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Power Earth

US Becomes Top Wind Producer; Solar Next 388

SpuriousLogic sends along a SciAm piece that begins, "The United States overtook Germany as the biggest producer of wind power last year, new figures showed, and will likely take the lead in solar power this year, analysts said on Monday. Even before an expected 'Obama bounce' from a new President who has vowed to boost clean energy, US wind power capacity surged 50 percent last year to 25 gigwatts — enough to power more than five million homes."
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US Becomes Top Wind Producer; Solar Next

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  • winning by numbers (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @04:56AM (#26706559)

    hardly surprising when you see just how many turbines [openstreetmap.org] some places have installed

  • Re:Per capita (Score:5, Informative)

    by feyhunde ( 700477 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @05:24AM (#26706727)
    I prefer looking at Hydro electric. 317,686 million Kilowatt-hours for the US versus 26,944 million Kilowatt-hours. Or about 4 times as much per person. I live in the Northwest though, and 82% of the power for the region is from Hydroelectric. The rest is either natural gas or nuclear and mostly for Seattle.
  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hal_Porter ( 817932 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @05:30AM (#26706761)

    The German model of subsidising renewables is not without its problems

    http://www.economist.com/business/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10961890 [economist.com]

    Most of Germany's electricity comes from coal-fired and nuclear plants. But the former are unpopular because of their relatively high greenhouse-gas emissions, and the latter because of the fear of a catastrophic accident. So in 1991 Germany adopted a renewable-energy law, now known as the EEG, which encourages investment by cross-subsidising renewable electricity fed into the grid. The law is popular with those who support the rapid introduction of new clean technology. Stefan Schurig of the World Future Council, a green think-tank in Hamburg, calls it "the best law of its kind worldwide".

    The law says electricity produced from renewable sources must be purchased by utilities according to a generous "feed-in tariff" that sets higher-than-market rates and fixes them for 20 years. Roof-mounted photovoltaic systems installed in 2007, for example, can sell power at €0.49 per kilowatt-hour, or about seven times today's wholesale price, until 2027. The fixed rate allows investors to calculate returns and removes uncertainty over financing.

    The utilities that buy power at these higher rates pass the extra costs back to their customers in the form of higher electricity bills. This added an average of 1 euro cent per kilowatt-hour to the price of electricity last year, increasing the typical household electricity bill by 5%, or €3 a month. For the country as a whole, the cost was €7.7 billion in 2007, up 38% on the year before. Enthusiasts consider that a small price to jump-start a new industry and start decarbonising the power supply.

    Clouds on the horizon

    But the government is not so sure. It has proposed a revision to the EEG, which calls for a shift away from solar and towards other forms of renewable energy, and offshore wind in particular. As things stand, the feed-in tariff for solar goes down by 5% every year. But new proposals call for a cut of 9.2% next year, and 7-8% thereafter.

    The problem is not just the expense of the existing law. Cheerleaders for solar had hoped that the increased demand for panels would help manufacturers reduce unit costs, and thus make solar more competitive in the long run. Instead, the rush into solar has led to a shortage of the high-grade silicon used to make the cells, which has soared in price from $25 per kilogram in 2003 to around $400 today.

    Indeed, such is the demand for solar panels in Germany that it has kept prices high globally. This is wonderful for manufacturers, but makes it more expensive to install solar capacity in sunnier parts of the world, where it would generate more electricity. The EEG's generous rates for solar amounted to "picking winners on a grand scale", says Dieter Helm, an expert on energy policy at the University of Oxford. A euro in cross-subsidies spent on wind power, rather than solar, produces more generating capacity and a larger reduction in carbon emissions.

    Basically if you subsidise the wrong thing, you can potentially hurt more than you help. Picking the right things to subsidise is non trivial.

    Hell if planned economies worked, India and the UK would have grown faster than free market places like the US in the 50's and 60's. Actually, despite being poorer, they grew more slowly until they implemented free market reforms.

    Now traditionally greens seem to see economic growth as some kind of problem because it usually leads to more pollution, but in the case of the renewable energy industry, more growth actually means less pollution.

