This week was very unusual with the strong focus on the Japanese nuclear crisis and the reactions to it in the US and abroad. I thought it would be nice to go on a little trip around the world and look at what’s been happening lately elsewhere in the world of energy, and in particular renewable energy. Come along on a wee tour!
What's happening in A. China, B. India, C. Romania, D. Scotland and E. South Africa
China. Driven by great concerns about pollution and associated health costs, as well as the urgent need to grow energy production domestically to still its ever growing hunger for fuel and electricity, China is boosting renewable energy and moving from coal to gas. It hopes to double gas consumption in the next 4 years. Gas will be supplied primarily by Russia, Turkmenistan and also Australia. By 2015 gas should account for 8% of total energy. In the meantime, wind, solar, hydro and nuclear will grow from the current 8 percent of total energy to 11 percent. These numbers seem relatively low, but they are not. For nuclear energy it means building 40GW of new power, tripling current capacity. New hydropower will add 120GW to the mix.
Romania. Romania, not particularly known for wind energy production, has started the construction of what will be the largest land-based wind farm in Europe. The 600MW plant in the town of Fantanele will have 120 turbines rated each at 2.5MW. Fantanele does not consider wind a NIMBY (Not In My BackYard). On the contrary: each turbine in the backyard brings 400o US dollars in the back pocket of the landowner. A windfall indeed for most people there who typically receive little more than 1000 US dollar in income per year.
Scotland. Islay is better known for its (very tasty) whiskeys, but has received some attention recently as the site of a large new tidal energy project. The Scottish government approved the installation of ten turbines that will supply power to around 500o homes (and perhaps a few distilleries?).
South Africa. South Africa’s government just approved a plan to increase both renewable and nuclear energy. South Africa relies strongly on coal, like China, but it wants over 40 percent of new energy production to come from renewables. Energy is a charged issue in South Africa after the huge blackouts the country experienced in its summer of 2008.
Stanford News Service is reporting that a new study – co-authored by Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson and UC-Davis researcher Mark A. Delucchi – analyzed what is needed to convert the world’s energy supplies to clean and sustainable sources and determined that it can be done with today’s technology at costs roughly comparable to conventional energy.
“Based on our findings, there are no technological or economic barriers to converting the entire world to clean, renewable energy sources,” said Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. “It is a question of whether we have the societal and political will.”
The world they envision would run largely on electricity. Their plan calls for using wind, water and solar energy to generate power, with wind and solar power contributing 90 percent of the needed energy.
Geothermal and hydroelectric sources would each contribute about 4 percent in their plan (70 percent of the hydroelectric is already in place), with the remaining 2 percent from wave and tidal power.
“This really involves a large scale transformation,” Jacobsen said. “It would require an effort comparable to the Apollo moon project or constructing the interstate highway system.”
“But it is possible, without even having to go to new technologies,” he said. “We really need to just decide collectively that this is the direction we want to head as a society.”
You can read the full article and see a related video on the Stanford News Service website.
Having lived in New Zealand for five years, I much enjoyed talking to Dr. Jonathan Leaver, engineering research manager at Unitec, one of the universities in Auckland. Jonathan has played a major role in New Zealand’s energy systems for over 20 years. He paints an interesting picture: New Zealand’s isolated geographical location has lead to an energy portfolio that contains a large renewable energy mix. Electricity is generated mostly from hydro and geothermal energy. Wind is a growing energy resource. For transport, New Zealand relies on oil imports. No wonder that the New Zealanders are interested in exploring electric or fuel cell vehicles, with the electricity and hydrogen generated in New Zealand in an environmentally friendly way.