic ethanol, hot-dry-rock geothermal power, and ocean energy.[127] These technologies are not yet widely demonstrated or have limited commercialization. Many are on the horizon and may have potential comparable to other renewable energy technologies, but still depend on attracting sufficient attention and research, development and demonstration (RD&D) funding.[127]

There are numerous organizations within the academic, federal, and commercial sectors conducting large scale advanced research in the field of renewable energy. This research spans several areas of focus across the renewable energy spectrum. Most of the research is targeted at improving efficiency and increasing overall energy yields.[128] Multiple federally supported research organizations have focused on renewable energy in recent years. Two of the most prominent of these labs are Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), both of which are funded by the United States Department of Energy and supported by various corporate partners.[129] Sandia has a total budget of $2.4 billion[130] while NREL has a budget of $375 million.[131]

Cellulosic ethanol

Companies such as Iogen, POET, and Abengoa are building refineries that can process biomass and turn it into ethanol, while companies such as the Verenium Corporation, Novozymes, and Dyadic International are producing enzymes which could enable a cellulosic ethanol future. The shift from food crop feedstocks to waste residues and native grasses offers significant opportunities for a range of players, from farmers to biotechnology firms, and from project developers to investors.[132]

Selected Commercial Cellulosic Ethanol Plants in the U.S.[133][134] (Operational or under construction)
Company Location Feedstock
Abengoa Bioenergy Hugoton, KS Wheat straw
BlueFire Renewables Irvine, CA Multiple sources
Gulf Coast Energy Mossy Head, FL Wood waste
Mascoma Lansing, MI Wood
POET Emmetsburg, IA Corn cobs
SunOpta Little Falls, MN Wood chips
Xethanol Auburndale, FL Citrus peels

Marine energy


Marine energy (also sometimes referred to as ocean energy) refers to the energy carried by ocean waves, tides, salinity, and ocean temperature differences. The movement of water in the world’s oceans creates a vast store of kinetic energy, or energy in motion. This energy can be harnessed to generate electricity to power homes, transport and industries.

The term marine energy encompasses both wave power — power from surface waves, and tidal power — obtained from the kinetic energy of large bodies of moving water. Offshore wind power is not a form of marine energy, as wind power is derived from the wind, even if the wind turbines are placed over water.

The oceans have a tremendous amount of energy and are close to many if not most concentrated populations. Ocean energy has the potential of providing a substantial amount of new renewable energy around the world.[135]

Rank Station Country Location Capacity (MW) Ref
1 Sihwa Lake Tidal Power Station  South Korea 18|47|N|126|36|46|E| name=Sihwa Lake Tidal Power Station

}} || 254 || [136]

2 Rance Tidal Power Station  France 37|05|N|02|01|24|W| name=Rance Tidal Power Station

}} || 240 || [137]

3 Annapolis Royal Generating Station  Canada 45|07|N|65|30|40|W| name=Annapolis Royal Generating Station

}} || 20 || [137]

4 Jiangxia Tidal Power Station  China 20|34|N|121|14|25|E| name=Jiangxia Tidal Power Station

}} || 3.9 || [137][138]

5 Kislaya Guba Tidal Power Station  Russia 22|37|N|33|04|34|E| name=Kislaya Guba Tidal Power Station

}} || 1.7 || [137]

Enhanced geothermal systems

Enhanced geothermal systems are a new type of geothermal power technologies that do not require natural convective hydrothermal resources. The vast majority of geothermal energy within drilling reach is in dry and non-porous rock.[139] EGS technologies "enhance" and/or create geothermal resources in this "hot dry rock (HDR)" through hydraulic stimulation.

EGS / HDR technologies, like hydrothermal geothermal, are expected to be baseload resources which produce power 24 hours a day like a fossil plant. Distinct from hydrothermal, HDR / EGS may be feasible anywhere in the world, depending on the economic limits of drill depth. Good locations are over deep granite covered by a thick (3–5 km) layer of insulating sediments which slow heat loss.[140] There are HDR and EGS systems currently being developed and tested in France, Australia, Japan, Germany, the U.S. and Switzerland. The largest EGS project in the world is a 25 megawatt demonstration plant currently being developed in the Cooper Basin, Australia. The Cooper Basin has the potential to generate 5,000–10,000 MW.

