The world is currently on a path towards solar and other renewable energy. This will be the new energy future (NEF).
Germany and Spain are leading the way, thanks to generous solar energy incentives. Germany is the number one producer of solar energy in the world, well on its way towards producing 20% of its electric power with solar photo voltics. This was highliighted in a recent PBS Nova episode, which also reported that Germany has created 170,000 jobs in the solar industry. The number 2 country in solar production is Japan.
Spain has set a goal of supplying 30% of its energy needs by renewable energy by 2010 and is well on its way towards this objective. Spain's Minister of Industry estimates that renwable energy (RE) industries will create 200,000 jobs by 2010.
A Spanish company (Abengoa Solar) is building the world's largest solar power plant on three square miles in the Arizona desert in an area southwest of Phoenix. Abeengoa will build, own and operate the $1 billion solar thermal plant. Arizona Public Service, state's largest utility, will pay Abengoa $4 billion over 30 years for the energy produced, estimated to be enough to provide full power for up to 70,000 homes.
And China has become the world leader in solar water heating and has a growth rate of 20-30% in its solar electric production. According to the March/April 2008 issue of Solar Today, in 2006, China committed to investing $200 billion over 15 years to meet nationally mandated targets for clean energy. China plans to have 60 gigawatts of renewable energy (not including large hydroelectric) by 2010 and 120 GW by 2020.
Morgan Stanley recently estimated that by 2030, clean energy sales will amount to $1 trillion/year. Deutsche Bank predicts solar market penetration will grow to 11%, wind energy to 9.6% and biofuels to 21%.
In the USA, alternative energy has been victimized by spurt and stop growth due to incentives which have been unpredictable and often only short-term. However, California is leading the way. Gov Schwarzenagger recently signed another hallmark bill, The Solar Water Heating and Efficiency Act of 2007 (AB 1470), committing 10 years of subsidies to solar water heating with the aim of building at least 200,000 new solar water heating systems by 2017. It is hoped this would create a mainstream, self-sufficient market.
This follows the Million Solar Roofs Act of 2006 (SB1) which aims for solar panels on at least 1 million rooftops by 2018 by providing incentives for existing homes to retrofit and requiring new homes built after 2010 to have optional rooftop solar sytems. In addition, the California Public Utilities Commission recently approved a plan to require all new housing developments to be energy self-sufficient by 2020 and new commercial buildings by 2030. The PUC does not have the necessary enforcement power, but the plan will become law if the California Energy Comission or the state legislature adopt the proposal.
Hawaii is considering requiring solar waters on all new houses. Oregon provides 50% energy tax credits for photovoltics and solar thermal projects and these credits are in addition to the current 30% federal tax credit.
Pacific Gas and Electiric (PG&E) is an example of curent progress in California. PG&E recently entered into a series of contracts for a total of 900 MW of solar power. The first of these plants will produce 100 MW in Ivanpah, California and is expected to produce 246,000 MWh of renwable electricity per year, starting as early as 2011. For 2008, the utility expects to derive 14% of its energy from renewable sources.
The Wetern Governors Association has set an ambitious goal of at least 8,000 MW of solar by 2015. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimates that 314 MW of new solar were installed in the US in 2007, contributing $2 billion and 6,000 new jobs to the economy. The grid-connected PV market grew by 45% in 2007 after a 53% increase in 2006. This 2007 total broke down to about 150 MW connected to the grid and 50 MW off the grid. About one-third of this was residential and two-thirds was non-residential.
The January 2008 issue of Scientific American proposed spending $420 billion between 2011 and 2050 to fund a massive switch from coal oil and natural gas to solar plants, which could produce 69% of this country's electricity and 35% of its total energy by 2050.
Coal subsidies in the 2005 Energy Act are estimated to be $5-9 billion. A report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) show total energy research and development expenditures for 2002-2007 to be $11.5 billion, with $6,2 billion of this going to nuclear, $3.1 billion to fossil fuels and $1.4 billion to renewable energy. Total Tax expenditures for this period for the energy sector was $18.2 billion, with fossil fuel receiving $13.7 of this and renewable energy getting only $2.8 billion.
The Rand Corporation estimated that the US was spending $30-60 billion per year in routing military expenditures to protect access to Middle Eastern oil before the Iraq War. This was despite the fact that oil imported from the region during the same period was valued at only $20 billion.
The April 22, 2008 ConsumersReports.org reveals a new direction in electric cars. And the way is being lead by Isreal, Denmark, Silicon Valley, Renault and Nissan. An alliance between Nissan and Renault will soon be selling electric automobiles in Israel. Renault recently partnered with Siicon Valley based start-up Project Better Place (PBP) to supply Renault Megane sedans to be sold in Israel starting in 2011. BPB, in turn, will create 500,000 battery charging and replacement stations throughout Isreal as well as charging points in public parking garages and along streets.
