|Solar Panel installer or wind turbine technician will be among the fastest growing occupations in the next decade (US Department of Labour Statistics)|
-Image Creative Commons via Bing with thanks to the unknown photographer
“In the years to come, the only great powers will be green powers.”
- Boris Johnson speaking at the UN General Assembly in
As far as power generation from renewable energy goes, the trickle has
become a flood. There is so much happening in this space that I can barely keep
up. Three days ago the UK announced its ambitious road map to zero emissions.
Two days ago, the state of Tasmania became the first Australian state to announce
plans to reach net zero by 2030, so I will stop adding more bits and list some of the highlights here. Look up any of the linked source pages for more. We'll be talking mostly about power generation for domestic use in this section and particularly the uptake of PV solar and wind power. Other emergent technologies such as Pumped Hydro and Green Hydrogen will be discussed in the section on Transport and Manufacturing which follows the segment on Australia.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), global renewable energy capacity grew by 260 Gigawatts in 2020 and grew at its fastest rate in two decades. It looks set to grow even faster, especially as the majority of countries seek to meet their emissions reduction targets.
While no country attained the highest ranks in
achieving climate goals this year according to the Climate Change Performance Index which tracks the progress of 56 countries, Sweden, Denmark and Morocco were among the best performers. In 2017 the world gained 98 GW of solar power alone. The International Energy Agency’s latest report
shows renewable energy capacity
increased 45% worldwide in 2021, an increase of 50% over 2020, despite
delays due to the pandemic and supply chain issues. Morocco was ranked so highly because of it's mega Noor solar power development which came on stream in 2018 and which at 580 MW was the biggest in the world.
The rise of the Megaparks
Mega Solar Parks are a bit like the world’s tallest building. No sooner are they built or even on the drawing board, then someone comes along and builds a larger one. Villaneuva in Mexico had it’s moment in the sun in 2018 with 628 MW capacity, then China built Longuanxia Dam Solar Park with 850 MG capacity. Next came India with Kurnul, it’s Ultra Mega Solar Park which came on stream in 2017 and employed 2,500 workers in its construction. It produces a staggering 1000 MW and plans to add another 2750 MW. Not to be outdone China built Tennegar at 1547 MW on the Tibetan Plateau which is currently the biggest in the world in terms of output, but looks like being pipped by India's Shakti Sthala Plant which will produce 2,000 MW, making it the world's third largest, after Rajasthan's Bhadia Solar Park at 2,245 MW which came on stream in 2020 and China's Huanghe Hydropower's (name of the company involved) Solar Park completed in September 2020, with 2,200 MW.
Several solar plants together make a solar farm, or Solar Park. The main reason for putting them close together is so that they can take advantage of existing infrastructure such as the distribution network. China has for example, added to the capacity of Longuanxia Solar Park, while Rajasthan's Bhadia Solar Park will progressively add 30 additional plants to raise its capacity to 3.5 Gigawatts. Adding additional Solar Parks makes them 'clusters.' A typical example would be the Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in in Dubai. Now in its 4th and 5th stage of construction it will yield 5 GW when completed in 2030.
In the USA wind power supplied 8.4% of its energy in 2020 and 43% of its renewable energy. In the EU it's 19% 190 GW onshore and 40 GW offshore, thus avoiding 333 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year and saving € 28 billion in imported fuel.
-This video is from the Climate Council’s website.
We haven't heard much about offshore wind in Australia yet, but the International Renewable Energy Agency regards it at one of the big three. The Biden administration plans to build 30 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, enough to power 10 million homes and avoid 78 million tonnes of emissions. it is also expected to provide around 135,000 jobs. The EU, Korea, Japan and China also have major projects planned.
Geothermal energy is also on the up and up. Some 10,000 wells and infrastructure are currently under development which are expected to yield 36 Gigawatts by 2030.
Biomass energy, is a hugely contentious issue. Though energy generated from biological sources makes up only 10% of the global electricity market, it is expected to increase by about 25% by 2024 as the demand for renewable fuel sources for transport and aviation grows.
In 2016 biomass contributed 59% to the European Union’s renewable energy production and 10% to its total electricity generation. It is an important part of its decarbonisaion strategy with the biggest users in 2016 being Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and the UK. However, the Scandinavian countries and the Baltic states consumed more on a per capita basis. It is primarily used for heating and cooling, and as a fuel in transport, as well as electricity production.
Although it often uses waste products such as crop residues, wood
and logging waste and animal and municipal waste, these must be sourced and processed
carefully to ensure that they do not themselves contribute to emissions,
deforestation and climate change. Perhaps the most useful function of biomass will
be to provide back -up when wind generation is low, as has happened recently. Past
weather patterns may not necessarily be a good guide to the future as we have
already seen greater variability under conditions of even 1.5º C of warming.
[The exception is Trinidad and Tobago which has a carbon footprint 6 times higher than the world average. This is because it is both an oil and gas producer and in the 1990‘s became the major supplier of LNG gas to the USA. Gas production produces enormous quantities of methane, thereby distorting the total even as extreme weather events pummel the islands. The country also burns a great deal of biomass.]
The downsides of using biomass include contributing to deforestation, adding to emissions, air pollution, negative health effects from breathing particulates, reducing biodiversity and the loss of nutrients from the soil, especially if erosion or desertification follow.
Harnessing the power of the sea
Wave and tidal power are the new kids on the block. As yet they are not turning a profit but pilot plants are springing up from Hawaii to Israel, from the Orkneys to King Island in Tasmania. Portugal has it's Wave Roller and Israel also has a pilot project in Gibraltar. No design is the same. The one in the Orkneys is the first to be connected to the grid and will power 2000 homes. It is hoped that as the technology matures and becomes cheaper, wave and tidal power will also help to overcome the intermittency involved in wind and solar.
Falling costs, rising employment and investmentThe cost of renewable energy has fallen so low that 60% of the world’s coal fired power plants can no longer compete against them and there has been a wholesale move away from coal, oil and gas. A recent report in the Guardian from Carbon Tracker says that 82% of the UK's coal plants cost more to run than renewables. Indeed, it has been said that 92% of coal facilities being built or under construction today, are unlikely to get a return on the cost of building them.
International asset managers, Brookfield and TPG said that as at June 2021 they had a combined $12.4 billion in climate related investments.
Even oil companies are getting on board. Shell is investing in North Sea windfarms and car charging networks. BP has pledged to generate 50 GW of renewable energy by by 2050. In the words of Shell CEO Ben van Buerden,
“If we do not make that type of process by the middle of this decade, we have a problem not just as a company but as a society."