Renewable Energy Around the World

Before reading this post, please read the About Me page, as it serves as a form of disclaimer and gives some context in regards to the purpose of this blog.


In recent years, the international community has made a general consensus to move away from fossil fuels and invest in various forms of renewable energy.  While developing countries are still using fossil fuels to spur their growth, more modern countries such as those in Europe, the Americas, Australia, and most of Asia are investing in building and researching renewable energy sources.  Nations that rely on imported fuel sources can especially benefit from generating their own power.  For many others, investments in renewable energy has meant much lower prices for consumers.

Germany had a significant price drop for energy last December that gave many Germans a nice present early Christmas morning when prices actually dropped into the negative.  This New York Times article notes that at times consumers were paid more than 60$ per megawatt-hour to use energy.  A number of countries in Europe including Belgium, Britain, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland experience these significant drops in prices.  While negative prices aren’t too rare, they occur often enough to bring to light some of the problems that cause the drops.  The unpredictable nature of solar and wind power in particular can put strain on the existing infrastructure that was built for coal and oil powered plants.  The infrastructure can be overwhelmed during spikes of power generation by renewable sources when coal and oil plants can’t lower output fast enough to compensate.  This requires the excess energy to be used up or exported, since the technology for efficient enough batteries and capacitors does not exist at this time.  While this can be a headache for the people who run and manage the grid, it show that infrastructure in these areas need upgraded, and that resources need invested in creating batteries that can store more energy more efficiently.  The countries in Europe are fairly small in land area and population compared to some of the other powers around the globe, and don’t all have the resources to spare on innovation and production of renewable energy.

Leaders in renewable energy don’t have to be global superpowers or large established industrialized nations.  On the coast of Africa, Morocco is home to the largest solar farm on Earth, and is continuing to build new installations to increase their energy independence.  A Renewable Energy World article written by Dr. Hassan Nfaoui gives a great blend of historical, geographical, and economical context for Morocco’s boom in renewable energy.  The location of Morocco’s solar plants receives an impressive 7.9 to 11.2 hours of sunlight a day on average.  This gives significant potential for solar power generation.  Combined with average wind speeds of 10m/s in some areas, 7 to 8.5m/s in others, there are plenty of places for renewable energy production.  Considering that 96 percent of Morocco’s energy is imported, and their energy consumption increases about 8 percent annually, it is unsurprising that the King of Morocco gave the green light for the construction of the Noor solar energy project.  This video by PBS goes into more detail about how the solar farm works and some of the future plans for the project.  There is a transcript below the video if needed.  By 2030, Morocco plans to produce 10,090 MW of energy annually through renewable means (this includes hydroelectric power).  This will put them well on their way to becoming “The Saudi Arabia” of renewable energy like some want.

Due to international efforts such as the Paris Agreement, many nations that contribute very little to atmospheric pollution and carbon emissions have started making strides to convert to renewable energy.  Many of the bigger producers face more significant challenges in converting their energy infrastructure, and are making slower changes as a result.  However, one country has begun to overhaul its energy production from being one of, if not the largest user, of fossil fuels. China.  China’s industrialization efforts exploded in the 20th century and as a result they have become a global economic superpower.  This growth comes at a cost though, as major cities, especially Beijing, have become known for horrible air qualities, seen in this image from CNN.Image result for beijing pollution

Despite their significant use of fossil fuels, China has begun investing heavily in renewable energy.  This Futurism article cites the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), stating that China invested over 32 billion dollars in 2016, and over 44 billion in 2017.  Their commitment to the Paris Agreement goes beyond adding renewable energy.  The Chinese government went after factories that didn’t abide by new regulations for emissions, resulting in 40% of their factories being shut down.  An IEEFA report states that with the US out of the Paris Agreement, China has taken the opportunity to step up as a major contributor both financially and technologically.  Already a global manufacturing powerhouse, China now holds about 60 percent of the worlds solar cell manufacturing.  Their impact on renewable energy doesn’t just stay in their country, Chinese companies are spreading across the globe as they build renewable energy plants in countries around the world.  These companies are focusing hydro power in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, growing China’s economic influence.  The report also mentions that China is securing more and more of the world’s cobalt market, due to their own miners extracting 62 percent of the cobalt mined in 2017.  Cobalt is an important part of more modern solar panels as it increases the efficiency of the solar cells.  With all these factors and more combined, China is set to become a global superpower in regards to renewable energy.

The research and development of more efficient solar cells and batteries that are more efficient and hold more power can give a nation an economic boost as the world buys their products.  China is leading in these areas, but there are more sources of renewable energy than just solar energy.  My next post will be about the different technologies being researched for renewable energy sources, and which countries are ahead in these areas.


