New large-scale projects are revolutionising the energy sector, using sunlight, wind, waves and even trash, rather than oil, coal or nuclear power. This weekend, US President Obama toured the BrightSource project, which will be the largest solar-thermal plant in the world.
Every time there's an energy-related disaster, it boosts the prospects for clean alternatives. The devastating explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine killed 29, and got people wondering if all that ancient coal shouldn't just be left in the ground. And the oil spill from the Deep Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico led to new restrictions on offshore drilling, and rising public sentiment for cleaner alternatives.
The problem is that people's memories are short, and the old arguments – coal is "native energy," offshore oil offsets foreign imports – reassert themselves to reinforce the status quo.
Thankfully, new technology, with the help of investments in renewable energy forecasted to reach $200 billion in 2010, is going to change that and in future, energy will come from mother natures renewable recources: Wind, sun, waves and organic waste.
Wind power has been used by man for ages. With technologies developed by market leaders Vestas and Siemens, wind power is already contributing a large part of the energy consumption in parts of the world. Mainly in Europe where the large windmill parks are scattered off shore.
Many of the biggest projects are either in Europe or involve European companies. Abengoa Solar announced this week that it had started commercial operation near Seville, Spain of its 50-megawatt Solnova 1, which uses parabolic trough solar technology. The plant can power 25,700 homes, or offset 31,400 tons of carbon dioxide.
Wave energy is still a technology awaiting widespread commercialisation, though costs are coming down rapidly. The biggest problem is cost. These facilities are very capital intensive, ranging from $4,000 to $15,000 per kilowatt. Significant breakthroughs in capital cost would be needed to make this technology cost competitive. Ocean-based systems take a beating, especially since it's roughly true that the rougher the water the more energy they can produce.
Investments in Biodigesters, that converts organic waste to biofuel, are increasing and many projects are emerging around the world. In Singapore, IUT Global has set up a large scale biodigester that will be able to supply the Singaporean and Asian market with biofuel.