    And actually the EEG is a fairly lightweight piece of government intervention, adding only 5% to bills.

    To misquote Socrates "True knowledge exists in knowing that the Government knows nothing."

  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:5, Informative)

    by spectrokid ( 660550 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @05:40AM (#26706811) Homepage
    It would be more fair to calculate per inhabitant, not per square meter. A quick look on Wikipedia tells us that the US has 82 Watts installed capacity per inhabitant. Spain has 3.5 times as much, Germany 4.4 and little Denmark outperforms the US by 7 to 1. Denmark would like to get 50% of its electricity from wind power in the future. Denmark uses cross-border trading with Norway to balance supply/demand. The Norwegians have a lot of hydro which they can turn on/off rather quickly. So denmark sells power to Norway when there is wind, and buys it back when there isn't.
  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:5, Informative)

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @05:45AM (#26706839) Journal
    Yes, to get close to Germany the US needs five million homes / 25 gigawatts = 5kwh / home.
    I live alone in a 3 bedroom home in Australia and use ~1.2Kwh (yes I have a dishwasher, dryer, ect. gas heating, cooking, hot water. )
    Germany is more energy efficient than Oz (who are up near the top of the least efficient list along with the US), so say each 5kwh mansion has 5 people = 100% for 25 million people.
    That's just under 1/3 of their population getting 100% of their residential power from wind alone.
    I don't know how many buildings are powered by solar in Germany but I do know they were pumping almost a gigawatt of excess solar back on to the grid last summer.
  • Original article (Score:5, Informative)

    by pieleric ( 917714 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @06:09AM (#26706987) Homepage

    The original article can be found here [gwec.net]. It has more figures, including some on China, and an interesting remark that Europe in total generates 66GW, which is another way to the per capita computation to moderate this first rank of US...

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @06:23AM (#26707063)

    The U.S. is coming closer to pulling its weight on new capacity: in 2008, it installed 8.3 GW, while Germany installed 1.7 GW, or about a 5x factor. Not quite the 30x factor of land area, but hey, 1.7 million of those sq km are in Alaska, which is kind of inconvenient for electric transmission (same reason Canada's wind power is fairly low, despite massive land area).

  • Of you are lager by sqare kilometers, population and power consumtion then is is just easy to have the larger wind farms as well. Comparing absolute figures between countries is just plain unfair.

    Divide by any of the three and the US won't be the winner any longer. But then Germany probably won't win either any more...

  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:5, Informative)

    by devonbowen ( 231626 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @06:46AM (#26707191) Homepage

    I rode through Germany last weekend and couldn't believe all the solar cells I saw. Balconies, rooftops, entire sides of buildings. It's quite impressive. I'm not surprised that they generate so much power even with their climate.


  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:5, Informative)

    by checkup21 ( 717875 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @06:53AM (#26707217)
    Most of the "solar stuff" you see at the roof is not solar-power, it's "solar-thermie". To produce warm water while the sun is shining. cheers
  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:3, Informative)

    by Mattsson ( 105422 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:05AM (#26707265) Journal

    The fun thing about Denmark as a wind-power user, is that most of what they don't produce with wind are produced with coal, which is just about the worst energy-source there is. =)

  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:5, Informative)

    by phantomcircuit ( 938963 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:43AM (#26707467) Homepage

    That's funny last I checked Indians had terrible health care and in general are ridiculously poor.

  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:5, Informative)

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:45AM (#26707479) Journal
    I don't think it's a binary choice, helio's are good for tacking on to buildings, especially where there isn't enough sun (eg: shady side of a building in an otherwise sunny clime). Large windmills work well in the North Sea and would probably hold up to hurricane strength winds as well as your average oil rig. The drawback is that they need to be built in shallow water, so floating helios may have a place in the deep sea. There is also a lot of research going into floating WM's, ironically most of these projects are consulting the oil industry for their rig building expertise.