The Megane is a sedan the size of a Volkswagon Jetta and is said to be able to accelerate from 0-60 MPH in eight seconds and have a range of 125 miles. Purchase price is expected to be similar to an equivalent-sized car with a 1.6-liter engine. A generous tax subsidy by the Israeli government will help make the price of the car competitive. In Israel, 90% of car owners drive less than 44 miles per day and the country's largest three cities are within 100 miles of each other.
Megane EV owners will suscribe to a battery replacement or recharging plan that is based on their milage. An onboard computer will indicate milage left and the location of the nearest battery replacement or recharging spot. Removing and replacing the battery is planned to be performed by a robot. Operating costs are expected to be significantly less than filling up with gasoline (which costs about $6.90/ gallon in Israel).
A similar experiment if planned for Denmark- another country known for short driving distances. In Denmark, 50,000 recharging stations (powered by renewable wind energy) are planned.
The battery for the Renault is an advanced lithium-ion type, developed by Nissan and NEC of Japan. This type of battery is commonly considered the next step up from the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in today's production hybrids. Li-on batteries are still considered by many experts to be in their developmentsl infancy for automotive use and concerns about it longevity, charging time, and potential to overheat are still being addressed.
The demand for hybrid automobiles has increased to the point where Toyota dealers are reporting that the time that a new Prius spends on the lot is measured in hours. The Saturn Vue hybrid sells in an average of 16 days, compared to 60 days last year. However, sales for three hybrid models- Honda Civic, Toyota Highlander and Mercury Mariner- fell by roughly half this spring compared to a year ago. The problem has been production bottlenecks, especially in battery production. Toyota has reached the production limit at its Japaneese Prius factory. It will build a new battery plant and expand another in conjunction with partner Panasonic.
The next phase of battery development is expected to rely on Lithium Carbonate and there will be some major obstacles. Economically recoverable Lithium Brine Reserves are lower than previously previously estimated at only 4 million tons of lithium. Mass prodution of Lithium Carbonate will cause largescale irreparable ecological damage and be incompatible with the concept of a "green" car. In addition, the highly focused geographical concentration of Lithium production will exacerbate the already strained geopolitical relations between Latin America and the USA.
Toyota is actually already starting to look beyond Lithium towards solid-state batteries and and metal-air batteries and presumably that will include Zinc-air. Nissan, on the other hand, is looking at fourth generation lithium batteries that their vice presidnet for research and development, Mitsuhiko Yamashita says (according to the Wall Street Journal) will deliver ranges of up to 400 KM (284 miles) compared to today.s batteries which are limited to about about 100 miles.
The city of Reno Nevada is a hotspot for Geothermal power production. Geothermal plants now provide enough electricity to serva all of its 200,000 residents. Nationally, geothermal produces less than 3000 megawatts annually, only 0.4 percent of total energy use (roughly equivalent to two coal fired power plants).
The investment risks of geothermal commercial development are still too high. Projects take years of planning and construction and do not get the large government subsidies that other energy produce recieve. But adequate public funding of research and development could change this. The Energy Independence Security Act of 2007, which was signed into law in December, 2007, directs the Department of Energy to authorize up to $95 million annually for geothermal research and development. And 90% of identified geothermal resources are on public lands.
And, in spite of current problems, more than 80 geothermal projects are in the works in the West, in every state except Montana and Colorado. The BLM has issued nearly 300 geothermal leases since 2001, compared to only 25 between 1996 and 2001. And 100 geothermal lease requests were pending as of January, 2005. The BLM has promised to process at least 90% of these by 2010. And, according to an MIT study, advances in geothermal technology could supply 100,000 megawatts by 2050, amounting to 10% of the US energy production.
Seagen, the world's largest tidal turbine was recently completed in Strangford Narrows, Northern Ireland. The 1.2 megawatt generator was completed in mid-May, 2008 and testing (including fulltime monitoring of marine mammal activity around the structure) should be completed by September. Seagen uses two 16-meter rotors which will operate during tidal flows, 18 to 20 hours/day. It will produce four times the power of any previous tidal stream generator. The owner, Marine Current Turbines has entered into a joint venture to build a 10.5 megawatt project in North Wales, to operate by 2012.
Nuclear power has several drawbacks compared to renewable energy options. Investors have been reluctant to invest in nuclear due to the high costs and risks involved. Nuclear will not be developed without massive government subsidies and guarantees. And nuclear plants started at the earliest possible date are unlikely to produce any power before 2020. In the meantime, a wind power park producing 1.8 gigiwatts (more than a single nuclear plant) in Texas took less than eight months in 2006. And by the time nuclear power goes online, its costs will be significantly higher than wind or solar.
Production of electric-powered bicycles has doubled since 2004, reaching 21 million units in 2007, according to a report by the Eart Policy Institute. A total of 130 million bikes were built worldwide last year, compared to 52 million cars. Bicycle production has quadrupled since 1970, while car production has doubled over the same period. About 88 percent of all bikes are built in China, with another 5 percent in Taiwan.
The writing is on the wall.