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Renewables on the rise

May 22, 2013

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Fossil fuel interests describe the planet as being awash in oil, natural gas and coal, so they dismiss the notion of peak oil. Some portray climate change to be a hoax designed to limit the consumption of fossil fuels. Melting of the arctic ice is viewed as an opportunity to exploit the energy riches of the area.

Fracking has given new life to natural gas supplies, and is aided by an act of Congress that excluded the application of the Safe Drinking Water Act to fluids used in fracking for oil and gas and geothermal energy. In 2012, Pennsylvania passed state legislation to allow fracking in all parts of Pittsburgh, including residential areas. In 2012, the governor of Colorado announced the intention of the state to sue any and every city or county government that attempts to strengthen their oil and gas regulations. David Morris believes communities should have the right to make such decisions for themselves.

JP Sottile believes big oil has launched an all-out effort to undermine the growing market threat from progress in renewable energy. He refers to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance touting the future of renewable energy as an investment opportunity. The report claims the most likely future energy scenario has renewables accounting for roughly 70 percent of new power capacity added worldwide by 2030. Matching the glut in fossil fuels is a global glut in solar panel manufacturing, which has reduced costs to less than $1 per watt.

In a recent article, Chris Nelder shares his take on a major presentation at the recent solar conference in San Francisco. Dr. Eric Martinot compiled a report on solar energy based on the views of its leading advocates. He indicated that previous projections for renewable energy have proven far too low by a factor of 10, or were achieved a decade earlier than expected. As an example, he cited the 2000 International Energy Agency’s estimate for 34 gigawatts of wind power by 2010, whereas the actual achieved level was 200 gigawatts.

Current estimates for future levels of renewable energy capacity by 2040 vary widely. Exxon Mobile provides the lowest estimates of 16 percent of electricity coming from renewable energy, while Shell projects 25 percent. On the high side are estimates by Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund that renewables will provide nearly all the additional supplies of electricity by 2050. While projections are not always fulfilled, they do provide a view of what each interest hopes will happen.

Martinot views renewable technologies as ready now for widespread application.

While further innovations are not necessary for wider use, they will continue to result from research efforts. He claims that with proper management, the existing electrical grid can accommodate up to 80 percent renewable supplies without requiring large amounts of storage capacity. We share Martinot’s vision of an explosion of pv installations across the rooftops of the world and the idea that new construction will incorporate solar electricity as a standard practice.

In Martinot’s concept of our energy future, renewables are embraced by big industry, including utilities, oil companies, automakers, IT companies and other giants of industry.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the May 22-28, 2013, issue

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