Experimental solar power

Concentrated photovoltaics (CPV) systems employ sunlight concentrated onto photovoltaic surfaces for the purpose of electricity generation. Thermoelectric, or "thermovoltaic" devices convert a temperature difference between dissimilar materials into an electric current.

Artificial photosynthesis

Artificial photosynthesis uses techniques include nanotechnology to store solar electromagnetic energy in chemical bonds by splitting water to produce hydrogen and then using carbon dioxide to make methanol.[141] Researchers in this field are striving to design molecular mimics of photosynthesis that utilize a wider region of the solar spectrum, employ catalytic systems made from abundant, inexpensive materials that are robust, readily repaired, non-toxic, stable in a variety of environmental conditions and perform more efficiently allowing a greater proportion of photon energy to end up in the storage compounds, i.e., carbohydrates (rather than building and sustaining living cells).[35]

Renewable energy debate

Renewable electricity production, from sources such as wind power and solar power, is sometimes criticized for being variable or intermittent. However, the International Energy Agency has stated that deployment of renewable technologies usually increases the diversity of electricity sources and, through local generation, contributes to the flexibility of the system and its resistance to central shocks.[142]

There have been "not in my back yard" (NIMBY) concerns relating to the visual and other impacts of some wind farms, with local residents sometimes fighting or blocking construction.[143] In the USA, the Massachusetts Cape Wind project was delayed for years partly because of aesthetic concerns. However, residents in other areas have been more positive. According to a town councilor, the overwhelming majority of locals believe that the Ardrossan Wind Farm in Scotland has enhanced the area.[144]

A recent UK Government document states that “projects are generally more likely to succeed if they have broad public support and the consent of local communities. This means giving communities both a say and a stake”.[145] In countries such as Germany and Denmark many renewable projects are owned by communities, particularly through cooperative structures, and contribute significantly to overall levels of renewable energy deployment.[146][147] In recent years, new online crowdfunding platforms have provided additional mechanisms for broader participation in, and support for, renewable energy by allowing anyone to invest even small amounts and benefit from the returns. Examples include Abundance Generation in the UK [148] and Solar Mosaic in the USA.

The market for renewable energy technologies has continued to grow. Climate change concerns, coupled with high oil prices, peak oil, and increasing government support, are driving increasing renewable energy legislation, incentives and commercialization.[19] New government spending, regulation and policies helped the industry weather the 2009 economic crisis better than many other sectors.[149]

See also

References

Bibliography

  • Aitken, Donald W. (2010). Transitioning to a Renewable Energy Future, International Solar Energy Society, January, 54 pages.
  • HM Treasury (2006). Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, 575 pages.
  • International Council for Science (c2006). Discussion Paper by the Scientific and Technological Community for the 14th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, 17 pages.
  • International Energy Agency (2006). World Energy Outlook 2006: Summary and Conclusions, OECD, 11 pages.
  • International Energy Agency (2007). Renewables in global energy supply: An IEA facts sheet, OECD, 34 pages.
  • International Energy Agency (2008). Deploying Renewables: Principles for Effective Policies, OECD, 8 pages.
  • International Energy Agency (2011). Deploying Renewables 2011: Best and Future Policy Practice, OECD.
  • International Energy Agency (2011). Solar Energy Perspectives, OECD.
  • Lovins, Amory (2011). Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era, Chelsea Green Publishing, 334 pages.
  • Makower, Joel, and Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder (2009). Clean Energy Trends 2009, Clean Edge.
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (2006). Non-technical Barriers to Solar Energy Use: Review of Recent Literature, Technical Report, NREL/TP-520-40116, September, 30 pages.
  • REN21 (2008). Renewables 2007 Global Status Report, Paris: REN21 Secretariat, 51 pages.
  • REN21 (2009). Renewables Global Status Report: 2009 Update, Paris: REN21 Secretariat.
  • REN21 (2010). Renewables 2010 Global Status Report, Paris: REN21 Secretariat, 78 pages.
  • REN21 (2011). Renewables 2011: Global Status Report, Paris: REN21 Secretariat.
  • REN21 (2012). Renewables 2012: Global Status Report, Paris: REN21 Secretariat.
  • United Nations Environment Programme and New Energy Finance Ltd. (2007). Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment 2007: Analysis of Trends and Issues in the Financing of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in OECD and Developing Countries, 52 pages.
  • Worldwatch Institute and Center for American Progress (2006). American energy: The renewable path to energy security, 40 pages.

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
 
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
 
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.