Benefits of Renewable Energy

Before reading this post, please read the About Me page, as it serves as a form of disclaimer and gives some context in regards to the purpose of this blog.

Renewable energy has held a large place in the public eye for a number of decades now.  Recently due to ever-increasing concern over climate change, sources of renewable energy have been sought after and improved upon by groups all around the world.  Whether it is to reduce emissions from or reduce dependence on fossil fuels, make a country less dependent on foreign energy imports, or simply to lower energy costs, renewable energy is becoming an increasingly important part of society.

Of all the different types of renewable energy, solar energy is the most accessible to the average American.  While wind energy can be practical in areas like the great planes or the desert southwest, solar power can be collected across the country.  According to a CNBC article, solar panel installations doubled in 2016 over 2015 in the US.  Whether it is residential, commercial, or industrial solar farms, an increasing amount of energy is being produced and made available to consumers.  California has invested significantly in solar energy, now producing so much that neighboring states like Arizona have to be paid to take the excess.  This LA Times article notes that 26% of California’s energy production was from renewable sources in 2016, growing from 15% in 2010.  A significant portion of that increase was due to solar power, shown in this chart from the article.  Screenshot-2018-2-16 California invested heavily in solar power Now there's so much that other states are sometimes paid to[...]

Also mentioned in the article is that energy providers continue to push for more natural gas power plants to be built, claiming they need to be built closer to cities than the solar farms in the desert.  Although they cite peak time congestion as a reason to build the plants, critics note that the transmission lines, even if more are added, won’t be any less congested just because there are more plants.

Governments at the state and federal levels provide a plethora of tax incentives for various alternative energy and energy efficient purchases.  Savings for residential, commercial, industrial, and other areas can be searched for on the Department of Energy’s website.  In addition to these savings, the cost of solar panels has continuously dropped in recent years in every market.  This Berkeley Lab article from August 2016 cites two of its studies showing prices reaching record lows.  This graph from the article shows the decrease in cost from 2010 through 2015.SolarPic1Many families have chosen to install solar panels on their homes in order to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions or simply save money on their electric bill.  A Boston University article opens with an example of one family that saved $14,500 on the installation of their solar panels from federal and state tax credits.  Their savings on their electricity bill went about $200 a month average to almost zero excluding during the winter.  Sometimes excess energy can even be sold back to power companies to get some credit back.  A study done by Boston University professor Robert Kaufmann found that the approximately 40,000 households and community groups in Massachusetts that use solar panels are actually lowering prices for over 3 million energy consumers in the state.  The study shows that people who own the solar panels aren’t the only ones saving money on their electric bills.  Considering the cost of solar panels per watt in the US in 2014 was a third of what it was in 1998, solar energy is becoming even more economically viable than ever before.

California is by far the largest producer of solar energy in the United States, but there are plenty of other states benefiting from this renewable resource.  The Solar Energy Industries Association provides plenty of information regarding solar power on their website, including a top ten list of solar producing states.  California may produce the most energy overall, but Nevada produces 745 watts per person to California’s 446.  Overall, states across the country are utilizing more and more renewable energy sources to help with an ever increasing energy demand.  An interactive map in a Renewable Energy World article allows you to additions to solar energy capacity in 2016, as well as the companies that own the plants and how much is produced there.  Up and down the east coast, solar farms are being constructed because of tax incentives, reduction in emissions, and lowering energy costs for surrounding communities.

The price to install solar panels in residential areas has decreased to less than half of its price in the late 90’s.  This blog post by Robert Fares on the Scientific American Blog Network addresses the significant decline of prices for solar power.  Robert predicts that with the continued drop in price in 2015, solar energy may become even more prevalent economic competition for the more conventional producers of power.  Utility scale solar providers, meaning the large solar farms that feed energy directly into the grid, continue to be much cheaper than residential or other non-commercial alternatives.  The price per watt comparison is clear in the above graph that Robert also cites from Berkley Labs.  Residential solar installations are the most expensive in therms of $ per watt, but their decrease in price is detailed in this graph from 1998 to 2015 that Robert also cited from Berkley Labs.

However, it is worth noting that the graph shows the median price and that every supplier may charge different rates for their installations.

To summarize, solar energy has and continues to grow in significance and availability.  It used to be expensive and only practical in large arrays that weren’t very efficient, but now solar panels can be found on houses and businesses across the country.  As technology continues to improve, solar power will become more and more efficient and affordable.  The technology that allows us to power robots on other planets and charge satellites in orbit is becoming a sound investment for governments, companies, and the average citizen.  In my next blog post I plan to discuss solar and renewable energy in general in terms of the international community, and how some countries may even utilize it to boost their economies and others to become the world power in the industry.