Monthly Archives: August 2010

Global Electricity Generation


Production from: Electricity (Unit: GWh)
– coal 8227950
– oil 1114455
– gas 4126912
– biomass 190468
– waste 68034
– nuclear 2719058
– hydro* 3162165
– geothermal 61819
– solar PV 4104
– solar thermal 681
– wind 173317
– tide 550
– other sources 5358
Total Production 19854871

(IEA figures, 2007)
Currently globally we generate 19,854,871 GWh, ie. nearly 20,000 TWh, of electricity. Forecasts of future energy use vary hugely. The International Energy Agency forecasts continued steep growth. Some countries, such as India, China and elsewhere in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America are forecasting exponential growth. Meanwhile some green campaigners envisage humanity using less energy in the post fossil fuel world, with Energy Descent Action Planning forming the central core of the Transition Towns Movement.
If humanity delays the transition to a renewables based economy then we will hit the twin buffers of climate change and peak oil. Therein lie the collapse scenarios most of us are familiar with. If we make the transition rapidly then Peak Oil is no problem; we’ll leave the “difficult to get dregs” in the ground, and most of the coal. Renewable resources are virtually limitless; the problem is simply to direct sufficient funds into developing them while simultaneously scaling back on waste and designing energy efficiency into all our systems; industrial, agricultural, transport etc.
So in 2050 what might the above table look like? Of course nobody knows for sure but my guess is that if humanity acts to maximize its collective best interests we’ll probably be producing much more electricity than today as the transport sector is electrified and many more countries develop. Maybe the total might go from 20 to 80 or 100TWh; a four or five fold increase.
But much more important than the overall figure will be the order, which largest to smallest currently reads; coal, gas, hydro, nuclear, oil, biomass, wind, waste, geothermal, solar pv, concentrating solar thermal and tide. (Wave, solar Stirling, solar cvp don’t yet register)
By 2050 I’d hope this list read more like; concentrating solar thermal, other solar (including solar Stirling cvp & pv.) wind, geothermal, hydro, tide, wave, biomass, waste and gas. (Coal, oil and nuclear would have been phased out by 2050.)

Community Windpower

Britain has the best wind resource of any county in Europe, yet we only generate about 2 % of our electricity from wind, whereas the Danes generate about 20% of their electricity from wind (and plan to increase this to 50%!). In 2003 over 20,000 people were employed in the Danish wind industry and it generated 3 billion Euro. In Britain there is huge opposition to windfarms, whereas in Denmark they are generally popular, with 86% of Danes in support. One might ask why the big difference?
In Denmark there is longstanding political consensus that Co2 reductions need to be made, that wind power is part of the answer and that cooperatives are the best way to maximise benefits. People investing in local wind power get tax breaks, and so they often organise themselves into cooperatives to build windfarms, with over 150,000 families now having a stake. Middelgrunden offshore windfarm is 50% owned by the municipality and 50% by the 10,000 investors in the Middelgrunden Wind Cooperative. This model has spread extensively in Holland and Germany. See Wind power in Denmark
In USA Minneapolis based National Wind Company, with its partner National Wind Assessments, do the technical side of things while teaming up with local communities to form their own Limited Liability companies and together they build, operate and benefit from commercial scale (50 to 750 MW) windfarms. Since founding in 2003 they have thirteen windfarms across the American Midwest, either operating or in the planning and development stages, which will have an installed capacity of nearly 4,000MW. Ref National Wind
Meanwhile in the UK most windfarms only benefit the power companies and a few local land owners. Existing community owned projects are few in number and tiny in scale. This needs to change for wind power to win hearts and minds in the UK. Encouragingly Community Windpower Ltd now has a number of windfarms in the planning stage, mainly in Scotland and up to 50MW3. We wish them well!

Record Hot Year?

