28 Responses to March 21 News: Wind power surged from 17,000 MW to 194,000 MW in past decade; Google takes on climate science deniers
Global wind capacity hit 194.4 GW in 2010.
Wind power surges forward around the globe (by Lester Brown)
For many years, a small handful of countries dominated growth in wind power, but this is changing as the industry goes global, with more than 70 countries now developing wind resources. Between 2000 and 2010, world wind electric generating capacity increased at a frenetic pace from 17,000 megawatts to nearly 200,000 megawatts.
Measured by share of electricity supplied by wind, Denmark is the leading nation at 21 percent. Three north German states now get 40 percent or more of their electricity from wind. For Germany as a whole, the figure is 8 percent — and climbing. And in the state of Iowa, enough wind turbines came online in the last few years to produce up to 20 percent of that state’s electricity.
In terms of sheer volume, the United States leads the world with 35,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity, followed by China and Germany with 26,000 megawatts each. Texas, long the leading U.S. oil-producing state, is now also the nation’s leading generator of electricity from wind. It has 9,700 megawatts of wind generating capacity online, 370 megawatts more under construction, and a huge amount under development. If all of the wind farms projected for 2025 are completed, Texas will have 38,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity — the equivalent of 38 coal-fired power plants. This would satisfy roughly 90 percent of the current residential electricity needs of the state’s 25 million people.
In July 2010, ground was broken for the Alta Wind Energy Center (AWEC) in the Tehachapi Pass, some 75 miles north of Los Angeles, Calif. At 1,550 megawatts, it will be the largest U.S. wind farm. The AWEC is part of what will eventually be 4,500 megawatts of renewable power generation, enough to supply electricity to some 3 million homes.
Since wind turbines occupy only 1 percent of the land covered by a wind farm, farmers and ranchers can continue to grow grain and graze cattle on land devoted to wind farms. In effect, they double-crop their land, simultaneously harvesting electricity and wheat, corn, or cattle. With no investment on their part, farmers and ranchers typically receive $3,000 to $10,000 a year in royalties for each wind turbine on their land. For thousands of ranchers in the U.S. great plains, wind royalties will dwarf their net earnings from cattle sales.
In considering the energy productivity of land, wind turbines are in a class by themselves. For example, an acre of land in northern Iowa planted in corn can yield $1,000 worth of ethanol per year. That same acre used to site a wind turbine can produce $300,000 worth of electricity per year. This helps explain why investors find wind farms so attractive.
Impressive though U.S. wind energy growth is, the expansion now under way in China is even more so. China has enough onshore harnessable wind energy to raise its current electricity consumption 16-fold. Today, most of China’s 26,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity come from 50- to 100-megawatt wind farms. Beyond the many other wind farms of that size that are on the way, China’s new Wind Base program is creating seven wind mega-complexes of 10 to 38 gigawatts each in six provinces (1 gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts). When completed, these complexes will have a generating capacity of more than 130 gigawatts. This is equivalent to building one new coal plant per week for two and a half years.
Of these 130 gigawatts, 7 gigawatts will be in the coastal waters of Jiangsu Province, one of China’s most highly industrialized provinces. China is planning a total of 23 gigawatts of offshore wind generating capacity. The country’s first major offshore project, the 102-megawatt Donghai Bridge Wind Farm near Shanghai, is already in operation.
Climate change skeptics who have created a political megaphone in Washington may finally meet their match in the world’s largest search engine.
Google.org, the technology giant’s philanthropic arm, has hand-picked a team of 21 fellows working in climate research to improve the way the science of global warming is communicated to the public and lawmakers through new media.
“We are seeing very clearly with climate change that our policy choices are currently not grounded in knowledge and understanding,” said Paul Higgins, a Google fellow and an associate policy director for the American Meteorological Society.
The Google Science Communication Fellows program named its first round of participants on Tuesday. The announcement could not have come at a more timely juncture.
On Monday, an annual Gallup poll on the environment reported that nearly 20 percent of Americans surveyed believe the effects of global warming will never happen, up from 11 percent three years ago, while fewer respondents are concerned about climate change than in the past.
A day later, House Republicans in the Energy and Commerce Committee voted unanimously against three amendments offered by Democrats that would accept that climate change is occurring; that it is largely due to human activity; and that human-made warming poses a threat to public health and welfare.
Democrats on the panel, all of whom voted for the measures, tied the proposals to larger GOP-backed legislation seeking to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
That global warming is doubted by large swathes of the country “” despite a consensus among climate scientists worldwide that says otherwise “” underscores the large gap between the data and America’s understanding of it, scientists say.
Fears of a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan sparked a new wave of criticism of nuclear energy “” and a rally in clean-energy stocks on Monday. But that interest quickly waned as stocks in the sector dropped back from that day’s highs as the stock market experienced a broad sell-off.
And that brief surge of interest never touched the private investment community, because venture capitalists typically focus on longer-term plays, said Steve Minnihan, a partner at Lux Research, a firm which specializes in cleantech.
“I haven’t heard anything from my clients or from the companies that we speak to in terms of interest in solar and wind power,” Minnihan said.
Any sustained increase in interest probably won’t be felt for the next six to nine months, said Micah Myers, a managing partner with venture-capital firm Claremont Creek Capital. That’s because the energy sector’s investment cycle is typically longer than other venture investments, he said. Alternative energy sources have suffered from a lack of capital to finance projects, but that may ease as a result of the crisis in Japan.
