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The Current State of Clean Energy

RP Siegel | Wednesday May 9th, 2012 | 0 Comments

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is an organization that works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 28 member countries and beyond. They are probably some of the most informed people on the planet on the subject of energy. This is what Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven recently had to say on our current energy outlook in a recent report entitled Tracking Clean Energy Progress.

“The world’s energy system is being pushed to breaking point. Energy-related CO2 emissions are at historic highs, and under current policies, we estimate that energy use and CO2 emissions would increase by a third by 2020, and almost double by 2050. Many clean energy technologies are available but they are not being deployed quickly enough to avert potentially disastrous consequences.”

Zpryme recently published their US renewables forecast which includes a growth projection for the period from 2010 to 2035, also based on IEA data.

Those results are as follows:

2010 Level (GW)Projected 25 year growth
Natural gas406.533.5%
Coal308.1-7%
Nuclear101.2 11%
Hydro78.8 0.2%
Wind39.168%
Wood & Biomass2.511%
Geothermal2.4170%
Energy Storage1.7635%
Solar0.9933%

 

You can see some shifting going on here, though the order will stay roughly the same, except that energy storage and solar will move ahead of geothermal and biomass will drop to last place. Most of the projected growth in natural gas is from shale gas. Overall, this mix of sources will result in the catastrophic levels of atmospheric CO2 that van der Hoeven cited above.

We need more clean energy coming online sooner.

The IEA report makes three recommendations:

1. Level the playing field for clean energy technologies. This means ensuring that energy prices reflect the “true cost” of energy – accounting for the positive and negative impacts of energy production and consumption;

2. Unlock the potential of energy efficiency, the “hidden fuel” of the future. Making sure that energy is not wasted and that it is used in the best possible way is the most cost-effective action and must be the first step of any policy aimed at building a sustainable energy mix’

3. Accelerate energy innovation and public support for research, development and demonstration. This will help lay the groundwork for private sector innovation, and speed technologies to market.

That being said, here in the US, last year was a very good year for renewables. Combined, they contributed 11.96% to the Total US energy supply for the first nine months of 2011, outpacing nuclear for the first time. According to the EIA, a US agency within DOE which collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information to support sound policy and decision making, the contribution to electric generation was 12.73%.

The Breakdown is as follows:

Portion of Total EnergyPortion of Electricity
Hydro4.35%8.21%
Biomass3.15%1.34%
Biofuel2.57%——
Wind1.45%2.73%
Geothermal0.29%0.40%
Solar0.15%0.05%

This represents 24.73% renewable growth across the board in the electric generation sector compared to the same period last year. At the same time, coal dropped 4.2%, nuclear fell 2.8% and natural gas rose by 1.6%, while solar-generated electricity expanded by 46.5%, hydro by 29.6%, wind by 27.1%, geothermal by 9.4%, and biomass by 1.3%. Non-hydro renewables are projected to grow from 4% of total generation capacity to 9% by 2035, which is impressive, but probably not good enough.

Although the US outspent China in support for renewables and efficiency last year, this positive trend may not continue. A number of government programs are expiring and may not be renewed, including:

  •  Energy Efficient Home Tax Credit for Builders
  •  Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit
  •  Department of Energy Section 1705 Loan Guarantees
  •  Department of the Treasury Section 1603 Grant Program

The production tax credit for wind power is also set to expire.

With natural gas at historically low prices, combined with a sluggish economic recovery, sentiment for maintaining an aggressive investment plan for renewables has dropped, as if the cost of energy were the only concern.

Although many companies continue to carry the ball forward, the public sector is poised to begin backsliding. This being an election year is an excellent time to let your voices be heard if you are concerned.

[Image credit: Teckie Kev: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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