Wind

The icon of renewable energy is the wind turbine, its expansion has been relentless. Global installed capacity is estimated at 120,000 MW in 2008, compared to just over 10,000MW in 1998.

Subsidies across Europe have led the ‘windmill’ to a sophisticated sector receiving personalised regulatory care, public listings and the emergence of manufacturing giants. In 2007, Europe had 43% of wind energy’s installed capacity internationally.

Most notably, as part of the EU Strategic Energy Plans, the urge is to take wind farms to a whole new level in the creation of off-shore trans-european wind energy networks. The North Sea would provide linked wind farms that will help power a more independent European energy grid, the cost is estimated at 30 billion euro.

With attractive subsidies the technological advances and the deployment skills of wind producers, the sector continues to edge towards truly industrial levels.
 

Carbon Capture Storage (CCS)

Demonstration projects of Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) is one of most hotly contested issues about action on climate change. CCS is linked by many to the price of carbon on markets and the survival of coal and other fossi; fuels as major energy resources.

The IPCC defines CCS as the separation of carbon dioxide from industrial and energy-related sources, transportation to storage location and long-term isolation from the environment; they consider CCS as an option in mitigating climate change .

A legal framework has been agreed by the EU to regulate this emerging technology and its widespread deployment. The agreement process has already secured funding for 12 CCS pilot projects from 300 million ETS carbon trading credits. Currently, these projects must each be under 100 kilo tonnes of storage, fully contained with the EU boundaries and constructed by 2015.

Once again, it is a directive so the member states will issue permits for the storage sites, though applications are to be submitted to the commission and they may make non-binding opinions. There is no veto in the directive but in practice, there is a whole body of EC environmental and planning law at the commission’s disposal if necessary.
 

Wave and Tidal

Using the power of water is not new; in fact, hydroelectric energy using mainly dams is the biggest renewable energy producer at the moment.  What is new and emerging is technology to harness the energy of waves and tides.

Both still have to develop a major presence on the renewable scene, though they do qualify towards EU renewable targets.

Waves are caused by wind, tides are caused by the moon. Tides are highly predictable; waves are as predictable as wind power. Technology in both is at the early stage of development but water creates massive amounts of energy per m2/km2 as it is the most dense of all renewable resources.

The scale of energy that tidal can create is very impressive, as are the stats. For example, tidal parks could harness currents over an area of 6 x 3 km2 producing 600MWs from massive turbine technology installed on crossbeam bridges or installed on the sea bed, this could power hundreds of thousands of homes if successful.

Compare this with the largest wind farm in operation, Horse Hollow in Texas which uses 190 km2 of land to produce about 730 MW.

The stats of wave is also very impressive, the total power of waves breaking around the world’s coastlines is estimated between 2-3 million MWs by the EIA. The technology currently consists of a buoy attached by a cable to a wave energy converter, which is a big steel structure secured to the sea floor.

Many wave energy devices are still at the research and development stage, but many pilot projects have been completed and several commercial schemes are being planned in the US, Sweden, UK, Korea and Ireland.
 

Solar PV

The power of Small to Medium Enterprises (SME’s) to drive a technology has never been as remarkable as the development of solar PV in the past decade. The race for the solar cell and its publicised evolvement from 1st to 3rd generation has the ears of investors and the eyes of the world.

The ‘IT girl’ of renewable energy, solar PV, has a sexy quality that few other renewables hold. It involves sun, silicon and exotic destinations.

But beyond its marketable selling points, there is an real sector that has grown despite the knowledge that cells will get cheaper and better quickly. Thanks to faith being shown by developers in the US, Europe, China, Middle East and Australia, we have now arrived at the deployment stage for our cities and homes.

Solar Thermal

Solar thermal brings us back to the reality of industry with power plants, turbines and many would argue, scale. Commercial announcements in the sector for generation that hits hundreds of megawatts, leave little doubt that the technology is serious.

The thermal industry says that when wind and hydro are scarce during the summer, thermal can supply power for peak demand.

Using solar power to heat water that powers turbines is one side of thermal production, the other side being domestic thermal pumps. Already, Europe has seen clusters of home use and its low radiation requirements mean it has grown in the northern parts of Europe.

Solar CSP also figures strongly in the EU strategic energy plans with the Mediterranean Solar Plan seeking to generate power and desalinate water on both sides of the Mediterranean. The proposals call for 20 GW of solar energy to be produced mainly by solar thermal technology. 

Biofuels

Drastic change in EU transportation policy has created a new market for renewable and alternative energy. Biofuels, hydrogen and electricity are now certain to contribute to the future of transportation in Europe.  The mandatory 10% renewable and alternative input into all EU members means a wide market for biofuels.

Overall, the criteria are quite defined by the EU as it strives to keep farmers farming and calm international fears that using biofuels will lead to food shortages and inflation.

The sustainability criteria are as follow for all biofuels, regardless of origin: they must have guarantees of origin e-certificates, be a 35% saving on greenhouse gas emissions and if grown, done on low/non biodiverse land. There is also scope to disqualify biofuels based on gross labour violations involved in their growth. 

Two very interesting aspects of the directive is that there is a highly developed list of biofuels types, such as sunflower biodiesel and sugar cane ethanol, which makes grains and seeds quite lucrative.

Secondly, to promote ‘second-generation’ biofuels, they count as double credits towards the 10% national target for renewable transport consumption. This should aid with R+D costs and act as a de facto subsidy for the sector. 

Geothermal

Geothermal energy is gaining popularity worldwide and in 2008, installed capacity accounts for 39,000 MW of heat and electricity . The two most common applications of the technology are power plants and heat pumps.

A geothermal reservoir is created when heat from the earth’s core heats water in the earth’s crust which is trapped. Drilling can access this hot water and convert this in to electricity in a geothermal power station.

Geothermal heat pumps do not convert heat into electricity; rather they pump liquid through loops of pipes within 30-100ft of the earth’s surface. They are versatile and can pump heat into a home in winter and remove heat in the summer, a highly energy efficient method of heating and cooling.

Geothermal energy has been signalled for strong growth over the coming years with EU directive qualification and subsidy changes across Europe, most notably in France and Germany. Installation training will be widespread across Europe and is set to be an employment driver in the years to come.