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Renewable Energy Sources Rising: Beyond Fossil Fuels

Alternate and renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, biofuel, geothermal and others, have frequently made the headlines in recent years, driven partly by worries over imported oil and the need for national energy independence, but also by discussion of possible regulation concerning greenhouse gas emissions. Laws in many areas of this country now require a certain percentage of energy be from renewable sources, so utilities are working hard to develop or purchase alternate forms of energy.

 

This trend is not confined to the United States, however; countries all over the world are working to increase use of renewable energy, and many countries are ahead of the U.S. in this effort. With both government money and businesses/utilities moving in this direction, industries that make or use valves and actuators should look at what opportunities the situation presents. This article will examine how valves and actuators are used in solar, wind and geothermal energy.

RENEWABLES GROWING EVERYWHERE

China has been building coal-fired power plants at a frantic pace for some time now, but in recent years, the country has also ramped up alternate energy. A Nov. 18, 2009 article in RenewableEnergyWorld.com reports China plans to spend $2 trillion over the next 20 years to restructure the way it produces and consumes energy, which could represent a great opportunity for American companies. Meanwhile, Germany, which already has a substantial installed base of renewables, plans to have half of its primary energy consumption come from renewables by 2050, according to Germany Trade & Invest. In Canada, federal energy minister Lisa Raitt recently reported that 73% of her country’s energy already comes from renewable resources and that by 2010, 90% of electricity will be generated from clean, renewable sources.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the Energy Information Administration reports that just 7.1% of electric power comes from conventional hydroelectric while other renewables (biomass, geothermal, solar and wind) and other miscellaneous energy sources currently generate 3.6%. (The rest comes from coal, petroleum, natural gas, other gases and nuclear).

In the solar industry, 2009 market research from Solarbuzz reports that 5.95 GW (gigawatts) of new photovoltaic capacity was installed worldwide in 2008, an increase of 110% over 2007. Solarbuzz said solar cell production in China and Taiwan reached 3304 MW (megawatts) in 2008 followed by Europe at 1729 MW and Japan at 1172 MW in 2008. U.S. manufacturers, meanwhile, contributed 375 MW in 2008.

Until recently China believed solar power could not compete with coal, according to Guardian.co.uk, but it is now moving ahead rapidly on solar power as part of an effort to increase renewable energy to 20% of domestic consumption by 2020.

As far as wind energy, installations worldwide and here in the United States are growing rapidly. A U.S. Department of Energy Report (20% Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity Supply), addresses how this country might achieve the goal in that title. In China, ChinaFAQs reports that in just the first three quarters of 2008, 5.59 GW of wind power projects were commissioned, and guardian.co.uk says plans call for 100 GW of wind capacity by 2020.

The world leader in wind power on a per-capita basis is Denmark. There, wind power supplies more than 20% of electricity consumption, and that number will be 50% by 2025, according to the Danish Wind Power Association.

Meanwhile, the geothermal industry may be helped along in the U.S. by recent government activity. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Energy announced up to $338 million in Recovery Act funding for exploring and developing new geothermal fields and research into advanced geothermal technologies. These grants will support 123 projects in 39 states, with recipients including private industry, academic institutions, tribal entities, local governments and DOE’s National Laboratories. The grants will be matched more than one-for-one with an additional $353 million in private and non-federal cost-share funds.

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