Sunday, August 20, 2017

Some Statistics and Thoughts on Renewable Energy

It is estimated that wind power could eventually equal 5 times total current global energy production. That's not 5 times the current demand for electricity, but 5 times all of the current energy production of all types. That's 40 times the current demand for electricity.

Currently only about 1 million homes in the US have solar panels on their roofs. (I've been looking for global statistics for residential rooftop solar, but I still haven't found any.) If 100% of the roofs of both homes and non-residential buildings in the US had solar panels, of course, there would be a lot of left-over electricity with no-one to use it, even if there were no electricity generated from wind or geothermal or biomass or tidal or hydroelectric or oil or gas or coal, and no electricity generated from non-rooftop solar: none of those big solar farms owned by utilities.

Globally, the total new solar photovoltaic capacity installed in 2016 was more than 76 gigawatts, up more than 50% from the 50 new gigawatts of capacity installed in 2015.

All new renewable energy capacity added in 2016 was around 161 gigawatts, bringing the total capacity to almost 2,017 GW. Renewable energy additions accounted for about 62% of all new additions. That, of course, means that about 38% of all new capacity was in the form of oil, gas, and coal, and that's far too much. Oil, gas and coal should be shrinking rapidly on the way toward extinction, and they could be, they would be, if we got serious about renewables.

There are few fundamental technical barriers, right now, to achieving 100% global energy production from renewables. Many places in the world, including Aspen, Norway, British Columbia, Paraguay and Uruguay are already over 90%, with current technology. But of course, renewable-energy technically is rapidly improving. A lot of the smartest people on Earth are working full-time on those improvements, both in making currently-used technologies such as solar and wind more efficient, and in developing emerging technologies such as enhanced geothermal system (EGS), forms of marine energy other than tidal, which is already in use, artificial photosynthesis, and others. The technology of batteries and grids is rapidly improving.

The major obstacles to totally eliminating power production by oil, gas and coal are not technological, but sociological and political: climate change denial, sabotage and misinformation by the petrochemical industry, and political resistance to renewable energy which bought and paid for by the petrochemical industry. The petrochemical industry which, in the US, keeps getting those tax breaks in the billions year after year.

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