2010 looks set to be a record hot year.(See Climate Change on Here) Weather records are being broken in countless places around the world. The current Russian heat wave is being exasperated by forest and peat fires, releasing yet more Co2 into the atmosphere and adding choking smog to the direct effects of the heat. The death rate over the last few weeks in Moscow has been at double the seasonal norm. Meanwhile in Pakistan, and to a lesser extent also in China, unusually heavy monsoon rains are causing death and devastation on a massive scale. Hot summers over the Eurasian continental interior draw in warm wet air from over the Indian Ocean; this is how the annual monsoon works, but the whole system seems to be becoming increasingly energised, thus producing more extreme weather events, as predictions of Climate Change have long forecast. The Arctic seems to be having a record breaking lack of sea ice this summer, while the Antarctic seems to be having above normal quantities of sea ice. Confusing and chaotic weather: when and whether we pass any tipping points that propel the world into catastrophic climate change we’ll probably only be able to see in hindsight: too late for effective action.
Let’s act now: rapid and radical ramping-up of renewable sources of energy is long over due. And an energy efficiency revolution: not to mention habitat restoration, tree planting, and a thousand other things to build a more ecologically sustainable and socially just world!
The map has only one area with Jan – June average temperatures much below normal, and that is the area of Russia east of Moscow, just the area that in July and August has seen record breaking high temperatures. The question now is whether 2010 will beat 2005 as the globally hottest year on record.

Solar Focus Technology

(SolFocus cpv Victorville, 1Mw)
Last week I wrote about three small companies and their alternative mirror configurations to the parabolic trough: e-Solar and their modular power towers, Wizard Power and their Big Dishes and Ausra and their Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector. Many other technological advances in the world of concentrating solar power are currently being demonstrated, and today I want to write about three more.
Archimede, a 5 Mw parabolic trough power plant, opened July 2010, in Sicily. What is exciting is that it is the first to use molten salt as a heat transfer fluid in the central absorber tube, thus enabling hotter operating temperatures and therefore greater turbine efficiency. Archimede, like many systems uses salt as a thermal store, allowing electricity generation to continue when the sun is not shining. For more on this see Chris Goodall’s excellent Carbon Commentary. See Here for details.
Maricopa, a 1.5 Mw Stirling Dish solar power project opened in January 2010, outside Phoenix, Arizona. Robert Stirling invented the Stirling engine in 1816, and it’s had many uses since then, and for the last twenty years Stirling Energy Systems have been developing it as a way of directly turning the suns heat into power. Their SunCatcher 38 foot diameter dishes each generate 25 Kw, and at Maricopa they use 60 dishes to generate 1.5 Mw.
Victor Valley Collage, at Victorville, near Los Angeles opened a 1 Mw concentrating photovoltaic power plant, in May 2010. This uses 122 x 8.4 Kw dual tracking solar panels, each uses mirrors and lenses to concentrate sunlight onto photovoltaic cells. This system was designed and built by SolFocus, but a number of other mainly small Californian companies are racing to get a foothold in this new and rapidly expanding technology. Look at this article for details.
Three more innovative technologies from the rapidly developing world of concentrating solar power: so far all small projects but offering exciting possibilities for rapid expansion.

Solar Alternatives to the Parabolic Trough

(Big Dish)

(Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector)

In my last entry we looked at how Spain is leading the world in the deployment of concentrating solar power. Dozens of other countries are now constructing concentrating power plants or are planning to do so. (To keep up to date see ). Also there are a number of technological advances going on, some of which claim to significantly lower costs and so should facilitate the global roll-out. The parabolic trough is the commonest configuration of mirrors to date, but several alternatives exist and the following three are, I believe, ones to watch out for.
e-Solar is a new company, founded in California in 2007, opened it’s first, and so far only, solar power station, the 5Mw Sierra Sun Tower, at Lancaster, California, in the summer of 2009. By working with Google to develop and improve the software guiding the precision of the solar tracking heliostats, and using smaller heliostats and a modular system of power towers they claim to have significantly raised efficiency and cut costs. They have now partnered with big companies to develop the technology globally. ( See )
Wizard Power is an Australian company set-up in 2005 to commercially develop csp concepts originating from Australian National University in Canberra. They have developed Big Dish technology and are about to start construction of their first power station, the 40Mw Whyalla Solar Oasis, at Whyalla, South Australia. (see )
Ausra developed the Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector first deployed in stages between 2004 and 2008 to provide 2 Mw of pre-heat steam to the Liddell coal power station, Australia, followed in 2009 by the 5 Mw Kimberlina Solar Power Plant, California. Ausra then got into financial trouble and were taken over by Areva the American nuclear power company. (see )
All three of these companies are at present relatively small but have interesting and innovative technologies with which they may help concentrating solar power become the major source of clean energy which we all need it to become.