    Smart oil and coal companies have been looking at themselves as "energy companies" for a few years now but there are still plenty of ludites.
  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:56AM (#26707561)

    You're kidding, right? Germany's population density is similar to that of the US coastal areas, i.e. among the highest in the world. Wind turbines are installed less than half a mile from small residential areas and less than a mile from big residential areas. They are not nearly as noisy as you may think they are. Traffic, even on low-noise asphalt, causes more noise immissions than wind turbines. Proper planning is important (taking dominant wind direction and shadow length/direction over the day into account) but if Germany has room to install wind turbines, so does almost everybody else. They're visible for miles, but I honestly prefer to look at a couple of wind turbines instead of coal or nuclear power plants with their huge cooling towers. To me the wind turbines are a symbol of high technology being used for providing a clean energy source.

  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:5, Informative)

    by Reaper9889 ( 602058 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:02AM (#26707597)

    Yeah and Denmark gets pissy about Sweden's nuclear power plant and we have to shut it down.:(

    As I understood it, it was because Sweden put one (the one the danish goverment tried to shut down) 20 km from the danish Capitol and largest city, Copenhagen - see e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barseb%C3%A4ck_nuclear_power_plant [wikipedia.org] AFAIK, the rest wasn't a problem.

  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:3, Informative)

    by Hal_Porter ( 817932 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:09AM (#26707635)

    And yet everyone who lives there has adequate healthcare and the same standard of living without massive national debt.

    The US has a high debt at the moment it's true. I think it's partly due to Bush's spendthrift policies and partly a structural thing. Most US Federal Debt is owned domestically which makes it seem less threatening, almost like a voluntary tax system. There is a long term risk of Federal debts spiralling out of control admittedly, but that risk is exacerbated by increased government spending. If you want low debts, free market policies are the way to go.

    In fact in the UK social security would have bankrupted the government in the long run if entitlements had not been cut.

    The US, despite the rhetoric faces the same problem

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GAO_Slide.png [wikipedia.org]

    And unlike the UK, they haven't cut entitlements to make sure the system balances.

    In terms of health care, haven't you heard the expression "British Teeth"? I'm English and I grew up in the UK and travelled extensively and I have to say that British teeth from the NHS era are a on average lot worse than the teeth of Americans from the private healthcare era. In fact middle class English people over about 40 have worse teeth than ghetto/trailer park Americans. That's not unexpected either, the point of the NHS was that dentists got paid a (high) salary for taking part, not for actually treating anyone. It wasn't in their interests to "sell" treatment since they didn't charge for it. By contrast in the US dentists could market shiny straight teeth to people, or rather get them to buy them for their kids.

    Actually since Thatcher successive UK governments have largely dismantled the NHS. Most dental treatment in the UK is now private for example. Young English people have teeth like Americans.

  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @09:02AM (#26707983)

    I have a relative who is an executive for a solar company. It turns out that, for now, it's not about climate or size - it's about the subsidies.

    Germany started giving *crazy* subsidies each year to renewable energy source, enough to make producing them viable. Each year, the amount of power delivered went up (kicking in economies of scale) and the subsidies went down.

    The Germans built the seeds of the solar industry by subsidizing them get up to the scale needed where they can stand on their own (almost: right now, there's an over-capacity, so the makers have to take their product to other countries or shrink. The Germans still have a small subsidy, but the companies might even be able to live without right now).

    It's the only "personal" example I have of public-private partnerships working out well. (The other "personal" example is the US ethanol industry, and it's kind of an example of what not to do).

  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @09:33AM (#26708215) Journal

    Britain in the 50s and 60s was poor because the US delayed intervention in WW2, hoping that this would result in the collapse of the British Empire, to the gain of the US

    That's funny, I always thought it had to do with domestic political considerations [state.gov]. It is true that FDR hoped to end colonialism but I've never heard that used as an explanation for why we didn't intervene.

  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @09:54AM (#26708423)

    You do realize that when the talking heads tell you it is "the hottest it has been in 75 years," or we are in the "biggest economic recession in 30 years," etc., that it means 75 and 30 years ago, respectively, it was just as bad or worse than it is now?

