With oil and gas prices
soaring amid deepening instability in the Middle East, renewable
energy is emerging as a bright spot in the global energy economyand
is poised for a worldwide takeoff. According to a new study from
the Worldwatch Institute, solar power generation has more than tripled
globally in the past five years, and wind power generation has nearly
Political will and the right mix of policiesnot vast
resource potentialhave made wind and solar power the worlds
fastest growing energy sources over the past decade, says
Worldwatch research associate Janet Sawin, author of Mainstreaming
Renewable Energy in the 21st Century. In Germany, Japan, Spain and
a handful of other countries, clear government commitments to renewable
energy have overcome barriers and created the demand for these technologies
that has led to dramatic growth, while advancing renewable technologies
and driving down their costs.
With a fraction of the U.S. potential in wind power, Germany has
more than twice as much installed wind capacity and is a world leader
in solar and other renewables as well. And Japan, which has far
less sunshine than California, uses and manufactures more solar
cells than any other country.
The experiences of Germany and Japan hint at the great potential
for renewables in the United States, which is both geographically
large and resource-rich, says Sawin. The technologies
are readywhat we need is strong political leadership to vault
renewables into the mainstream.
Already, new renewablesincluding wind, solar, geothermal and
modern bio energysupply enough electricity for more than 300
million homes worldwide. (See charts for information on participation
in green power programs among utilities in the United States.) In
2003, an estimated $20.3 billionabout one-sixth of total global
investment in power generation equipmentwas invested in new
renewables. Within the next decade, this is expected to approach
$85 billion annually. The growth rates of some renewables are closer
to those of computers than the single-digit growth rates of todays
energy economies. Some people dismiss this rapid growth rate
in an industry they consider tiny, but this thinking is short-sighted
and mirrors the attitude of IBM toward Microsoft in the early 1980s,
The impressive growth potential of renewables is attracting big
league corporate investors. Japans Sharp Corp. produces 27
percent of the worlds solar cells, while General Electric
is now a world leader in the global wind businesstwo years
after acquiring a dynamic young wind company.
Renewables have proved they can meet the energy needs of industrial
and developing countries alike, and are offering real solutions
to a world facing accelerating global energy demand and rising concerns
about energy supplies and environmental impacts. In China, where
lights have been going out in major cities because power supplies
are not keeping up with exploding demand, renewables have the potential
to provide clean energy from domestic sources and diversify Chinas
energy economy. Recognition of these advantages has led the Chinese
government to consider an ambitious new renewables policy. In fact,
at the recent International Conference for Renewable Energies held
this past June in Bonn, Germany, China pledged to increase its use
of small hydro, wind, solar and biomass power generation to 60,000
megawatts (the equivalent of 60 giant power plants), providing 10
percent of its generating capacity by 2010. With this announcement
and the related new policies now in the works, China may be on the
verge of becoming the worlds next leader in renewable energy.
The global transition to a new energy system will require significant
upfront investments to develop new technologies and to bring costs
down. But over the long-term it will provide benefits like improved
global air and water quality, increased security of energy supply,
new jobs and a reduced threat of climate change, which a U.S. Pentagon
report has identified as a security threat.
Recent surges in gasoline prices have reminded motorists of another
kind of insecurity that is inherent in our heavy dependence on fossil
fuels. Those fuels, which continue to benefit from an array of government
subsidies, also carry a range of hidden costs in the form of damage
to human health and natural ecosystems.
Around the world, a growing number of nations have recognized the
economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy, and are
enacting tax breaks and other policy measures to partially offset
the advantages enjoyed by fossil fuels. Among the nations where
policy changes may allow dynamic new renewable energy markets to
emerge in the next five years are Brazil, China and India.
In another sign of coming change, nearly 90 nations have formally
committed to increasing
their share of energy derived from renewable resources by joining
the Johannesburg Renewable Energy Coalition, which rose out of the
energy debate at the World Summit in 2002. Additionally, 165 individual
commitments by governments, international agencies and private groups
to promote the use of renewable energymany of which represent
important new initiativeswere announced at the Bonn conference.
According to Sawin, the last decade of rapid policy development
has provided a blueprint for a portfolio of integrated policies
with the proven ability to get renewable energy off the ground,
allowing new dynamic markets to emerge. The greatest growth in renewables
has occurred in a handful of countriesGermany, Japan, Denmark
and Spainand a number of U.S. states including Pennsylvania,
Minnesota, Texas and California. Among the key elements of a strong
renewable energy policy the report points to:
*Access to the market must be ensured. Governments must provide
renewables with ready access to energy grids at prices that reflect
full costs of conventional energy and provide sufficient incentive
to stimulate renewable energy market growth.
* Financial incentives (including tax credits, rebates, payments
and low-interest loans) are also important for encouraging investment
in renewables by reducing investors risk and compensating
for high capital costs.
* Education and information dissemination are essential for
informing potential leaders, investors and customers about the potential
of renewables, the state of technologies, and available government
incentives, as well as to dispel myths.
* Public participation and ownership in the renewables development
process increase political support and the likelihood of success.
* Clear industry standards and siting regulations help prevent
inferior hardware from entering the marketplace, thereby increasing
investor and customer confidence while addressing potential sources
of opposition such as noise and visual impacts.
Policies must be sustained and consistent to avoid boom-and-bust
cycles that shake investor confidence and inhibit the development
of strong domestic industries, Sawin concludes. Those
countries that stay the course will end up not only with a more
efficient and cleaner energy system, but will reap economic rewards
in the form of new industries and jobs.
|TOP 10 UTILITY GREEN PRICING PROGRAMS
|The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has compiled extensive
data on utility green pricing programs and produced a number
of Top 10 lists of program characteristics and results.
Below are two: one detailing total sales of renewable energy
to program participants, and a second that recaps total number
of customer participants.
GREEN PRICING PROGRAM RENEWABLE ENERGY SALES
(as of December
Portland General Electric
|Wind, landfill gas
|Sacramento Municipal Utility District
|Landfill gas, wind, hydro
Los Angeles Department of Power & Water
Small hydro, landfill gas, solar
|Tennessee Valley Authority
|Biogas, wind, solar
Puget Sound Energy
|Wind, landfill gas
TOTAL NUMBER OF CUSTOMER PARTICIPANTS
(as of December 2003)
Los Angeles Dept. of Water & Power
|WindSource, Renewable Energy trust
Green Power for a Green L.A.
|Portland General Electric Co.
Sacramento Municipal Utility District
|Clean Wind, Renewable Usuage, Healthy Habitat
Greenergy, PV Pioneers I
|Blue Sky, Renewable Usuage, Habitat Option
Energy for Tomorrow
Tennessee Valley Authority
Wisconsin Public Service
|Green Power Switch
SolarWise for Schools, NatureWise