“It’s a huge tragedy, but it’s only gonna give a tailwind to alternative energy technologies,” Myers said. “There will be more of a willingness to put capital to work in solar and wind.”
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the fuel rods in one of the nuclear reactors in the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan had experienced a partial meltdown in a statement today. As of this afternoon, the Tokyo Electric Power Corporation (TEPCO) was attempting to restore power to the nuclear plants in order to cool the nuclear reactors and prevent a full-scale meltdown. The U.S. government has also urged any U.S. citizens within 50 miles of the reactor to evacuate the area.
While major natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti and Hurricane Katrina caused a huge outpouring of public support and aid funding, they didn’t move the needle much on technology, said David Mann, chief of staff at Khosla Ventures “” a venture-capital investment firm well known for its backing of cleantech companies.
Germany‘s nuclear operators may scrap payments of 300 million euros ($425.3 million) this year into a fund subsidising green energy after they had to close plants for safety checks, a newspaper reported on Monday.
Sueddeutsche Zeitung, citing company sources, said last week’s enforced shutdown of reactors built before 1980 for security checks in light of the nuclear crisis in Japan, had prompted the four German operators to consider stopping the payments. [POWER/DE]
The contributions are part of a package of conditions tied to a deal with the government last September, which lengthened the lifespans of the nuclear power stations in return for a fuel element tax, additional security measures, and the green fund.
It is intended to collect 300 million in each of 2011 and 2012 and 200 million a year in 2013 through to 2016, supporting the planned transition of Germany’s energy sector towards a higher renewables share.
The paper said the four companies, E.ON (EONGn.DE), RWE (RWEG.DE), Vattenfall Europe [VATN.UL] and EnBW (EBKG.DE) were angry about latest enforced closures of a total seven plants, two of which had been closed already, for three months at least.
The federal government is investing $60 million in three major studies on the effects of climate change on crops and forests to help ensure farmers and foresters can continue producing food and timber while trying to limit the impact of a changing environment.
The three studies take a new approach to crop and climate research by bringing together researchers from a wide variety of fields and encouraging them to find solutions appropriate to specific geographic areas. One study will focus on Midwestern corn, another on wheat in the Northwest and a third on Southern pine forests.
Shifting weather patterns already have had a big effect on U.S. agriculture, and the country needs to prepare for even greater changes, said Roger Beachy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And since the changes are expected to vary from region to region, he said different areas will need different solutions. Some areas may gain longer growing seasons or suffer more frequent floods, while others may experience more droughts or shorter growing seasons.
“What the climatologists have predicted is that the areas that were at one time wet will in fact be dry and hot, not wet and cool,” Beachy said as an example. “If that’s correct, then we need to have varieties of crops that will grow in those areas and are adaptable to the changes in the climate. So really it comes down to if we don’t do this, we may have some food shortages in certain kinds of foods.”
The corn project will be led by a rural sociologist, Lois Wright Morton of Iowa State University. She said the collaboration between climatologists, soil scientists, plant scientists and others means the researchers will be asking questions they might never have thought of before.
“We really have assembled what I really think of as the really top scientists in the agricultural arena to address these (issues),” Wright Morton said, adding that her team members are not only experts in their fields, they’re willing to learn from others. “That’s a pretty potent combination.”
The EPA declared LD Operations’ proposal for an underground coal mine, 15 kilometres from the tourist town, environmentally unacceptable.
It received hundreds of complaints from locals arguing the mine would damage the environment and hurt the tourism industry.
The Premier Colin Barnett says the proposal is dead and the EPA has made the right decision.
“I had expressed as Premier that I thought that was a very doubtful prospect to have an underground coal mine in the prime wine growing area of Western Australia,” he said.
“While this is a pro-development government, it is not development at any cost, and where projects are not acceptable, they will not be approved.”
LDO’s managing director Peter Ross says he is disappointed with the decision.
He says the company has not been given any reasons as to why the EPA declared the proposal environmentally unacceptable.
“Naturally we’re disappointed, however we have to wait and find out what the reasons were for their decision and assess our options from there, we’re still waiting for some information from the EPA,” he said.
North Carolina’s first large-scale wind farm, with more than 100 towers taller than a grain elevator, is working its way through a long permitting process with little opposition.
Atlantic Winds LLC, a subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, plans to erect up to 150 turbines with blades reaching more than 500 feet in the air within 20,000 acres of remote farmland in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.
At a hearing held by the state Utilities Commission on March 10 in Elizabeth City, local officials and landowners spoke highly of the project. At another hearing set for April 5 in Raleigh, only supporters of the project, including the developer, are set to speak.
“To me, the positive far outweighs any negative,” farmer Horace Pritchard said. “We’ve done a lot of research.”
Pritchard plans to lease 1,300 acres to Atlantic Winds within the farming area known as the Desert. Several landowners are involved in the deal.
Nearly 600 workers would be needed for construction of the project, according to company’s application to the Utilities Commission.
When finished, the facility would have a capacity of 300 megawatts and produce enough to power about 60,000 homes. The wind-generated electricity would flow into a Dominion Power transmission line that runs from Winfall to Suffolk.