Electrical Grid


China has proposed a $50 trillion global electricity network to be operational by mid-century. The plan envisions linking existing and future solar farms, wind turbines and electricity plants in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, according to the head of State Grid Corporation of China. The grid would include giant solar farms around the equator and wind stations in the Arctic. It would require vast global investment and would be the world’s largest infrastructure project. The Chinese believe a global electrical grid is necessary to relieve fears of energy shortages later this century with the phase out of fossil fuels.

The Netherlands is still far from reaching the objectives agreed to in the European Union guideline for Renewable Energy 2020. Of all the EU countries, only France is performing worse, according to figures released by Statistics Netherlands last week. In 2009 The Netherlands agreed that 14% of its electricity would come from renewable sources, such as wind, solar or biomass. In 2014 only 5.5%  came from renewable sources, putting the Netherlands 8.5% away from its target. Only France is further away, with 8.7% to go to reach its target. A third of the EU countries have already achieved their agreed upon targets. Sweden is the leader with 53% of its electricity coming from renewable sources.

Note: many media sources or articles mislead the reader or listener by confusing the terms “energy” and “electricity”. This becomes quite important when referring to a country’s or region’s success in meeting renewable energy targets.  Electricity is but one form of energy as is crude oil and petroleum products and natural gas.  So often we will read articles that state that a country is getting X% of its energy from renewable sources when in fact renewables (such as hydro, solar and wind) only produce electricity and do not fuel a country’s transportation and manufacturing sectors.  Thus the media source really means the country is getting X% of its electricity from renewables, which is only one portion of a country’s over all energy supply and, in some cases, a small proportion of that energy supply when compared with coal, petroleum, natural gas and nuclear. These latter energy sources are also used to produce electricity. in addition to powering automobiles, trains, ships and industrial facilities.

Japan is hoping for 40,000 fuel-cell cars and 160 hydrogen stations on its roads by 2020. This comes from a report released by that nation’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry outlining the future use of hydrogen and fuel cells.

Producing electricity from urban solid waste could provide energy for up to 40 million African households by 2025, according to a study by the European Commission Joint Research Centre.  With its booming population, economic growth and increasing urbanisation, Africa is currently struggling to tackle the growing amounts of refuse that accompany development. Especially in rural areas, garbage is often simply burned without regard for pollution, or dumped in landfills without protecting groundwater. The European Commission researchers estimate that through proper waste management 83.8 terrawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity could be supplied to the continent in 2025 from trash in landfills. While the conclusions are theoretical and actual numbers would depend on the type of waste collected, as well as how efficiently the energy recovery was performed, it illustrates that the use of trash could alleviate energy poverty in many African countries, where millions of people still don’t have access to the electric grid. (Note a terrawatt-hour is a trillion hours of electricity.)

In the US state of California competition between solar and biomass to generate electricity is not working out well for biomass. In parts of the state biomass energy plants are folding in rapid succession, unable to compete with heavily publicly subsidized solar farms. For example, in the San Joaquin Valley six biomass facilities have closed in the past two years leaving local farmers struggling to dispose of woody waste. Burning the waste in open piles is being considered but is largely opposed because of the air pollution it would cause and related health concerns. Without permission to burn the wood waste, many farmers are expected to lose substantial amounts of profit from having to pay to truck the waste to other jurisdictions and, as a result, lay off substantial numbers of employees. California stopped subsidizing biomass facilities in 2011.

A study from The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US finds existing, suitable roof top solar panels could generate 39% of that country’s current electricity demand. This amounts to 1.1 terrawatts of capacity and 1,432 terawatt-hours (TWh) of annual electricity generation. A significant finding of the study is that small buildings actually have a greater combined potential than medium to large buildings because there are just far more of them across the country. About 83% of small buildings have an area suitable for solar installation and could potentially generate 926 TWh per year of electricity — 65% of the total potential. (A pdf version of the study can be found here.)





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