Posts Tagged ‘Clean energy’

Green Energy Rush Hit by Headwinds

OFF THE COAST OF KENT, England—A phalanx of sleek white windmills, rising nearly 400 feet out of the North Sea, is just the start of one of the world’s most audacious green-energy programs.

The turbines are part of a project expected to be the world’s largest offshore wind farm when it is completed later this year. But only for a while, because it’s a prelude to something much bigger. In a few years, its developer, Swedish energy company Vattenfall AB, plans to start a new project farther offshore, in deeper waters, with turbines as tall as London’s 580-foot Gherkin skyscraper.

Just one problem: Vattenfall has no idea how it’s going to build it. “The equipment we need to operate in such rough waters doesn’t exist yet,” says Ole Bigum Nielsen, the project manager.

Europe is making a huge bet on wind energy. Because there is little room in its crowded countryside for sprawling wind-tower complexes, planners are increasingly looking to the sea. Europe’s current 2,000 megawatts of offshore generating capacity will grow at least 40,000 megawatts by 2020, enough to power more than 25 million households, the European Wind Energy Association predicts.

Britain is making the biggest wind wager. By offering generous incentives, the U.K. already has built more offshore wind power than any other nation. Now it is planning a wave of vast new wind farms, in some of Europe’s stormiest waters.

The U.K.’s commitment is driven by stringent European Union targets. To meet them, Britain will have to raise the share of its electricity that comes from renewable sources to about 30% by 2020. It’s just 7% now. The U.K. also adopted a “carbon budget” a year ago, committing to reduce emissions to at least 34% below 1990 levels by 2018-2022.

Some dismiss the windmills as quixotic. Wind energy needs massive subsidies to be economic. The cost to carry out Britain’s plans is estimated at $150 billion. Some predict a consumer backlash against resulting higher energy bills. And many more challenges await, judging from those the project at Kent faced, ranging from the need to protect marine worms to a design flaw that causes turbines to sink into their foundations.

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Wikipedia’s Entry on Global Energy Consumption

In 2008, total worldwide energy consumption was 474 exajoules (474×1018 J) with 80 to 90 percent derived from the combustion of fossil fuels.[1] This is equivalent to an average power consumption rate of 15 terawatts (1.504×1013 W). Not all of the world’s economies track their energy consumption with the same rigor, and the exact energy content of a barrel of oil or a ton of coal will vary with quality.

Most of the world’s energy resources are from the sun’s rays hitting earth. Some of that energy has been preserved as fossil energy, some is directly or indirectly usable; for example, via wind, hydro- or wave power. The term solar constant is the amount of incoming solar electromagnetic radiation per unit area, measured on the outer surface of Earth’s atmosphere, in a plane perpendicular to the rays. The solar constant includes all types of solar radiation, not just visible light. It is measured by satellite to be roughly 1366 watts per square meter, though it fluctuates by about 6.9% during a year—from 1412 W m−2 in early January to 1321 W m−2 in early July, due to the Earth’s varying distance from the sun, and by a few parts per thousand[clarification needed] from day to day. For the whole Earth, with a cross section of 127,400,000 km2, the total energy rate is 174 petawatts (1.740×1017 W), plus or minus 3.5%. This value is the total rate of solar energy received by the planet; about half, 89 PW, reaches the Earth’s surface.[citation needed]

The estimates of remaining non-renewable worldwide energy resources vary, with the remaining fossil fuels totaling an estimated 0.4 YJ (1 YJ = 1024J) and the available nuclear fuel such as uranium exceeding 2.5 YJ. Fossil fuels range from 0.6-3 YJ if estimates of reserves of methane clathrates are accurate and become technically extractable. Mostly thanks to the Sun, the world also has a renewable usable energy flux that exceeds 120 PW (8,000 times 2004 total usage), or 3.8 YJ/yr, dwarfing all non-renewable resources.

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Natural gas: Fuel of the future –

NEW YORK ( — The world seems awash in natural gas.

In the United States, new production from once hard-to-tap shale rock is booming in places like Texas, Louisiana and the Northeast. There are also plans to construct a mammoth gas pipeline through Canada to bring Alaskan North Slope gas to market.

In Australia and Qatar, liquefied natural gas terminals have started supplying fast-growing Asian countries, and more are under construction.

In Africa, rich natural gas deposits off the coast of Angola are slated for both the domestic market and export to Europe, which still gets a big part of its supply from Russia’s huge reserves. Plans are also underway to supply both Europe and Asia with the sizable gas reserves in Iran and Iraq.

Forecasting agencies, long known to play it safe before touting new trends, are only predicting a modest increase in gas’ share of the world’s overall energy mix by 2030.

But some analysts are saying it could be much higher, with big implications for the electricity markets – and coal-fired power plants in particular.

How much do we have?

In the United States, it’s this shale natural gas that’s got everyone so excited.

This gas has been known about for some time, but new drilling and extraction technology has now made it commercially viable. There are some concerns over the environmental impact of this drilling, especiallywater pollution, but the sheer amount of new gas is getting major attention.

“We’ve basically won the lottery,” Michael Ming, president of Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, an organization that studies new natural gas developments, said during a recent Time Inc. conference on energy technologies.

The amount of gas reserves in these new shales could double the nation’s known stockpile of natural gas, according to U.S. Geological Survey estimates.

Yet the U.S. Energy Information Administration is only forecasting a rise in natural gas production of under 20% by 2030. And as our overall energy use is expected to rise as well, natural gas’ share of our overall energy mix will be little changed. EIA’s estimates are in-line with other private forecasts.

Ming is among those who believe estimates for natural gas use are too small. He pointed to estimates from 10 years ago that said just 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was likely in Texas’ Barnett Shale. That estimate is now 50 trillion cubic feet.

“There’s a lot of conservatism right now,” he said in an interview with CNNMoney. “We’re just at the very tip of this pyramid.”

What we use it for

Natural gas can be used for many things – to power cars, heat homes, cook, or generate electricity.

It’s this last use that will likely represent the biggest opportunity for gas in the next couple of decades.

For the last several years utilities have scrapped plans to build coal-fired power plants in favor of natural gas plants, which emit about half the carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. This move has become known in the power industry as the “dash to gas.”

But that dash has been only half-hearted, said Peter Tertzakian, chief energy economist at ARC Financial, a Calgary-based private equity firm.

Over a decade ago utility execs were promised natural gas would be abundant and cheap. But the production didn’t pan out as planned, and gas prices spiked even before oil prices did earlier this decade.

Prices have since dropped significantly, partially due to all the new shale gas, but utility execs are still leery this resource is for real.

‘It’s a question of believing,” said Tertzakian, who also thinks the estimates for future natural gas use are low. “Once they believe the trend, gas demand is more likely to gain momentum.”

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