    If in your entire lifespan it is the hottest 80 years on record, keep two things in mind: 80 years is barely a visible spot compared to the age of the planet; and accurate records haven't been kept for very long.

    We should be better stewards of the planet. We should respect nature to ensure future generations have something to enjoy. But we shouldn't get caught up in the "anthropomorphic global warming" craze because the earth has been warming and cooling for millennia without our help. That doesn't mean we should dump toxins into rivers, strip mine, and cross cut forests. It doesn't mean coal plants should belch out CO2.

    It means, as you point out by putting the word 'debate' in quotes, that rationality should lead and we should be able to have a debate, rather than people being labeled as idiots for not devouring the anthro-global warming tripe.

  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @10:10AM (#26708613)

    The US could, I am quite sure, treble our current nuclear output. We might even be able to increase it by an order of magnitude to 1000 plants although we'd have to scrounge up some fuel that probably exists, but isn't currently in proven reserves. But every time I work the numbers, I get the same answer. US energy needs are so great that we need more like 5000 nuclear power plants just to replace oil.

    Nuclear power accounts for 19% of our electricity right now.

    Trebling our capacity will push it to ~60% of our electrical requirements. 1000 plants should make it 200% of our electrical capacity.

    Somehow, I doubt seriously we'd need 1000% of our current electrical generation capacity to replace oil alone....

  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:4, Informative)

    by Rasperin ( 1034758 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @10:43AM (#26709137)
    I live next to a windmill and I can tell you, I've almost never heard a peep out of that thing, running and all. I hear protests against them all the time in the mid-western part of this state (Kansas) because they think they're loud/etc. No they're not and it's false media like that who are stopping anything real starting up.
  • by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @10:48AM (#26709211) Homepage Journal
    At this time in wind's growth curve, the most interesting question is: who is producing the turbines? They are likely to hold market share into the future. My impression is that Europe and the US are doing pretty well with China beginning to ramp up production. This means that the money invested in wind will often stay within a country. This makes some sense because the equipment is bulky and may pose difficulties with long supply chains.

    The situation is different with solar panels. China is becoming the largest producer this year while the US is becoming the largest consumer. Solar panels can be shipped at a weight advantage of 200 times over coal or oil and fit well in containers. The US is leading in production in the small market segment of thin film solar however.

    The eventual size of the solar market may be five times that of wind given cost projections so the bulk of the money to be made in renewable energy will be in solar. The present market shares for solar production look to disadvantage the US.
  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:2, Informative)

    by 0prime ( 792333 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:01AM (#26709447)
    This is closer to the correct way to look at renewable harvesting, but not quite.

    The problem most people seem to have with understanding the use of renewable resources is that they aren't limitless when it comes to total production. Yes, you will always have wind, but where and how much varies depending on the climate.

    Germany should be a huge producer of wind power, as they have a huge source of strong wind energy, the North Sea. When it comes to coastal winds, lands along the North Sea are the best place for wind energy production, hence all the high amounts of wind energy being produced by countries in that area.

    A True measure of renewable energy harvesting is only found when you compare the potential output to the actual output. When only looking at land area in square units, most of Germany isn't suitable for wind energy production. Their high production comes from intensely using the available wind 'resources' in their northern coastal regions. It would be dumb to put a ton of windmills in the Black Forests of southern Germany.
  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:3, Informative)

    by Moridineas ( 213502 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @12:04PM (#26710751) Journal

    Rich community in Florida? There are far better examples...try Senator Kennedy and Cape Code

    http://preview.story.news.yahoo.com/s/bloomberg/20090116/pl_bloomberg/aj2z7l9psmeg [yahoo.com]

    NIMBY fake environmentalism knows no partisanship...

  • Re:Makes you wonder (Score:3, Informative)

    by LordVader717 ( 888547 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @04:27PM (#26716269)

    Power is the derivative of energy. Heat is energy. Your point?

    They're actually better than Photovoltaic cells because they're more efficient, generate more power per area, don't need batteries and are much cheaper.

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"